Timeline of Collapsed Federal Investigation of Drug Policies at Linda McMahon’s WWE

A week ago Brian Lockhart of the Stamford Courant and Hearst newspapers reported the first detailed account in state media of the 2007 investigation of pro wrestling by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and its impact on the U.S. Senate campaign of Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.

On this blog, I have been providing background information on this sequence of events, via the six-part series that began last Friday with the post “Introducing ‘WWE Responds to Hearst’s Story on the Abortive Waxman Committee Steroid Investigation.’”

For another perspective, see the chapter entitled “Congress Cuts a Promo” in my book CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death. From March 23 through 27, I will be in Connecticut promoting the book. The tour includes events at the Borders stores in Stamford – home city of WWE – on Thursday evening, March 25, and in Farmington on Saturday afternoon, March 27. The latter is on the eve of WrestleMania, WWE’s annual pay-per-view extravaganza, which this year will feature a gimmick match involving Linda McMahon’s husband and the chairman of WWE, Vince McMahon.

Here is a complete timeline of the known events leading to the mysterious fade of the federal investigation spurred by the June 2007 double murder/suicide of Chris Benoit, one of WWE’s biggest stars.

*****

JULY 2007

In a July 6 news release and subsequent television appearances, Congressman Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, called on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to “to investigate allegations of rampant steroid use in professional wrestling.” Stearns was the ranking minority member of the committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. The chairman of the subcommittee was Bobby Rush, Democrat of Illinois. Two weeks after his first public statement, Stearns said that although no hearing yet had been scheduled, one “likely will be held this fall.”

On July 27, a second House committee – Oversight and Government Reform – moved into the picture. In a letter to Vince McMahon over the signatures of chairman Henry Waxman (Democrat of California) and ranking minority member Tom Davis (Republican of Virginia), the committee requested production of voluminous documents in the committee’s “on-going investigations into the illegal use of steroids and other drugs in sports.” The letter can be viewed at http://muchnick.net/WaxmanLetter.pdf.

On July 31, the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee sent a similar letter to WWE over the signatures of Rush and Stearns. See http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_110/110-ltr.073107.WWE.McMahon.pdf.

The next day Stearns reiterated in a statement to the media, “I am encouraged that a hearing may be held this fall.”

*****

FALL 2007

The staff of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee undertook its investigation.

Meanwhile, Congressman Stearns had left his position as ranking member of the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee.

However, on November 16, 2007, an article in the Baltimore Sun said that in a letter to its reporter, Chairman Rush of that subcommittee said, “Given recent developments — the impending Mitchell report [on Major League Baseball] and reports of widespread abuse in professional wrestling — I believe it’s time we get a formal update on what progress is being made to eradicate steroids from all sports and sports entertainment.”

In December, the staff of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee privately interviewed many WWE officials associated with the companies drug policies. At Vince McMahon’s interview on December 14, senior investigator Brian Cohen said, “[P]er our discussion with Jerry [McDevitt, WWE lawyer] beforehand, we’ve not alerted the media. Our intention was that you were able to come in here without having a media circus.”

*****

FEBRUARY 2008

On February 26, 2008, the Rush subcommittee held a televised hearing on steroids in sports, attended by the heads of every major American team sport and athletes’ union. Vince McMahon was also invited but did not attend. While acknowledging that pro wrestling was not a legitimate sport, Congressman Rush said, “I am exceptionally and extremely disappointed.” He added, “Steroid abuse in pro wrestling is probably worse than in any professional sport or amateur sport…. The number of deaths in the professional wrestling ranks is startling to say the least. The tragedy of Chris Benoit has been well documented. I want to assure Mr. McMahon that this committee fully intends to deal with the illegal steroid abuse in professional wrestling. And we hope he will be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

The next day McMahon issued a statement calling Rush’s comments “unfair and inaccurate.” WWE also released a January 28 letter from attorney McDevitt, on McMahon’s behalf, to the Rush subcommittee in which McMahon had declined the invitation to attend the February 26 hearing because his counsel, McDevitt, was detained that day at the defense in a federal trial in Pennsylvania. In a passage not noticed by many at the time, McDevitt also wrote, “Additionally, WWE’s top executives, Chairman Vincent K. McMahon, Chief Executive Officer Linda McMahon, and Executive Vice President Stephanie McMahon Levesque, each appeared individually before the Oversight Committee staff for transcribed interviews. In these interviews, the executives answered a wide range of questions posed by the Committee, and it is our view that the transcripts of those interviews will provide a substantial amount of information relevant to your Subcommittee’s inquiry.”

*****

JANUARY 2, 2009

On a Friday – the day after New Year’s and 18 days before the inauguration of President Barack Obama – Congressman Waxman, the chair of Oversight, sent a lengthy letter to John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House. The letter began, “As you may know, I will be leaving the Oversight Committee to become Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Before I make this transition, I want to provide you with information from the Oversight Committee’s investigation into the use of steroids in professional wrestling, which over 3 million children and teens watch regularly. I also request that your office examine the systemic deficiencies in the testing policies and practices of professional wrestling that the investigation has found.”

*****

FEBRUARY 28, 2010

Brian Lockhart reported for Hearst:

The White House and Congress dropped the ball in 2009 on an effort to investigate the use of steroids in professional wrestling — a lapse that represents a break for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment who is campaigning on her success as a businesswoman.

Had the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy initiated an inquiry, as it was asked  to by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in January 2009, some critics said they suspect it would have posed problems for McMahon’s audacious, self-funded entrance into politics.

I hope the Connecticut media keep plugging away at the open questions raised by this important story.

Irv Muchnick

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