Archive for March, 2011

From the Wrestling Babylon Archives

World Wrestling Entertainment’s WrestleMania 27 takes place in Atlanta on Sunday. Here are some of the most popular WrestleMania-based articles at our archive on topics you won’t be reading much, if anything, about in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter or Pro Wrestling Torch, much less the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It is the 20th anniversary of the 1991 WrestleMania, which included no fewer than 11 performers who would die before age 50. In January of last year this blog published a seven-part series documenting all the deaths. The series was combined into a single post:

‘The Question’ – Senate Candidate Linda McMahon (Still) Can’t Answer It (complete 7-part series as a single post)

The night before WrestleMania is the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. The lead inductee this year is Shawn Michaels. Last month I wrote a two-part series on the October 2008 incident in which Michaels punished Lance Cade with a chair. Cade would die a little less than two years later.

WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels Should Speak Up on What Happened to Lance Cade

Did WWE’s Lance Cade Have Brain Damage? It May Not Be Too Late to Find Out

WWE is under investigation by the Connecticut Labor Department for alleged misclassification of its wrestlers as independent contractors. A few weeks ago we had a guide on how people within the industry can file complaints with government agencies.

WrestleMania Preview: How Wrestlers Can File Complaints With Government Agencies (Part 1 – OSHA)

WrestleMania Preview: How Wrestlers Can File Complaints With Government Agencies (Part 2 – Connecticut Labor Department)

WWE’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Maroon, is at the center of a federal investigation of concussions in sports. Here are a couple of recent pieces of reporting in that area:

Introducing ‘What the Feds Must Investigate About WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Concussion Product’

Subpoena Cena: Does WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT System Manage Concussions – Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?

Finally, in the category of nostalgia, just a few days ago we remembered the late vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s inadvertent involvement in the hype for the very first WrestleMania in 1985.

Wrestling Note on Late Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro

 

Irv Muchnick

Wrestling Note on Late Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro

Below I’ve corrected the original post, which said that the Felt Forum is now the Manhattan Center. Manhattan Center is a different nearby building. Thanks to David Bixenspan and Dave Meltzer.

Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman nominated by a major party on a presidential ticket, has died. Ferraro was Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate in their unsuccessful 1984 attempt to block Ronald Reagan’s reelection. Ferraro also was among the first, and perhaps the very first, prominent national politician to be duped by Vincent Kennedy McMahon and Linda Edwards McMahon, the first couple of what is now World Wrestling Entertainment. Here are a few morsels of the Ferraro obituary that won’t make it into The New York Times.

In 1984 singer Cyndi Lauper, a pro wrestling fan and a friend of wrestler-manager Captain Lou Albano, had one of the first breakout music videos, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which co-starred Albano as her finger-wagging father.

Throughout that year, Lauper got involved in an extended skit on the McMahons’ wrestling telecasts – then finding a national audience in the early days of cable – in which she feuded with Albano and ultimately turned him from a “heel” to a “babyface.”

In December 1984, Ms. Magazine held its annual awards banquet. The honorees included both Lauper and Geraldine Ferraro. Hulk Hogan attended and a then-World Wrestling Federation crew recorded it as documentation of the new “rock and wrestling connection.” The WWF producer talked both Ferraro and Gloria Steinem, a founding editor of Ms., to “cut promos” on Hogan’s No. 1 antagonist of that season, Rowdy Roddy Piper. With some misgivings, Ferraro and Steinem went ahead and recited their lines. Since they included homophobic catcalls about the “Scottish” Piper’s “skirt” (the kilt he used to wear into the ring as part of his gimmick), the verbiage was both imbued with undeniable populist humor and politically incorrect.

Two months later WWF was building toward its first WrestleMania extravaganza on closed circuit and pay-per-view TV. The main event of the set-up February 1985 show at Madison Square Garden in New York was Hogan vs. Piper. The Garden was sold out with an audience that legitimately included Andy Warhol. Along with the rest of the overflow crowd, I watched the closed-circuit feed in the adjoining Felt Forum (now called The Theater At Madison Square Garden). The show was simulcast on both the MSG regional cable network and the emerging national cable channel MTV. I believe it was the first non-music-video programming in MTV’s history and it drew record ratings.

Ferraro and Steinem were not at the Garden show. However, WWF, in building the buzz for their camp-art phenomenon, neatly edited the December clips of them into the opening cut-in of the broadcast to create the illusion that they were there. Ferraro looked at the camera and challenged the skirted Piper to “fight like a man.”

