Timeline of Eller Lawsuit and NFL Lockout Developments

Retired players’ activist Dave Pear’s blog has an informative timeline of the Carl Eller lawsuit and efforts to get a seat at the table in the National Football League lockout talks: http://davepear.com/blog/2011/07/retired-players-benefits-pensions-lawsuit/.

Incidentally, to correct what this blog stated earlier, Irv Cross, the former defensive back and CBS commentator, is not a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, in 2009, the Hall awarded Cross the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award to honor his career in television.

 

Irv Muchnick

Columnist: NFL Retired Players’ Negotiations the ‘800-Pound Gorilla’ of Lockout

San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Gwen Knapp today has a good analysis of the pro football labor talks headlined “For NFL, retiree care is the tougher battle.” (Chronicle columnist content is kept offline for non-subscribers for 48 hours, so no link.)

Knapp mildly disparages the Carl Eller group’s lawsuit as a piece of public relations leverage. This is an unfortunate, though standard, trope of hard-boiled rhetoric by sports pundits who get mileage out of playing the parts of cynics on TV. But Knapp does go on to call the Eller manuevers for a seat at the collective bargaining table “a giraffe and an 800-pound gorilla circling the perimeter of the room.”

Knapp also chooses not to zero in on brain trauma, which is where former football players’ disabilities intersect with the public’s interest, not just the fans’ in expeditiously ending the lockout. She strikes the right note, however, in observing that John Mackey’s death following a long battle with dementia “served as a reminder of the negligence that once ruled treatment of former pro football players, by both their former employers and the union allegedly representing their interests.”

Irv Muchnick

No Lockout or Offseason for the NFL’s Pitt Med Center Docs Who Also Work for WWE

National Football League training camps are shuttered this month, pending resolution of the owners’ lockout of players. But for clinicians at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who have cushy consultancies not just with the NFL’s Steelers but also with other sports and entertainment entities, there are no idle hands.

At World Wrestling Entertainment – home of a performer early-death rate that makes pro football look like a counselor gig at a boys’ club – UPMC’s Dr. Joseph Maroon still holds down the fort as medical director, a post he has held since 2008. He is joined on the WWE medical team, the company website continues to confirm, by his colleague Dr. Mark Lovell. Both Maroon and Lovell are founders and partners of the for-profit ImPACT concussion management system, whose marketing inroads have been so helped along by the new “concussion awareness” – even though many intelligent observers question whether neurocognitive testing software is anything more than a PR band-aid for the sports brain-trauma pandemic.

In addition to practicing dubiously rigorous medicine for WWE, Maroon plays the team doctor in grunt-and-groan storylines. Twice in the last year-plus, the company’s No. 1 star, John Cena, has used his Twitter feed to invoke his post-beatdown  ImPACT tests as part of concussion “angles.” Much more questionable are WWE practices when the head injuries are indisputably real. Recently, Randy Orton was knocked unconscious in a choreography mishap at a show in Spain. Orton said this was his sixth known concussion. ImPACT “testing” nonetheless cleared Orton to work the main event of a pay-per-view event exactly seven days later.

To date, no mainstream journalist has picked up on this blog’s background of Maroon’s WWE work. Worse, no one has examined why Maroon survives at all as a front-and-center NFL concussion spokesman, after his years of involvement in tainted research downplaying evidence of chronic traumatic encephelopathy. In January, The New Yorker quoted Maroon in a major article – and specifically quoted him extolling the reporting of The New York Times’ Alan Schwarz. The Times, for its part, has not gotten around to examining the controversy over ImPACT. (The Chicago Tribune has done so, however.)

And never mind Maroon’s icky relationship with WWE. That’s just the circus, you know; it doesn’t count. Tell that to the voters of Connecticut, who next year may very well be asked to assess the second “self-funded” U.S. Senate candidacy of WWE co-founder Linda (Mrs. Vince) McMahon.

For the edification of new readers, I have pasted below links to some of my reports on the NFL/UPMC/WWE/ImPACT/ Dr. Joseph Maroon nexus.

 

Irv Muchnick

 

EXCLUSIVE: Linda McMahon’s WWE Medical Director Met With Chris Benoit Brain Experts in 2008

Pitt Med Center Doctors’ Supplement Company and WWE Ties Skirt Ethics Policy

Timeline of Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Work As WWE Medical Director

Pittsburgh Steelers’ Physician Joseph Maroon Key Figure in Sports Concussion Probe

Subpoena Cena: Does WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT System Manage Concussions – Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?

Cageside Seats: Dr. Maroon’s ImPACT Clearance of Randy Orton for Tomorrow’s WWE Pay-Per-View ‘Questionable at Best’

NFL Legend John Mackey, Inspiration for Mental Disability ’88 Plan,’ Dies at 69

John Mackey, the Hall of Fame tight end for the old Baltimore Colts and later a National Football League Players Association pioneer, has died at age 69 after battling dementia for more than a decade.

In recent years NFL Player Care enacted a plan to reimburse retirees up to $88,000 a year for acute-care expenses in connection with mental disability claims. The “88 Plan” was named in honor of Mackey, who wore uniform number 88.

