Bruno Sammartino still banging on about WWE's Talent Wellness Program

Bruno Sammartino: a mark for his own heroism! - Photo by Mario Trevi of Wikimedia Commons.

Once an outspoken critic of drug abuse within WWE, Bruno Sammartino has now become a broken old record about how virtuous their Talent Wellness Program is, playing the role of the lone heroic voice that singlehandedly helped to clean up the wrestling business.

Bruno Sammartino, once one of the most outspoken critics of the excesses of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), has made a rather startling metamorphosis into a strident public supporter of the company, ever since he signed the lucrative six figure deal to be inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame next week.

Personally I'm over the moon that Sammartino has decided to take his rightful place in WWE history, but the constant massaging of his own ego by making sure to point out in every media interview about how this would have never happened if WWE hadn't cleaned up their own act is frankly becoming rather tiresome and sickening.

We've already gotten the message loud and clear, you're not a hypocrite who sold out to Vince McMahon, so do you really have to keep banging on about it at every opportunity?

Except he arguably is and perhaps always has been. His disgust at the rampant steroid abuse in the WWF that apparently led to him quitting the promotion in March 1988, didn't stop him from picking up paycheques from the equally drug infested World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Herb Abrams' Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) for many years thereafter. Bruno can certainly look the other way when he wants to, but he obviously doesn't want anyone to be left with that impression of himself.

He also has much bigger fish to fry than merely a WWE Hall Of Fame ceremony that he was always willing to happily leave the offer on the table. Kissing up to the McMahon family may be the price to pay for his mythologising documentary and movie by Scott Rosenfelt to ever see the light of day, which seems to be his ultimate aspiration.

Sammartino was at it again, extolling the virtues of the WWE's Wellness Program without prompting, in a recent interview with MinistryOfSlam.com:

"I was in the business for almost a quarter of a century, and I’m very proud of my career. I loved wrestling and so forth, but when I retired I saw changes that were very bothersome to me. For one thing, there were a lot of steroids and other drugs being used. That bothered me tremendously. Secondly, they had these good looking girls as wrestlers, but there was some nudity and some very vulgar stuff involved. The profanity they were using was also terrible, I hated to see the profession I held for 25 years come down to that.

As a result, because of how much it bothered me, I was very outspoken about it and tried to bring attention to the fact hoping that something maybe could be done. So, the main reason why I wouldn’t go into the WWE Hall of Fame was that I’d feel very much like a hypocrite if I did, because I resented all of these things. It just didn’t feel right then to accept entrance into the Hall of Fame.

When Paul (Triple H) contacted me about 7 months ago, I had long since quit watching wrestling. So he called me up and said that both him and WWE would really love to have me in the Hall of Fame. Paul was very kind, he said, ‘Our Hall of Fame needs to have you, to become legitimised, because you held the World Title almost 12 years and you were the WWF’. He said he’d heard a lot of the interviews I’d done over the years, but wanted me to know that WWE had made a lot of changes. They hired a doctor, Dr. Maroon and his staff, to do very strict drug testing and now had a complete Wellness program in place – checking out the overall fitness of the guys and making sure they weren’t suffering from concussions etc.

So, I knew of Dr. Maroon, he’s a very famous neurosurgeon, and had in fact operated on me before. I did a lot of damage to my back throughout my career, and he helped me tremendously. He’s a very ethical man with a wonderful reputation. I spoke to him about things several times, and he told me how strict things had become; he informed me how much WWE were doing to correct prior problems. As I started watching it all again, I noticed that the wrestlers looked normal – they looked like athletes again! They no longer looked freakish and over-developed, like Hulk Hogan, Billy Graham, The Road Warriors or The Ultimate Warrior.

Then Paul continued to talk with me, telling me that WWE had done away with all the nudity, vulgarity and profanity, because they wanted to be more of a family entertainment program. Without giving him a decision on the Hall of Fame quite yet, I decided to watch for a few more months to see if what he said rang true. They were legitimate changes WWE had made, which was good. After I was convinced of the drug testing and all of the other changes, I finally told Paul, ‘Ok, you guys are going the right direction and I’m willing to come in’. That’s how my pending induction into the WWE Hall of Fame happened.

There's a few points of rebuttal I'd like to raise in response to that rose tinted narrative:

  1. I think an argument could be made that if he really cared about the drug abuse that bothered him so much, then he'd have held steadfast in his refusal to be inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame. Rather than being an ahead of the curve philosophical decision by WWE management to put their talent's health and wellbeing first, the Wellness Policy was forced upon them when Eddie Guerrero died of a heart attack from long term abuse of steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) on the morning of the day he was scheduled to win the World Heavyweight Championship from an injured Batista on Nov. 13th, 2005. A tragedy like this was wholly predictable given the scores of prematurely young wrestler deaths that had happened in the 20 years prior, but it still had to happen for WWE to belatedly and initially rather halfheartedly act.
  2. Though Bruno claims that WWE's Medical Director Dr. Joseph Maroon is "a very ethical man with a wonderful reputation", the reality is not quite so black and white. As Irv Muchnick detailed in his ebook UPMC: Concussion Scandal Ground Zero, Maroon is a documented clinical liar having routinely deflected, diluted and denied scientific evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) for his paymasters, whilst cultivating an environment where abuse of anabolic steroids, HGH and the concussion masking painkiller Toradol was permissive at the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  3. Obviously Bruno needs to invest in a new pair of glasses, if he thinks, like Maroon claimed to the Hartford Courant in Oct. 2010, that there is "no talent now on steroids". The Rock is the prime example, but anyone on the roster could still be using given how difficult it is to stay lean and hard whilst on the road. Then there's Bruno's new best bud Triple H, whose personal trainer Dave Palumbo is a well known steroid guru that designs test-beating steroid cycles and was once imprisoned for selling fake human growth hormone. Not that Hunter would need to know how to beat a drug test anymore, he's not pissing into any cups, that's for damn sure. But that just makes it all the more fitting for Bruno to be inducted into the WWE HOF by steroid enhanced bodybuilding acquaintance Arnold Schwarzenegger. WWE simply couldn't have picked a better guy to do the honours!

In conclusion, given that he knows firsthand how deceitful and dishonest Vince McMahon can be, don't buy the gullible old grandpa act by Bruno Sammartino. It isn't like enough of his friends won't have warned him to tread carefully in his dealing with WWE. But it seems like he's publicly playing the fool instead, so he can complain about how he was conned by the devious and deceptive Paul "Triple H" Levesque should another falling out occur in the future.

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