The tabloid gossip columns picked it up. Ferraro complained that she’d been had by WWF.

She wouldn’t be the last.


Irv Muchnick

‘ImPACT’ of Dr. Maroon’s and Colleagues’ Writings

PREVIOUSLY:

In his 2007 article in ESPN The Magazine (linked in the previous post in this series), Peter Keating wrote extensively about the start-up company ImPACT Applications, whose concussion-management software was by then being used by 30 of the 32 National Football League teams.

Two of ImPACT’s co-founders, Drs. Joseph Maroon and Mark Lovell of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, were members of the NFL’s Committee on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.

Christopher Randolph, professor of neurology at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago, and former team neuropsychologist for the Chicago Bears, told Keating, “It is a major conflict of interest, scientifically irresponsible.”

Other key points:

– Lovell and a third Pitt Med Center colleague and ImPACT stakeholder, Michael Collins, were co-authors of all 19 of the publications listed in the “Reliability and Validity” section of the ImPACT website.

– In 2005 Loyola’s Randolph published a study in Journal of Athletic Training, which found that only one peer-reviewed article involving a prospective controlled study with ImPACT had been published.

– Another then unpublished study by Stephen Broglio, professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign concluded that ImPACT and two other tested computerized systems were “less than optimal.”

– Without disclosing their financial interests, Maroon and Collins published laudatory comments on a 2006 Neurosurgery article about ImPACT that was co-authored by Lovell and three other members of the NFL concussion committee.

– Lovell declined to be interviewed for ESPN’s investigative series Outside the Lines.

NEXT: Explosive rumors about how NFL players “game” the ImPACT system to hasten return to play following concussions.


Irv Muchnick

Ahoy, Congress! Google Books Objector Pam Samuelson’s Policy Agenda

Cross-posted from http://freelancerights.blogspot.com.


Pamela Samuelson and I have two things in common. And no, neither one is a MacArthur fellowship or broad expertise in the interplay of copyright and public policy — those are all Samuelson’s.

But Pam was the highest-profile objector to the Google Books settlement, which Judge Denny Chin torpedoed this week, and I lead a slate of objectors to the “Freelance” journalists’ electronic database settlement, still awaiting a ruling at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We also have a passing acquaintance in the small hamlet of Berkeley, California. So when the Google news hit the other day, I sent Pam a note of congratulations.

Another thing we most assuredly do not share is access to The New York Times. The Newspaper of Record has twisted itself into journalism-not knots avoiding explanation of who is the “Muchnick” of last year’s United States Supreme Court case, Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick. But Samuelson, quite appropriately, was sounded out by The Times on the Humpty Dumpty fallout of Google Books. See “Google’s Next Stop May Be in Congress,” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/24/business/media/24google.html?src=busln.

“The next thing to do is think about going to Congress and getting legislation that would make particularly orphan works available to the public,” Samuelson told The Times.

Yesterday I asked Pam whether the time was ripe to push Congress for a solution to more than the narrow “orphan works” problem. I pointed out that I and other objectors in the Freelance case believe that the ultimate solution is Congressionally-codified “compulsory licenses” and royalty systems, for articles as well as books (the distinctions between such categories are increasingly irrelevant in the new information culture).

“I am working on legislative alternatives to the GBS and an extended collective licensing regime is an interesting idea,” Samuelson replied (and gave me permission to post).

Irv Muchnick

‘It’s the Concussion Crisis, Stupid’ (full text from Beyond Chron)

[originally published March 21 at Beyond Chron, http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/It_s_the_Concussion_Crisis_Stupid_Fed_Probe_of_Football_Helmet_Safety_Must_Not_Scratch_the_Surface_9009.html]

 

by Irvin Muchnick

Senator Tom Udall’s proposed bill on football helmet safety, announced last week, is a step on the road to national sports concussion reform. An analogy might be the scandal over the quality of the body armor secured for our troops in Asia. Policy questions are rarely about hardware. They’re about software – the human decisions to put our military in harm’s way abroad, or to expose our youth to unacceptable risks in fun and games at home.

