Archive Page 2

San Francisco 49er Eric Heitmann Cracks His Nuts … And Leg … And Neck … And Head?

You don’t have to be an ambulance chaser in order to know which way the sports-head-injury litigation winds are blowing. The San Francisco Chronicle’s football writer, Kevin Lynch, has provided some instructive background on the woes of San Francisco 49ers center Eric Heitmann.

Yesterday Lynch reported that Heitmann, who missed all of last season after injuring his neck and breaking his leg in training camp, will sit out all of 2011, as well, lockout or not, with a ruptured neck disk.

But it was Lynch’s blog post on the Chronicle’s website that told “the rest of the story.” See “Eric Heitmann – victim of the nutcracker,”

Heitmann’s injury is another lasting legacy from Mike Singletary’s infamous nutcracker drill. The exercise in which two players clashed into each other and tried to push the other one back, like a pair of mountain rams, resulted in a series of injuries. None more serious than Heitmann’s; he felt a tweak in his neck after a nutcracker encounter in last summer’s training camp.

According to tackle Joe Staley, Heitmann ignored the injury but was slowed by it. The next day in a team drill, Heitmann broke his leg when he wasn’t quick enough to escape a falling teammate. The shattered fibula might have prevented possible paralysis with his vulnerable neck. While recovering from the leg injury, numbness and shooting pain persisted from his neck. When the symptoms refused to abate, Heitmann underwent surgery last month.

Those of you who follow football already know that in his two-plus years as the 49ers’ head coach, Singletary convincingly established that he was one of the 25 or so National Football League field generals who have no idea what they’re doing, rather than one of the seven or so who have a clue. The Heitmann anecdote adds another dimension to the sensitive-assassin shtick that Singletary (a teammate of Dave Duerson on the defense of the Chicago Bears’ 1986 Super Bowl champions) parlayed into a career on the Christian motivational-speaker circuit and then in the NFL coaching ranks.

As for Singletary’s employer and league – it is not exactly reassuring to hear that the much-ballyhooed concussion-awareness culture shift of 2010 did nothing to prevent this men-among-men barbarism, which not only damaged Heitmann’s neck but also, I strongly suspect, resulted in long-term brain trauma, diagnosed or otherwise.


Irv Muchnick

Randy Orton Interview About 2006 Drug Overdose Taken Down From Official Website

Randy Orton, with or without WWE’s input, has concluded that he took the hype of his upcoming DVD documentary too far by discussing his 2006 drug overdose in an Arizona radio interview two days ago. Either that or the interview tease has already served its purpose.

In any case, you can no longer find the audio at Orton’s official site. I’m told that you can access it at


Irv Muchnick

While WWE Star Randy Orton Overdosed on Drugs, Wrestling Media and Fans Underdosed on Reality

Breaking his years-long silence on the subject, Randy Orton has acknowledged in an Arizona radio interview that in 2006 he indeed overdosed on an unspecified drug, was rushed by his then-fiancee to a suburban St. Louis hospital (DePaul Health Center, I can now report), and nearly died.

This verifies the account first published on this blog a year after the incident. The most comprehensive retrospective here – in January 2010 during the U.S. Senate campaign in Connecticut – was “The Suicide Attempt (Part 2 – Randy Orton, Poster Boy for Linda McMahon’s WWE ‘Wellness Policy’),”

The audio of Orton’s KUPD-Tempe interview is up on his own site at

Cageside Seats’ S. Bruce was the first wrestling journalist to report Orton’s admission, at Bruce notes that this confirms, “in part, Irv Muchnick’s story in 2007 that Orton had overdosed, although Irv initially claimed it was a suicide attempt, which is clearly not the case.”

At the Pro Wrestling Torch site, James Caldwell goes minimalist and cryptic: “Orton talked candidly about past drug abuse issues, including a documented incident five years ago when he ‘stopped breathing’ and his wife called an ambulance to save his life.”

Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer makes the important marketing tie-in to Orton’s disclosure: “He admitted to overdosing, stopped breathing and being rushed to the hospital in 2006 (this story had been reported by Irv Muchnick shortly after it happened) but he also admits to that on a new documentary DVD the company is putting out.”

When I broke the story, Brian Stull of KFNS radio in St. Louis had me on his “Stranglehold” show to talk about it. Beforehand, Stull spoke off the air with Orton’s father, Bob Orton Jr., who denied all. But Cowboy Bob later vaguely confirmed the episode in a KFNS documentary series on local sports heroes.

At the time, I did no favors to my opportunity to focus wrestling fans on the key issues when my early reports included easy-to-nitpick errors about the time frame of Orton’s OD and the background of his “legend killer” gimmick. So, yes, I wish I had rolled out the story more effectively.

I doubt, however, that perfection – as opposed to an overall sound scoop – would have made any difference. Just a few months after the Chris Benoit murder-suicide gripped mainstream media the world over, the news that a bankable WWE star had already gone through a hushed-up near-death experience would have resonated if fans, and the media pandering to them, wanted it that way. But they were eager to crawl back into their shells of denial. Not even the additional information that Randy Orton mysteriously dodged a suspension in the contemporaneous Signature Pharmacy scandal could shake the deniers out of their complacency.

