Archive for March 23rd, 2011

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


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 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

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


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March 2011