Archive for December, 2010

Benoit Book Author Irvin Muchnick Interviewed Friday on Sirius XM Radio’s ‘Edge of Sports’

Irvin Muchnick, author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, will be interviewed live Friday, December 31, on Dave Zirin’s satellite radio program “Edge of Sports.”

The show airs at 12:00 noon Eastern time (9:00 a.m. Pacific time) on Sirius Channel 125 and XM Channel 241. “Edge of Sports” also streams and is archived at http://edgeofsports.com.

Muchnick will be discussing the ongoing Connecticut Labor Department investigation of World Wrestling Entertainment for alleged misclassification of its performers as independent contractors, as well as possible new government probes at the federal level. Connecticut’s long-time attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, will be sworn in next week as the state’s new United States senator after defeating WWE co-founder and former chief executive Linda McMahon in the November election. In addition, Muchnick will talk about WWE’s recent legal threats to him.

Muchnick previously authored WRESTLING BABYLON: Piledriving Tales of Drugs, Sex, Death, and Scandal. He is also the lead respondent in Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick, a landmark case for freelance writers’ rights, which the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year returned to lower courts for further adjudication.

Web: http://muchnick.net

Blog: https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com

Twitter: @irvmuch

YouTube: http://youtube.com/WrestlingBabylon

Media queries: media@muchnick.net

“Sen.-elect Blumenthal says he’s ready to fight in Washington”

Ed Stannard, New Haven Register

http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2010/12/26/news/doc4d16ca7d4fc8a752607671.txt?viewmode=fullstory

Cageside Seats: Autopsy Shows Heart Wasn’t Chris Benoit’s Only Enlarged Organ

“More on Benoit — his heart wasn’t the only enlarged organ in his body according to his official autopsy report”

Keith Harris, Cageside Seats

http://www.cagesideseats.com/2010/12/24/1895472/more-on-benoit-his-heart-wasnt-the-only-enlarged-organ-in-his-body

===============

Also: Thanks to David Bixenspan of Cageside Seats for helping your technically challenged blogger post what I hope are easier-to-read images of the exhibits to Jerry McDevitt’s December 16 letter to me. Here’s the list again:

EXHIBIT 1

“Sports Legacy Institute Announces Findings on Wrestler Chris Benoit’s Brain, September 5, 2007”

http://muchnick.net/sli_transcript_090507.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 2

Sports Legacy Institute news release, September 9, 2007

http://muchnick.net/sli_news_release_090507.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 3

Cary Ichter to Jerry McDevitt, September 11, 2007

http://muchnick.net/ichter091107.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 4

“Fifth Estate, Chris Benoit – Fight to the Death, Aired February 6 on the CBC Network across Canada”

http://muchnick.net/fifth_estate_transcript.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 5

“Muchnick Flashback – EXCLUSIVE: Linda McMahon’s WWE Medical Director Met With Chris Benoit Brain Experts in 2008”

http://muchnick.net/muchnick_blog_on_espn_story.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 6

Bennet Omalu to Cyril Wecht, April 17, 2006

http://muchnick.net/omalu_email_041706.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 7

GQ article, “Game Brain”

http://muchnick.net/gq.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 8

Transcript of Bennet Omalu testimony at Cyril Wecht trial

http://muchnick.net/wecht_trial_transcript.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 9

“CHRIS NOWINSKI INTERVIEW, DENNIS AND CALLAHAN RADIO TALK SHOW, WEEK OF OCTOBER 14, 2010”

http://muchnick.net/nowinski_interview_101410.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 10

Bennet Omalu journal article, “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a professional American wrestler”

http://muchnick.net/omalu_journal_article.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 11

“BENNET OMALU ON HIS INTRODUCTION TO AMERICAN FOOTBALL”

http://muchnick.net/omalu_pittmed_article.pdf

***

EXHIBIT 12

“Dr. Bennet Omalu, Brain Injury Research Institute: B/R Exclusive Interview”

http://muchnick.net/omalu_interview_102210.pdf

Murky New Chris Benoit Evidence Doesn’t Change Essence of Campaign to Regulate Pro Wrestling Occupational Health and Safety

Swinging wildly in every direction to deflect the new government scrutiny of pro wrestling triggered by Linda McMahon’s dumb bid for a Senate seat from Connecticut, World Wrestling Entertainment lawyer Jerry McDevitt rolled out a new counter-campaign last week in the form of a blustery letter to me with more attachments than a barnacle. (See “New Threats From WWE Lawyer Jerry McDevitt,” https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/new-threats-from-wwe-lawyer-jerry-mcdevitt/.)