We seem headed for helmet hearings in Congress in some form, on either Udall’s initiative or that of Democrats at the House Commerce Committee. What’s important at this point is to make sure these C-SPAN exercises don’t just scapegoat the manufacturers, which are almost certainly producing progressively improved helmets. Nor is the villain of the piece NOCSAE – the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, an overmatched trade oversight group. The root problem is that there’s no such thing as a concussion-proof football helmet.

Let’s direct the fire where it belongs: at the industry’s upper-echelon custodians in the National Football League. Uncontrolled collisions are what have driven television rights fees and merchandise through the roofs of municipal-financed stadiums, and the league has done as little about the problem as it could get away with. Meanwhile, at great public health cost, concussion syndrome permeated down through amateur sports in frightening dimensions we are just beginning to quantify.

The situation with exaggerated promotional claims of helmet companies is exactly parallel to the NFL’s slowness to reorient coaching and rules on the field once blocking and tackling were supplanted by head-hunting.

Says Sean Morley, a former wide receiver who is now on the NFL Players Association executive committee: “Generally what they’ve done is try to blame players for how violent the game has become. They had ample opportunity to look at the science and make practical changes and give coaches an opportunity to coach players, and give the players realistic expectations of how they should change the way they hit. And they didn’t.”

The league controlled much of the basic research on concussions, largely through grants to NFL-affiliated doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, led by Dr. Joseph Maroon, who is also the “medical director” of World Wrestling Entertainment. Such phrases probably belong in quotation marks in pro football as well as pro wrestling.

The past body of commercially compromised articles on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, published over the last decade in the prestigious journal Neurosurgery, shows a pattern of obscuring the magnitude of concussion syndrome while pushing Maroon’s band-aid diagnostic software, known as ImPACT, which is now used widely in sports at all levels.

In 2006 Maroon co-authored a Neurosurgery article, based on NFL-funded research, about the new “Revolution” design of the league’s official helmet supplier, Riddell. It turns out that the sample for Riddell’s claim of a 31 percent reduction in concussion risk was a three-year survey of 2,141 high school players in western Pennsylvania. Imagine a tobacco company bragging about reduced tar and nicotine results from a cohort of emerging smokers, rather than entrenched two-pack-a-day addicts.

In January, when Udall referred the Riddell promos to the Federal Trade Commission for further investigation, Maroon neatly triangulated, insisting that the company had distorted his findings. At the top of the Congressional witness list should be both Maroon and one of the other co-authors of the Neurosurgery article, Riddell chief engineer Thad Ide.

The public also needs to hear from Riddell’s competitors. A Boston mouth-guard manufacturer, Mahercor Laboratories, claims that as many as 30 percent of football concussions are transmitted through the jaw and dental architecture. Mahercor’s product is used by the New England Patriots, whose reported concussion rate is consistently among the industry’s lowest, but the company says it can’t get a league-wide foothold despite its recent embrace by the American military.

Vincent Ferrara, the CEO of Xenith, an innovative helmet manufacturer, told me, “Xenith has welcomed the input of the federal government in this issue. We need a more level playing field for new technologies to take hold.”

Even more than a level playing field, along with lip service about increased awareness of head injuries, we need the unfiltered history of the $9-billion-a-year National Football League’s management of a generation-long phenomenon, which is responsible for a decline in gross national mental health. It’s not just the helmets. It’s the concussion crisis, stupid.

Irvin Muchnick, author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, blogs at https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com and is @irvmuch on Twitter.

FLASHBACK: ESPN’s Peter Keating Was First to Expose NFL and WWE Concussion Doc Joseph Maroon’s Conflicts of Interest

PREVIOUSLY:

Before proceeding to post new material on the history and controversies surrounding Dr. Joseph Maroon’s for-profit ImPACT concussion-management product, let’s pause to acknowledge again that ESPN, often justly criticized for its cross-promotional synergy and shoddy journalistic standards, deserves credit for publishing some of the earliest and hardest-hitting stories about the concussion crisis. ESPN’s Peter Keating, in particular, had several important exclusives. For whatever reason, the network lately has done more following than leading on this issue. But my January 21 post, reproduced below, reminds us that this year’s investigation of Maroon and football helmet safety claims builds on Keating’s 2007 coverage.

… More than three years ago, Keating looked into the mutually back-scratching relationships of the National Football League, neurological researchers, and the entrepreneurs of Dr. Joseph Maroon’s Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing system and their Pittsburgh company, ImPACT Applications.

