In his 2007 interview by the staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Linda McMahon’s husband Vince explained the evolution of drug testing at World Wrestling Entertainment. In the 1980s, Vince said, “it was perceived, and I believe accurately so, that we had a cocaine problem [in which] a lot of people were engaged in that kind of party atmosphere.” One of the persistent messages of WWE’s “Wellness Policy,” instituted in 2006, is that abuse of recreational drugs was a thing of the past.
But the distinctions between performance enhancers/enablers and recreational drugs are not always so clear. For example, many pro wrestlers have dabbled, or worse, in GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid), one of the most notorious so-called “date rape” drugs. But if there have been date rapes by wrestlers using GHB, I am not aware of them. I associate the use in this community more with the evidence that it aids training by elevating growth hormone levels. But then, once in play, GHB also adds to the general cocktail of self-medication and intoxication while on tour.
Now WWE has informed the talent that it is banning Carisprodol, popularly known as “soma.” Indeed, under this change in the policy, the drug will not be allowed even if prescribed by a doctor. Soma is a muscle relaxer, whose legitimate use is obvious in this profession, but a lot of the guys over the years also have taken large doses to mess themselves up. Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer comments, “Due to the popularity of the drug with a certain segment of the talent base, this is probably the single most significant change to the policy since its inception.”
Most infamously, in 1998 a 27-year-old wrestler named Louis Mucciolo died in a pool of his own vomit after mixing alcohol with somas. Mucciolo wrestled under the name “Louie Spiccoli” – a reference to the early career signature performance of Sean Penn in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Mucciolo was among the “patients” of an Ohio doctor, Joel Hackett, who was one of the favorite promiscuously prescribing physicians of wrestlers after Dr. George Zahorian was convicted and sent to prison in 1991. (Zahorian openly handed out steroids and other drugs while he was the ringside physician at World Wrestling Federation television tapings in Pennsylvania, and supplied Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon by FedEx.) Hackett had prescribed Mucciolo the anti-anxiety drrug Xanax, as well as, almost certainly, testosterone.
Chastened by the Zahorian experience and by Vince’s narrow escape at his own 1994 federal trial, the McMahons barred Dr. Hackett from dressing rooms and spurred the medical board investigation that got him de-licensed.
The Wellness Policy change on somas occurs as WWE deals with the deepening health and behavior crisis surrounding wrestler Matt Hardy, who was taken off the crew during a recent British tour. (See “Wrestler Matt Hardy’s Physical Condition and Strange Behavior Challenge the ‘Wellness Policy’ at Linda McMahon’s WWE,” September 14, https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/wrestler-matt-hardys-physical-condition-and-strange-behavior-challenge-the-wellness-policy-at-linda-mcmahons-wwe/.)
Matt’s brother, Jeff Hardy, was dropped by WWE in last year at a moment when he was perhaps the company’s most popular performer, after being indicted on drug-trafficking charges that are still pending in North Carolina. [CORRECTION: He was arrested shortly after he let his WWE contract expire so he could take time off. Thanks to David Bixenspan.] Jeff Hardy now wrestles for the lesser-known TNA wrestling circuit.