McDevitt also talked at length with Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter for an interesting story in his current issue. The piece is viewable online only to subscribers. I have a pending request to Meltzer for permission to run the full text at this blog.

The Meltzer article is, as I said, interesting, and it begins to develop new known information. But the information does nothing to help WWE ward off churning investigations of the company by the state of Connecticut and the federal government. If anything, the previously buried data here on Chris Benoit’s medical history and autopsy findings would be incorporated into a defense by McDevitt in the event the Benoit family were ever to sue WWE – and I don’t think they would be that useful even in that eventuality.

Among other things, Meltzer writes that “the report on Benoit” shows “no serious medical issues except at the age of six, when he was in an automobile accident. His head hit the windshield and he was hospitalized for three days and diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury. However, growing up, he showed no signs of any effects of that accident.”

Meltzer offers no antecedent for the words “the report.” In an email exchange, he confirmed to me that he was referring to verbiage in a recent journal article by Dr. Bennet Omalu, who examined Benoit’s postmortem brain tissue and concluded that he had Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy. In the Observer story, Meltzer fails to mention that the Omalu article was one of the exhibits to McDevitt’s December 16 letter to me.

As I noted at the time in posting McDevitt’s material, I need to do some technical work on my end to make less fuzzy the downloadable versions of the PDF files he sent me. The Omalu article will be my first priority in that area. In the meantime, readers can view the image of Omalu’s article, with poor resolution, at http://muchnick.net/omalu_journal_article.pdf. The relevant passage:

“At the age of 6 years, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident when his head struck the windshield of the automobile in which he was a passenger. He was hospitalized for 3 days, felt to have had a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), but went on to have  no known deleterious effects and no permanent injury.”

I can add a little more to this aspect of Meltzer’s story. My understanding is that Benoit’s childhood car accident was well known by all the researchers who examined his brain, and they concluded that it was a non-factor in his murder-suicide at age 40. The accident was also well known to WWE: it had been recounted years before the tragedy in Georgia in interviews conducted for the company’s DVD compilation of Benoit’s best matches, Hard Knocks (though that material wound up on the cutting-room floor and didn’t make it onto the DVD).

Meltzer, quoting Omalu, also has explosive new information that Benoit had an enlarged heart. Again, the language from Omalu’s article:

“There was cardimegaly (620 g) with left ventricular hypertrophy and bilateral atrioventricular dilation.”

This raises a question I am nowhere close to being able to answer, except to note that it is consistent with serious lapses in the entire official record originally published by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), and the Fayette County 911 Center.

Did the original and official GBI autopsy of Benoit note his enlarged heart, but do so in muted or cryptic language? In the DVD data companion to my book CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, I publish the complete public autopsy report. I am now making that document viewable for readers here at http://muchnick.net/chrisbenoitautopsy.pdf.

There are references to Benoit’s heart in two places. The first reference:

“Cardiovascular System: This heart weighs 620 grams and has a normal distribution of widely patent right coronary dominant arteries. The myocardium is uniformly dark-red without pallor, hemorrhage, softening, or fibrosis. The left ventricle wall is 1.6 cm thick and the right is 0.2 cm thick. All four cardiac chambers are dilated. The endocardial surfaces and four valves are unremarkable. The aorta is without atherosclerosis. The venae cavae and pulmonary arteries are without thrombus or embolus.”

The second reference:

“Submitted for histologic analysis are sections of: […] Heart (2) – There is myocyte hypertrophy.”