Inexcusably, the main obituary on Mackey at The Baltimore Sun does not even make reference to the 88 Plan. The story does note his dementia and that his “off-the-field exploits were as important as his accomplishments on it.” See http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/ravens/bal-john-mackey-dies,0,5908899.story.

Irv Muchnick

Connecticut Governmental and Political Dysfunction a Recipe for Linda McMahonism – And Vice Versa

Look, gentle readers, I don’t believe the Connecticut Labor Department’s audit of World Wrestling Entertainment independent contractor misclassification practices is more urgent than public employee union concessions – which Governor Dan Malloy either did or did not negotiate, and which in turn either are or are not meaningful for the resolution of the state’s current budget mess.

I’m not that stupid.

Still, I can’t help reiterating that Linda McMahon, co-founder and ex-CEO of WWE, was the Republican nominee for one of Connecticut’s U.S. Senate seats last year, and by some accounts she is the presumptive nominee for the other Senate seat next year. And from my critical distance – a commodity obviously in short supply among the Nutmeg State chattering classes – I happen to think that the Government and Politics 101 fumbling of the state WWE investigation is a useful microcosm of general dysfunction.

People in the state that exported the WWE franchise across the globe are showing us, to a fare-thee-well, how WWE values rule that world, as well as theirs. They were shocked, shocked, by the tawdriness of the campaigns waged in 2010, both by McMahon and against her. Then the victors, to whom go the spoils and, with great reluctance, the responsibilities, proceeded to do absolutely nothing of substance about the most meaningful policy issue exposed by the McMahon family’s entry in the electoral arena.

Now all of them – Governor Malloy (former mayor of Stamford, hometown of WWE); Senator Richard Blumenthal (who squashed McMahon by double digits in last year’s election, evidently for the privilege of bringing Google Maps to its knees); Labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall (who supports misclassification crackdowns except when they’re real rather than theoretical); and whomever the Democratic establishment will put up for retiring Senator Joe Lieberman’s seat – are ready to do it all over against Linda McMahon in 2012.

I suspect they like it that way: the easy win on Election Day, the lack of results afterward, and above all the smug sense that the joke about wrestling is on everyone except them.

 

Irv Muchnick

Honor Roll: Current NFL Players Brendon Ayanbadejo and Will Witherspoon Support the Carl Eller Retirees’ Lawsuit

In my June 26 post, “View the Dissident NFL Retirees’ Washington Press Conference at Dave Pear’s Blog,” https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/view-the-dissident-nfl-retirees%E2%80%99-washington-press-conference-at-dave-pear%E2%80%99s-blog/, I promised a shout-out to the active players who appeared at the Washington Press Club news conference in support of Carl Eller’s class-action lawsuit making the anti-anti-lockout case of abandoned former players.

The list first given to me was hyped. There were eight names on it, but six of them were marginal ex-players, three of whom played as recently as 2006 or 2007 but perhaps still harbor hopes of resuming National Football League careers.

I have immense respect for Brendon Ayanbadejo (linebacker, Baltimore Ravens) and Will Witherspoon (linebacker, Tennessee Titans), who risked their current positions by bucking both the league and its players’ union. Both were at the Washington event, and Ayanbadejo spoke at it.

 

Irv Muchnick

Slouching Toward Anti-Maroonism: Some More Gentle Criticism of ImPACT Testing

From Dustin Fink’s Concussion Blog:

http://theconcussionblog.com/2011/07/05/more-research-for-multi-faceted-approach/

San Francisco 49er Eric Heitmann Cracks His Nuts … And Leg … And Neck … And Head?

You don’t have to be an ambulance chaser in order to know which way the sports-head-injury litigation winds are blowing. The San Francisco Chronicle’s football writer, Kevin Lynch, has provided some instructive background on the woes of San Francisco 49ers center Eric Heitmann.

Yesterday Lynch reported that Heitmann, who missed all of last season after injuring his neck and breaking his leg in training camp, will sit out all of 2011, as well, lockout or not, with a ruptured neck disk.

But it was Lynch’s blog post on the Chronicle’s website that told “the rest of the story.” See “Eric Heitmann – victim of the nutcracker,” http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/ninerinsider/detail?entry_id=92054:

Heitmann’s injury is another lasting legacy from Mike Singletary’s infamous nutcracker drill. The exercise in which two players clashed into each other and tried to push the other one back, like a pair of mountain rams, resulted in a series of injuries. None more serious than Heitmann’s; he felt a tweak in his neck after a nutcracker encounter in last summer’s training camp.

According to tackle Joe Staley, Heitmann ignored the injury but was slowed by it. The next day in a team drill, Heitmann broke his leg when he wasn’t quick enough to escape a falling teammate. The shattered fibula might have prevented possible paralysis with his vulnerable neck. While recovering from the leg injury, numbness and shooting pain persisted from his neck. When the symptoms refused to abate, Heitmann underwent surgery last month.

