Dave Meltzer Fumbles Umaga Story

The new issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (dated March 8 ) has a lengthy story on Eddie “Umaga” Fatu, the Samoan-American wrestler who died last December and whose toxicology report was released this week. The Observer‘s Dave Meltzer, the most respected and widely read pro wrestling journalist, does his usual thorough job explaining Umaga’s toxic abuse of prescription killers and mood drugs, as well as his entire life and career.

Unfortunately, Meltzer does not give Umaga’s death any context in the chronic and serial failures of the World Wrestling Entertainment “wellness policy.” For example, there is no analysis — usually a staple of the obsessively (and often admirably) detailed Observer — of the many drug tests we are led to believe Fatu took and “passed” between his 2007 “first strike” suspension and his May 2009 test failure (which led to his dismissal by WWE after he refused to go to rehab).

According to my interpretation of the company website background on the wellness policy, Fatu would have been tested as many as 20 times between August 2007 and June 2009. Around 16 of those tests would have been in the period through August or September 2008: “After a Talent tests positive and receives a strike, that WWE Talent is tested an average of 16 times for a period of one year.”

Perhaps the loophole there is that Fatu might not have earlier tested positive — if his first strike was for the mere fact that he was receiving drugs from Signature, an Internet pharmacy, which the policy also prohibits. Ordinarily Meltzer is all over this kind of nuance. But for this story he didn’t bring his “A” game.

Understand that I am not criticizing Meltzer if he doesn’t wish to inject himself unnecessarily into the attacks on Linda McMahon’s Senate candidacy by her main Republican opponent, Rob Simmons. And, indeed, the Observer account may have been written before the Simmons campaign released its big hit piece on McMahon’s stewardship of WWE drug policy (which, of course, this blog is closely following).

However, the new Observer was written after the Sunday publication of Brian Lockhart’s story in Hearst newspapers about how Congressman Henry Waxman and a White House drug policy office “dropped the ball” on the 2007 investigation of drug policies in wrestling, which followed the Chris Benoit murder-suicide. So far as I can tell, this heavily promoted front-page article, the talk of Connecticut, was not even covered in the print Observer.

In his Sunday website daily update, several days before this new weekly issue of the Observer, Meltzer did not ignore the Lockhart story. But in what I think was a seriously misjudged item, Meltzer dismissively wrote, in part, “Based on what I’ve seen of the story in a few different places, but not the entire story, it’s no new information, but quotes from people noting how McMahon was lucky the investigation was dropped.  But this story itself is not going to change the campaign.”

Well, it certainly won’t if journalists like Meltzer, who know better, don’t make more of an effort than that.

Irv Muchnick

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