So Chris Benoit, like Eddie “Umaga” Fatu, had an enlarged heart. Without any reference to the controversy over CTE, we can say that this makes WWE look not better, but far worse.

Irv Muchnick

Muchnick Flashback December 2007: WWE Dodges the Congressional Bullet

The piece below is instructive for the challenge that Connecticut’s new senator, Richard Blumenthal, will face in reviving investigations of pro wrestling occupational health and safety.

The most striking omission from this three-year-old essay is concussions: I not only underplayed Chronic Traumatic  Encephelopathy; I didn’t even mention it. We’ve all learned a lot more since then about the evidence that Mike Benoit (Chris’s father) and Dr. Bennet Omalu were pushing that season.

Irv Muchnick

===============

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

[originally published at SLAM! Wrestling under the headline 
“Looks like wrestling will dodge Congress’ steroid bullet,” 
http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/GuestColumn/2007/12/24/4739273.html]
 

On July 6, Congressman Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, issued a press release and began a round of cable news appearances calling for an investigation of steroids in pro wrestling. This was 12 days after the bodies of Chris, Nancy and Daniel Benoit were discovered.

Four months later Congressman Bobby Rush, Democrat of Illinois (chair of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, of which Stearns was ranking minority member), told the Baltimore Sun, “Given recent developments — the impending Mitchell report 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 between, both the Rush Subcommittee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (chaired by Henry Waxman of California) requested background information from WWE and, to a certain extent, from TNA and other promotions as well.

Quietly, Vince McMahon complied with the requests. He also sank new hundreds of thousands of dollars into lobbying operations coordinated by the company’s main outside law firm, Pittsburgh-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis. How many hundreds of thousands we won’t know until public filings next year.

Loudly, in TV skits, Vince mocked the committees. Backstage his daughter Stephanie and son-in-law Paul “Triple H” Levesque bucked up the nervous talent by telling them that Vince was making defiant plans to show up at the Congressional hearing in a clown wig.

On December 13, baseball’s Mitchell report was released. But by then the legit sports story was no longer pulling the circus subplot in its shadow. Rather, it was downright overwhelming it. Wrestling had dodged another bullet — at least that’s how most insiders would sum up the deferring of the industry’s day of reckoning and reform for another day/month/year/decade, at a point when several/dozens/scores/hundreds more corpses will have piled up from drug overdoses, attacks of artificially enlarged hearts, exotic forms of cancer and homicidal-suicidal binges, all in the name of our uninterrupted junk entertainment.

Human physics, like wrestling politics, are an odd bird. The rise and fall of Congressional wrestling hearings combine elements of the discovery of the Gobbledygooker and the on-and-off last push for Ric Flair. It starts with Stearns, who two years earlier, as chairman of what is now the Rush Subcommittee, had introduced legislation that would have set a single steroid testing standard and uniform penalties for all sports. Stearns began his July press release and parallel soundbytes by noting, “Between 1985 and 2006, 89 wrestlers have died before the age of 50.”

His staff had pulled the stat from a column by FoxSports.com’s Mark Kriegel, headlined “Congress needs to get involved — now.” Kriegel, in turn, was quoting the appendix of my recently published book Wrestling Babylon. Stearns would proceed to cite that factoid, without attribution.

Though I consider my 1985-2006 death list conscientious, I’ve made no grandiose claims for its epidemiological rigor. My list is contextually superior to USA Today’s oft-quoted 65 deaths under age 45, 1987-94, and inferior to Dave Meltzer’s 62 deaths of “major league” wrestlers under age 50 in the last 10 years. I note Stearns’ non-citation without indulgence and for the sole purpose of illustrating what motivates “preliminary” Congressional investigations.

Soon Stearns was arranging a photo opportunity at Dory Funk’s training center, the Funking Conservatory, which is conveniently located in the Congressman’s district in Ocala, Florida. But even if Stearns really wanted to go to the mat and call hearings, he did not have that authority, which has rested with the Democratic majority that won control in the 2006 elections. As ranking minority member; Stearns needed the green light of Chairman Rush. By the end of the year, Stearns wasn’t even ranking minority member at Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection; he had given up that post for the same one on the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.