See the Keating article “NFL concussions expert also sells equipment to league,” August 10, 2007, http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2967678.

This story is more focused on Maroon’s ImPACT partner and co-founder, Dr. Mark Lovell, another University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-based NFL consultant. But it lays out the whole shady chain of events, including how Maroon and a third ImPACT partner, Michael Collins (also from the Pitt team), glowingly peer-reviewed the oft-cited study, co-authored by Lovell, in the February 2006 issue of the journal Neurosurgery.

As someone who spent all of 2010 trying, without success, to elicit comment from Maroon or Pitt, I was struck by how Lovell never responded to questions or made himself available for an interview on ESPN’s Outside the Lines. A medical center spokeswoman gave Keating this lame quote: “These are very important issues that are too complicated to address in an edited 10-second sound-bite.”

Since the publication of Keating’s article, we all know a lot more:

  • Chris Nowinski’s Sports Legacy Institute has gotten off the ground.
  • WWE star Chris Benoit’s sensational double murder/suicide led to the examination of his brain tissue by Dr. Bennet Omalu and took to a new level the public’s understanding of Chronic Traumatic Encephelapothy.
  • Maroon became medical director for WWE. He has made a pattern of inaccurate and misleading public statements, and has enabled a significant company lie in ESPN’s coverage of the CTE findings for another dead wrestler, Andrew “Test” Martin.
  • Hearings of the House Judiciary Committee put a spotlight on the NFL’s inadequate and sometimes corrupt management of the concussion problem.
  • The Federal Trade Commission, spurred by Senator Tom Udall, has opened a probe of official NFL supplier Riddell’s helmet safety claims – based on league-funded research by Maroon and others at Pitt.

Senator Udall has opened the door a crack on a sordid tale of industrial death in the pro wrestling industry, and how the causes and costs resonate throughout the world of sports and American society.

In 2011, it will be up to Udall, Senator Richard Blumenthal, and others in the 112th Congress to kick that door wide open.

Irv Muchnick

Cageside Seats: ‘Call for WWE Wrestlers to Stand Up’

Thanks to Keith Harris of Cageside Seats for his new item — inspired by this blog — urging World Wrestling Entertainment talent to provide information in the Connecticut Labor Department’s investigation of the company for independent contractor misclassification. Recommended reading:

Call for WWE wrestlers to stand up for their withheld employee benefits

http://www.cagesideseats.com/2011/3/23/2068661/call-for-wwe-wrestlers-to-stand-up-for-their-withheld-employee

Subpoena Cena: Does WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT System Manage Concussions – Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?

PREVIOUSLY:

John Cena, World Wrestling Entertainment’s top star, is funny enough to kill. In January 2010 he posted notes on Twitter about suffering a concussion in a televised skit and undergoing WWE medical director Joseph Maroon’s patented ImPACT testing before being cleared to return to action.(See https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/did-he-or-didnt-he-john-cenas-soap-opera-concussion/.) Earlier this month he tweeted again about suffering a new concussion and undergoing ImPACT testing before, presto!, jumping right back into the wrestling tour, media appearances, and TV tapings. (See https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/wwe%E2%80%99s-john-cena-has-new-concussion-%E2%80%93-or-%E2%80%98concussion%E2%80%99/.)

Yes, pro wrestlers do ridiculous things to themselves and each other, which cause real concussions – that has been extensively documented here. However, it is highly unlikely that Cena’s January 2010 and March 2011 Internet postings were anything other than hype for each year’s WrestleMania show.

So for concussion investigators I have the following question: Dr. Maroon takes money from WWE … is promoted on its website as the director of its “wellness program” … yet allows his best-known and personally developed clinical tool to be used repeatedly as a prop for fictional shtick … what does that tell us about the doctor, WWE, and his No. 1 client, the National Football League?

Senator Tom Udall needs to ask John Cena to testify at football helmet safety hearings, along with Maroon and Thad Ide, the chief engineer for the Riddell helmet company. I’m confident that the co-sponsor of Udall’s legislation, Senator Richard Blumenthal from WWE’s home state of Connecticut, can lend a hand in issuing the subpoena.

Maroon told The New York Times that Riddell helmet promos stretched the safety claims of the Neurosurgery journal article he had co-authored with Ide and with NFL grant money – though Maroon never said a word about his alleged displeasure until the feds were on the case. Presumably, with WWE, the soap opera “medical director” would disclaim responsibility for scripted medical subplots.

