Memo to Courant’s Rick Green: Four Questions for Linda McMahon

Hartford Courant columnist Rick Green is meeting Tuesday with Linda McMahon. He says so in a blog post last Friday, “Linda McMahon, Retard Jokes and the WWE Soap Opera,” http://blogs.courant.com/rick_green/2010/02/it-may-be-all-overthetop.html.

I would have headlined the item “Linda McMahon’s ‘Retard’ Problem – And Ours.” It’s a generally wise takeout, especially where Green writes, “She very well may be the next U.S. Senator from Connecticut. Which makes it all the more important to ask a few more questions about this button-downed-CEO’s judgment.”

Where I think the piece falls short is where just about everyone else does. Playing “gotcha” with YouTube clips won’t get it done in the game of pseudo-populist jiu-jitsu.

On Friday afternoon I talked with a politico on the ground in Connecticut, who expressed amazement that the footage of the humiliation of WWE character Nick “Eugene” Dinsmore didn’t seem to be sticking to Linda. My response was that, after decades of following McMahon family wrestling’s race to the bottom, whatever does or doesn’t move the outrage needle has ceased to surprise me.

Now, as Lincoln and Douglas once again flop around in their graves like mackerels, Rick Green prepares to confront Linda McMahon. Oh to be a fly on the wall for that tete-a-tete.

Here, free of charge, are a few questions I hope Green asks.

======

CONCUSSIONS

Linda [Rick Green should say], state legislation has been introduced to protect high school athletes from what research is showing to be long-term brain trauma from improperly treated concussions. I have written about this issue both in my column and on my blog.

One of the pioneers in the research on sports-related brain trauma, Dr. Bennet Omalu, has studied the brains of dead WWE wrestlers Chris Benoit and Andrew Martin and concluded that they suffered from severe, occupation-caused brain damage.

WWE has tried to discredit and dodge that research. Why?

At best, your company sits at approximately the same stage of the denial-and-action cycle that the National Football League occupied five years ago. You even hired as your medical director Dr. Joseph Maroon, also an NFL consultant, who has been far from the most enthusiastic advocate of embracing the findings of Dr. Omalu and others in this field.

Worse, WWE – which has dominant market power in the wrestling industry and thus could promote safer standards with much less inconvenience than the NFL – continues to build around hard-core gimmicks like “tables, ladders, and chairs” matches. A promo for a recent WWE pay-per-view show hyping “TLC” matches showed animated cuckoo birds encircling the head of wrestler Chris Jericho after he took a chair shot. (And it should also be noted that Jericho recently has been involved in two publicly embarrassing outside-the-ring incidents.)

Even worse than that was WWE’s statement to ESPN that it had sought and been denied access to Omalu’s Benoit brain research – a statement that turned out to be based (depending on your interpretation) on either aggressive hairsplitting or an out-and-out lie. In fact, WWE medical director Maroon met with Omalu and others at a West Virginia brain research institute in 2008 and was given full access to the Benoit studies. [See “Jerry McDevitt, Lawyer for Linda McMahon’s WWE, Gets Mad at Me Again (Part 3),” https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/jerry-mcdevitt-lawyer-for-linda-mcmahon%E2%80%99s-wwe-gets-mad-at-me-again-part-3/.]

So, Linda: Are you proud of WWE’s record of foot-dragging, which has allowed it to continue and expand the completely unnecessary practice of chair and weapons shots, in a choreographed entertainment that could easily thrive without that element?

***

SPEAKING OF “RETARD” JOKES …

Linda, the two controversies last week over forms of the word “retarded,”indirectly related to you, overshadowed a more substantive third one, directly involving you.

In an interview about the Chris Benoit murder-suicide on ABC’s Good Morning America on June 28, 2007, you stated: [T]he focus of this is really turning more to the tension that must have been happening between a husband and wife over, you know, the management and the schooling and the rearing of this child who had the mental retardation.”

What an appalling display of bullspin. The report that 7-year-old Daniel Benoit had Fragile X Syndrome was just a rumor that WWE stoked to deflect attention from the company’s deeply embedded culture of drugs and early death, of which the Benoit case was just the most dramatic example. WWE withdrew this innuendo a day later, but the damage was done.

No one in his right mind thinks that Daniel Benoit’s medical condition, whatever it was, had a tenth as much to do with this tragedy as the heavy doses of steroids, growth hormone, and prescription painkillers and antidepressants that Chris Benoit had chronically ingested. The toxicology report would show that Chris had a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of 59-to-1! Yet your sound bites that week emphasized that he had “passed” his WWE drug tests. That turned out to mean not that the tests showed anything in the neighborhood of normal drug levels, but that he had a get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of a WWE “therapeutic use exemption.”

Linda, are you proud of your little PR swerve about Daniel Benoit’s “retardation”? He was a real person, not a fictional TV character who you could rather outlandishly claim was “inspirational.”

And is this the template for how you intend to manage crises in Washington?

In your answer, please don’t advise me to read the website poop sheet on the “Wellness Policy.” It’s a meaningless document because your consultants are just clerks or administrators; your husband Vince alone, and not an independent authority, interprets the tests and metes out or withholds talent discipline. One of your contractors, Dr. Tracy Ray, admitted to Congressional investigators, “There is shadiness in almost every case….”

***

CONGRESSMAN WAXMAN’S PROPOSAL

In January 2009, Congressman Henry Waxman, then chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a lengthy letter, with attachments, to the President’s Office of Drug Control Policy. The letter sharply criticized the WWE Wellness Program. The congressman asked this White House office to “examine the systematic deficiencies in the testing policies and practices of professional wrestling” uncovered by the committee’s investigation.

Linda, if you are elected to the Senate, will you ask President Obama to follow through on Waxman’s letter?

***

INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR REFORM

One feature of President Obama’s newly released budget is what he has termed the misclassification of regular employees as independent contractors. The president estimates that his proposal in this area would reduce the federal budget deficit by an annual $7 billion.

WWE performers are, controversially, classified as independent contractors. This means both that the company does not pay payroll taxes on them and that wrestlers get no vacation, health insurance, or retirement benefits.

Linda, what is your position on the administration’s proposal for independent-contractor reform?


Over the last month and a half, Rick Green has had a lot of fun with my efforts to publicize my book CHRIS & NANCY. And I’ve had fun with his fun. But I think Green and I agree on what is no laughing matter in all this: the prospect of Linda Edwards McMahon moving her office from East Main Street in Stamford to Constitution Avenue on Capitol Hill.

If Green doesn’t choose to ask the questions above, I hope he is armed with a pocketful of even better ones.

Irv Muchnick

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