Those of you who follow football already know that in his two-plus years as the 49ers’ head coach, Singletary convincingly established that he was one of the 25 or so National Football League field generals who have no idea what they’re doing, rather than one of the seven or so who have a clue. The Heitmann anecdote adds another dimension to the sensitive-assassin shtick that Singletary (a teammate of Dave Duerson on the defense of the Chicago Bears’ 1986 Super Bowl champions) parlayed into a career on the Christian motivational-speaker circuit and then in the NFL coaching ranks.

As for Singletary’s employer and league – it is not exactly reassuring to hear that the much-ballyhooed concussion-awareness culture shift of 2010 did nothing to prevent this men-among-men barbarism, which not only damaged Heitmann’s neck but also, I strongly suspect, resulted in long-term brain trauma, diagnosed or otherwise.

 

Irv Muchnick

Randy Orton Interview About 2006 Drug Overdose Taken Down From Official Website

Randy Orton, with or without WWE’s input, has concluded that he took the hype of his upcoming DVD documentary too far by discussing his 2006 drug overdose in an Arizona radio interview two days ago. Either that or the interview tease has already served its purpose.

In any case, you can no longer find the audio at Orton’s official site. I’m told that you can access it at http://podcasting.fia.net/6005/4788152.mp3.

 

Irv Muchnick

While WWE Star Randy Orton Overdosed on Drugs, Wrestling Media and Fans Underdosed on Reality

Breaking his years-long silence on the subject, Randy Orton has acknowledged in an Arizona radio interview that in 2006 he indeed overdosed on an unspecified drug, was rushed by his then-fiancee to a suburban St. Louis hospital (DePaul Health Center, I can now report), and nearly died.

This verifies the account first published on this blog a year after the incident. The most comprehensive retrospective here – in January 2010 during the U.S. Senate campaign in Connecticut – was “The Suicide Attempt (Part 2 – Randy Orton, Poster Boy for Linda McMahon’s WWE ‘Wellness Policy’),” https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/the-suicide-attempt-part-2-randy-orton-poster-boy-for-linda-mcmahon%E2%80%99s-wwe-%E2%80%98wellness-policy%E2%80%99/.

The audio of Orton’s KUPD-Tempe interview is up on his own site at http://randy-orton.com/2011/06/randy-talks-with-98-kupd-arizonas-real-rock/.

Cageside Seats’ S. Bruce was the first wrestling journalist to report Orton’s admission, at http://www.cagesideseats.com/2011/6/29/2250462/outrageous-randy-orton-interview. Bruce notes that this confirms, “in part, Irv Muchnick’s story in 2007 that Orton had overdosed, although Irv initially claimed it was a suicide attempt, which is clearly not the case.”

At the Pro Wrestling Torch site, James Caldwell goes minimalist and cryptic: “Orton talked candidly about past drug abuse issues, including a documented incident five years ago when he ‘stopped breathing’ and his wife called an ambulance to save his life.”

Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer makes the important marketing tie-in to Orton’s disclosure: “He admitted to overdosing, stopped breathing and being rushed to the hospital in 2006 (this story had been reported by Irv Muchnick shortly after it happened) but he also admits to that on a new documentary DVD the company is putting out.”

When I broke the story, Brian Stull of KFNS radio in St. Louis had me on his “Stranglehold” show to talk about it. Beforehand, Stull spoke off the air with Orton’s father, Bob Orton Jr., who denied all. But Cowboy Bob later vaguely confirmed the episode in a KFNS documentary series on local sports heroes.

At the time, I did no favors to my opportunity to focus wrestling fans on the key issues when my early reports included easy-to-nitpick errors about the time frame of Orton’s OD and the background of his “legend killer” gimmick. So, yes, I wish I had rolled out the story more effectively.

I doubt, however, that perfection – as opposed to an overall sound scoop – would have made any difference. Just a few months after the Chris Benoit murder-suicide gripped mainstream media the world over, the news that a bankable WWE star had already gone through a hushed-up near-death experience would have resonated if fans, and the media pandering to them, wanted it that way. But they were eager to crawl back into their shells of denial. Not even the additional information that Randy Orton mysteriously dodged a suspension in the contemporaneous Signature Pharmacy scandal could shake the deniers out of their complacency.

As for the assertion by Bruce of Cageside Seats that there “clearly” was no suicide attempt … I’m not so sure. The slope of agency in drug overdoses can be slippery, and the bottom line of mortality doesn’t account for intent. (In 2008 Sean Waltman would be vehement that his own OD had been accidental, but later would change his tune.)

Anyway, it would be nice if the moral of this story were more than the parsing of gossipy details or the inevitable speculation that Orton’s new “candid” interview was just a self-congratulating work-shoot-work-shoot ploy to boost the sales of Randy Orton: Evolution of a Predator (of course it was). Orton is also, by his count, a six-concussion survivor – an issue which, like drug abuse, transcends both wrestling and its vastly larger cousin entertainment, pro football. The measurements of the ingredients of the “cocktail of death” are debatable – but not the conclusion that it’s a serious public health problem.

 

Irv Muchnick


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