And, of course, many people readily see through Cena and WWE’s bad jokes about concussions (among other subjects). But the same is not true of the NFL’s management of head injuries, which is also done with a nod and wink toward reliance on Maroon’s ImPACT.

This year’s Super Bowl featured two quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, who both had had recent concussion episodes. If you think they were returned to play under some pure and objective medical standard, then you are naïve.

That’s OK: professional athletes and entertainers – football players and wrestlers and their handlers – take crazy risks for millions of dollars. Their adoring public doesn’t necessarily need to know all the details. What’s troubling about ImPACT is that amateur and youth sports leagues also use it, and its appeal is based largely on the NFL propaganda-manufactured illusion that it is a reliable return-to-play standard, rather than just a slightly more sophisticated diagnostic toy and band-aid.

Tomorrow: history of ImPACT and the controversy of its use in the NFL.

Irv Muchnick

Introducing ‘What the Feds Must Investigate About WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Concussion Product’

Government football helmet investigations are in the air: the Federal Trade Commission is probing promotional safety claims by the Riddell manufacturer, at the behest of Senator Tom Udall, who also introduced a bill to codify and improve safety standards.

I argue that helmet investigations, per se, are meaningless without folding them into the entire context of the national sports concussion crisis. This includes the chronology of what the National Football League knew about chronic traumatic encephalopathy and when it knew it. And it includes examining the range of commercial products that have been pushed at the amateur level through NFL connections and NFL-funded research.

The useful starting point for Udall and the feds is the Riddell-friendly hype published in the academic journal Neurosurgery and co-authored by Dr. Joseph Maroon of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – a team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers and concussion expert for the NFL, who also is listed by World Wrestling Entertainment as its “medical director.”

A meaningful investigation of Riddell has to move on to cover other products with which Maroon is even more closely associated, and in some cases enjoys an equity business interest.

With that mission, this blog begins publishing a new series on the popular “ImPACT” concussion management software, which is marketed to the NFL and many professional and amateur sports leagues through a company whose owners include Maroon and UPMC colleagues.

First up, later today, will be a piece headlined “Subpoena Cena: Does WWE-NFL Doc Joseph Maroon’s ImPACT Software Manage Concussions – Or Merely ‘Manage’ ‘Concussions’?”

Before reading it, you are invited to review stories from our archive whose links are listed below. These are matters of concern not only for Senator Udall but also for one of his bill’s co-sponsors, Senator Richard Blumenthal, who owes his freshman seat to his 2010 election win over Linda McMahon, the former CEO of Connecticut-based WWE.

 

 

Irv Muchnick


SEE ALSO:

WrestleMania Preview: How Wrestlers Can File Complaints With Government Agencies (Part 2 – Connecticut Labor Department)

Yesterday: Part 1, Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration

 

Last week I asked Glenn Marshall, Connecticut’s new labor commissioner, to explain how interested parties can share information relevant to the state’s investigation of World Wrestling Entertainment independent contractor practices.

As noted previously, Marshall, formerly a Carpenters Union official, had served on the bipartisan commission that drafted a tougher state law cracking down on “misclassification.”

The Labor Department’s response began with the standard disclaimer that it could neither confirm nor deny that WWE was being audited. (WWE itself disclosed the existence of the audit last year, during Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign.)

Staff attorney Heidi Lane said complaints or referrals about employer practices can be filed through the department’s website form, http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/uitax/FAcomplaint.doc. There is also a new form designed specifically for misclassification referrals, at . http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/wgwkstnd/JEC/JEC.htm.

The department does accept anonymous tips.

Like the federal government, Connecticut has anti-retaliation laws protecting individuals filing unemployment, safety, and wage complaints. If a worker believes he or she has been “discharged, disciplined, penalized or otherwise discriminated against by any person” in violation of Section 231-226a of the state code, the labor commissioner upon written request will hold a hearing and rule on the matter.

In addition, the commissioner may ask the attorney general to bring an action in state Superior Court “for injunctive relief requiring compliance with any award, decision or judgment” issued by the Labor Department.

The means to help pro wrestlers improve their working conditions exist. People in the industry can do it collectively or they can do it individually. They can do it publicly or they can do it anonymously.

The alternative is to continue to sit around and wait to die young, needlessly, from participation in scripted entertainment.

 

Irv Muchnick


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