Now that the immediate hearing prospect has played itself out, perhaps it’s not a bad thing that baseball and wrestling investigations aren’t conjoined. Their drug problems flow from opposite, and counterintuitive, sources. It’s the old existential conundrum fans love to bat around: The last generation’s baseball records have been fake, but wrestling’s avoidable and unacceptable mortality rate has been real. And you can’t legislate irony.

Another key difference is that baseball has a talent union, arguably the most effective labor organization in America, which in a span of four decades has driven its members’ average annual wages from something like $19,000 to more than $2,000,000. Steroids first reached untenable levels because it was in the owners’ interests to look the other way. Then, if they ever were interested in reining in the problem, they found that their employees were collectively strong enough to resist solutions.

Wrestling has no talent union, and for the good and simple reason that the owners not only build the playing fields, they make all the out-or-safe calls. Therefore, I see cleaning up wrestling as something more along the lines of the safety reforms imposed on the movie industry after actor Vic Morrow and two young children were killed in a 1982 accident on a action-film set.

But that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m assuming that the Congressional committees don’t have a January swerve up their sleeve, or “Mr. Kennedy” isn’t on the verge of murdering Hornswoggle for cheating him out of his patrimony. In an Orwellian world where wellness policies are not well, the other shoe of life’s wrestling angle is not quite ready to drop, after all. At 100+ dead and counting, it’s still in the tease stage.

Knocking Heads Together: WWE Is the Next Frontier of Sports Concussion Reform

How grimly appropriate that Brett Favre, this year’s poster boy for pro football angst both on and off the field, would be one of the two players sustaining what were delicately termed “head injuries” in last night’s nationally televised game. After the Chicago Bears-Minnesota Vikings matchup got moved to an outdoor stadium with a rock-hard surface while the weather-punctured roof of the Minneapolis Metrodome awaits repair, the sour joke around the National Football League had been that an 80 percent chance of snow was exceeded only by a 90 percent chance of concussions.

But at least the NFL is vaguely grounded in reality. Stung by critical Congressional hearings last year, Roger Goodell’s unstoppable brand lurches toward solutions – even if a straight line may never exist between a violent contact sport and competitive civility.

From where I sit, the new regime of fines and suspensions for difficult-to-define headhunters has done more good than harm. Moreover, earlier this year the league gave $1 million to Boston University for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy research. And NFL Charities just announced nearly a million more for groups studying both youth concussions and the phenomenon of dementia in former players.

Contrast this NFL reality check with the persistent culture of denial at World Wrestling Entertainment. Pittsburgh neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon, a long-time NFL brain-trauma consultant, serves as WWE’s medical director, a post created in 2008 in an expansion of the company’s drug-testing procedures and talent “wellness policy.”

Despite the fact that pro wrestling, in contrast with football, is choreographed, the former’s participants suffer an early death rate magnitudes higher. Yet not even the 2007 murder-suicide of WWE star Chris Benoit could get Congress off the schneid on investigations of wrestling, whose global reach and mega-profits are the nearly exclusive province of one company and one family: the McMahons of Connecticut.

This year former WWE chief executive Linda McMahon, wife of potentate Vince McMahon, even poured $50 million of their nearly billion-dollar fortune into an embarrassingly unsuccessful run for a Senate seat. (Not embarrassing enough, however, for Linda to refrain from immediate noise about a run for the state’s other Senate seat in 2012.)

Into the teeth of this wealth and propaganda machine, Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal had a messy passage to election. Victory was ultimately secured, in significant measure, by the spotlight shone on WWE’s morbid occupational health and safety record.

Now Blumenthal is obliged to help clean up junk entertainment’s industrial death mill. A good place for the 112th Congress to start would be resumption of the post-Benoit investigation undertaken by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee’s chairman at the time, Congressman Henry Waxman, perplexingly stopped short of public hearings; he probably either bent to the will of WWE’s well-greased lobbyists.or simply calculated that the public was more enthralled by the human growth hormone injection marks on the derriere of baseball’s Roger Clemens.

