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WWE's handling of Steamboat's brain injury sadly proves that their shady carny instincts haven't changed

"Toxicology tests have not even been completed, so there is no current evidence that Benoit even had steroids or any other substance in his body.  In that regard, on the last test done on Benoit by WWE's independently administered drug testing program, done on April 10, 2007, Benoit tested negative." - WWE press release on June 26th 2007.

"This is not a steroid issue. That horse has got to be put in the barn and unsaddled. It's not a steroid issue. It's a domestic issue. But more than anything, it's a tragedy because a mother and little boy are dead." - Jim Ross at Nancy Benoit's funeral on July 14th 2007.

"WWE understands that the toxicology reports for Chris Benoit indicate that he tested positive for testosterone and negative for anabolic steroids." - WWE press release on July 27th 2007.

So did WWE learn any lessons from their badly botched handling of the media in the immediate aftermath of Chris Benoit's double murder suicide?  Not if WWE's handling of Steamboat's brain injury is anything to go by.  Instead of being honest or keeping their mouths shut, they shamelessly downplayed the seriousness of the injury in a press release on their website and went out of their way to deny that the injury could have been caused by the NXT beatdown angle that Steamboat was involved in on last week's Raw: 

Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat performed a stunt with other Legends this past Monday. Late Wednesday night, Ricky was experiencing pain in his neck and shoulder, and immediately went to the hospital. According to medical officials, his condition is most likely not related to his performance on Monday night, and Ricky’s medical prognosis is good to excellent.

Loyal company hatchet man Jim Ross, just as he did with other ill advised press releases in the past, was quick to agree with WWE's take on his blog:

I seriously doubt that any thing wrestling related had any thing to do with Rick's aneurysm. The Dragon actually wrestled without incident in a tag match down in Florida recently and is one of the veterans who takes pride in staying in shape with regular workouts.

After Dave Meltzer's update on the correct diagnosis of Steamboat's injury, Irv Muchnick called Ross' comments "pathetic and outrageous", after getting Mike Benoit's thoughts on the incident, who unsurprisingly pushed the Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy angle:

I sincerely hope Rick Steamboat gets better.

If we could only go back and test all the wrestlers that have passed in the last 20 years for Chronic Tramautic Encephelopathy. I believe it would explain a lot of addictions and behaviors. Unfortunately there will be a lot more to test in the future. CTE is a disease caused by trauma to the brain. It is impossible to know if or when it will manifest itself. I say, look for the behavior, broken relationships and issues with drugs and or alcohol and loss of emotional control. Friends and family are the first ones to see it. They need to be educated to recognize the symptoms to be able to seek help. Last but certainly not least do everything possible to make contact sports safer especially for the children.

In a later blog update Muchnick expanded on his outrage at Ross' comments, unsurprisingly attempted to put pro wrestling brain injuries into the Linda McMahon campaign spotlight and tried to embarrass Dave Meltzer into more outspoken action on the issue: 

Here the story gets interesting is in Meltzer’s explanation that a burst capillary is caused by “blunt force.” I think Meltzer was implying quite clearly that what ailed Steamboat was a direct consequence of an industrial accident on Monday night. Good on Meltzer for advancing that information.

In my own mind the distinction between a burst capillary and an aneurysm isn’t entirely clear. A layman might conclude that Steamboat has an aneurysm brought on by a burst capillary.

With all that said, it is near-billionaire Senate candidate Linda McMahon who is in the crucible of this discussion at this moment, and properly so. WWE’s occupational health and safety standards have been atrocious, especially in proportion to its profits and industry dominance. The company’s much-hyped medical and drug-testing teams have demonstrated little or no Hippocratic independence. Now a legendary semi-retired wrestler, late in his sixth decade of life, lies in intensive care as a consequence of a “soap opera” shtick the whole world viewed a week ago on TV.

Will my friend Dave Meltzer and his fellow newsletter writers pound this story as hard as they pound former pro wrestler Brock Lesnar’s mixed martial arts heavyweight championship win on Saturday night in Las Vegas? Or will they bob and weave, leaving bread crumbs and clues and hieroglyphics, but no sustained energy or priority for connecting the dots and holding themselves and their readers to their share of responsibility for the welfare of their TV heroes?

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