Whatever the source, WWE is clearly nervous. Last week lawyer Jerry McDevitt sent me  a rambling 13-page letter, with more than a hundred pages of exhibits, accusing me of defamation as well as, perhaps, mopery and gawkery. (See “New Threats From WWE Lawyer Jerry McDevitt,” https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/new-threats-from-wwe-lawyer-jerry-mcdevitt/.)

The most remarkable aspect of McDevitt’s serial saber-rattling, three and a half years after the Benoit tragedy, is that WWE still doesn’t accept Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy as a clear and present danger. McDevitt directs most of his ire at Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist whose study of Benoit’s postmortem brain tissue helped put CTE on the map.

In the WWE mouthpiece’s master innuendo, Omalu and his West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute colleague, Dr. Julian Bailes, have failed to establish to WWE’s satisfaction that the Benoit study tissue samples were from Benoit’s brain. At the appropriate time, a straightforward DNA test will easily confirm the chain of custody.

Bailes and Omalu used to work with Boston’s Sports Legacy Institute, which was started by a WWE performer, Harvard grad Chris Nowinski, who had been forced to retire due to many concussions. In his letter to me, McDevitt insinuates that Omalu’s falling out with the Boston group was based on questions by Dr. Robert Cantu and other researchers there about the integrity of Omalu’s work.

Nonsense. The Boston-West Virginia rivalry has everything to do with egos and competition for grants and attention – there is no serious dispute among the scientific experts as to the core conclusion that CTE is a discrete pathology. Dr. Cantu himself spoke at Nowinski’s 2007 press conference announcing Omalu’s Benoit findings; Cantu called the wrestler’s brain tissue damage some of the worst he had ever seen.

As for this blog, McDevitt’s big beef is that I reported a year ago this month that WWE lied to ESPN in a story about the brain study of a second dead wrestler, Andrew “Test” Martin. Unlike Benoit, Martin – who succumbed to a prescription pill addiction at 33 – did not commit homicide or suicide, but he, too, was found to have CTE. WWE glibly told the ESPN reporter that it had never been given access to the Benoit research. Left untold was that in 2008 medical director Maroon had accepted an invitation to the West Virginia lab, where Drs. Bailes and Omalu showed him the Benoit slides.

As the story continues to unfold, Maroon could find his association with the WWE deny-all crowd imperiling his reputation and legacy. To Maroon’s credit, his team at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has helped develop neurological baseline testing and new athletic concussion prevention and treatment protocols. To Maroon’s discredit, he came off poorly at the House Judiciary Committee’s NFL concussion hearings, which rocketed the issue into public consciousness.

And in addition to enabling WWE’s lie to ESPN, Maroon told a Connecticut newspaper during the Linda McMahon for Senate campaign, “We have no talent now on steroids” – a quote so wildly at variance with the truth that the leading wrestling journalist, Dave Meltzer, called it “mind-boggling.” In a poll of Meltzer’s readers at the Wrestling Observer website, 76 percent of the respondents selected “dishonest” as a description of this statement.

Moving forward, will Maroon be part of the problem or part of the solution?

Irv Muchnick

Muchnick Flashback (January 2010): The Second Time WWE Lawyer McDevitt Got Mad at Me

Jerry McDevitt, Lawyer for Linda McMahon’s WWE, Gets Mad at Me Again (Part 1), January 21, 2010

https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/01/21/jerry-mcdevitt-lawyer-for-linda-mcmahon%E2%80%99s-wwe-gets-mad-at-me-again-part-1/

***

Jerry McDevitt, Lawyer for Linda McMahon’s WWE, Gets Mad at Me Again (Part 2), January 22, 2010

https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/jerry-mcdevitt-lawyer-for-linda-mcmahon%E2%80%99s-wwe-gets-mad-at-me-again-part-2/

***

Jerry McDevitt, Lawyer for Linda McMahon’s WWE, Gets Mad at Me Again (Part 3), January 23, 2010

https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/jerry-mcdevitt-lawyer-for-linda-mcmahon%E2%80%99s-wwe-gets-mad-at-me-again-part-3/


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