As for the assertion by Bruce of Cageside Seats that there “clearly” was no suicide attempt … I’m not so sure. The slope of agency in drug overdoses can be slippery, and the bottom line of mortality doesn’t account for intent. (In 2008 Sean Waltman would be vehement that his own OD had been accidental, but later would change his tune.)

Anyway, it would be nice if the moral of this story were more than the parsing of gossipy details or the inevitable speculation that Orton’s new “candid” interview was just a self-congratulating work-shoot-work-shoot ploy to boost the sales of Randy Orton: Evolution of a Predator (of course it was). Orton is also, by his count, a six-concussion survivor – an issue which, like drug abuse, transcends both wrestling and its vastly larger cousin entertainment, pro football. The measurements of the ingredients of the “cocktail of death” are debatable – but not the conclusion that it’s a serious public health problem.


Irv Muchnick

Dustin Fink’s ‘Concussion Blog’ Comments on Our Recent Posts

Irv Muchnick: Two Articles

And the NFL Band Played On: Concussion Crisis Destined To Become Sports World Counterpart of AIDS Saga (full text)

[originally published 6/24 at]


by Irvin Muchnick

The absolute power of the National Football League has corrupted our sports culture absolutely. In his recent intemperate email to me, The New York Times’ concussion reporter, Alan Schwarz, complained that I have failed to credit him with uncovering a “conspiracy” in the marketing of flawed helmets to youth football players. But, as I see the larger arc of the story, there was no conspiracy. Rather, I see how Schwarz’s choice of a safely domestic investigative target exposes the diminished ambition behind institutional journalism’s insincerely overheated rhetoric.

Since at the very latest 1994, the NFL has been served ample forensic notice that the sport it markets was growing out of human and medical control. These are not ACL’s and torn shoulder capsules we’re talking about, people; they are the brains of frighteningly large numbers of American males who have participated, in organized fashion and from very early ages, in an activity that is a staple of adult approval and social status.

And what did the league, its fawning media, its co-profiting sponsors, and its frat-pack fans do about it? As little as they could get away with.

As this multi-generational saga takes sharper shape with the rush of new discovered cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and with the sentimentally airbrushed back story of NFL player “advocate” Dave Duerson’s suicide, I find “conspiracy” to be a very tepid term, indeed, for the pervasive self-delusion that has gripped all of us for years, for decades. The title of one of historian Barbara Tuchman’s books says it better: The March of Folly. The title of Randy Shilts’ chronicle of the AIDS epidemic says it better still: And the Band Played On.

To be very clear here, we continue to have no evidence – none – that the league leadership grasps this problem at a level more profound than public relations. The new co-chairs of the NFL’s concussion policy committee, Dr. H. Hunt Batjer and Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, were supposed to be making a complete break with the conflicted and unsavory work of their predecessors when they were appointed last year. Don’t make me laugh – it might snap a synapse in my own still barely functioning noodle.

Batjer and Ellenbogen have done nothing at all to squelch the influence of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ University of Pittsburgh Medical Center team, including Joseph Maroon, whose many commercial hats also include the role of a doctor on Twitter for World Wrestling Entertainment. Batjer and Ellenbogen have continued on the NFL’s merry path of “Zackery Lystedt legislation,” in Washington and other states, to raise “concussion awareness” and to codify the purchase and use by public school districts of the Maroon team’s highly dubious for-profit “concussion management software.”

“I defer to the guys who are the experts at football: the competition committee, people like John Madden who actually know the game,” Dr. Ellenbogen said last month.

Once the owners’ lockout of players is out of the way, Commissioner Roger Goodell can get on with the task of loading up the NFL season with more games and more gambling opportunities while he touts the league’s total $20 million investment – taxicab money for a $9-billion-a-year industry – in scandalously dependent and controlling research on brain trauma. Before you know it, he’ll be as comfortable in retirement as his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, and it’ll be the next regime’s turn for “catch me if you can.”

In December 2009 a Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver named Chris Henry was killed when he fell out of the back of a truck while stalking his fiancée. Henry was one of the circle of bad boys out of West Virginia University and his five-year NFL career was marred by legal scrapes. In June 2010 an autopsy by the West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute found that Henry had the accumulations of tau protein associated with CTE.

Here is what Ellenbogen told Schwarz for a Times “news analysis”: “I’m really worried that we’re going to get to where if you have a challenging personality, it must be CTE — that’s really a dangerous way of going.We really need to be careful to parse out the underlying personality issues from the underlying injuries. This is probably just one factor among many that can put someone over the edge.”

Really on a roll here, analyst Schwarz clucked, “[I]f concussions turned every player felonious, Troy Aikman and Steve Young would be broadcasting games from C-block. Many players later found with CTE managed not to commit crimes.” The Timesman concluded: “To be truly valuable moving forward, the legacy of the Chris Henry finding will not be to look back and assign blame for players’ past acts, but to look ahead at how future behavior among players at all levels will derive from a cocktail of factors — psychological, neurological, societal, genetic, or sometimes, just being a jerk.”

And thus the disclaimer, which could have been tossed off with a phrase, becomes the centerpiece of the analysis.

At least football participants have the excuse of brain tissue deadened by tau proteins. What is the excuse for all us spectators?

Irvin Muchnick ( is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death.

WWE Releases Chris Benoit Story Figure Chavo Guerrero

As they did referee Scott Armstrong before bringing him back this year, WWE has parted company with wrestler Chavo Guerrero. Like Armstrong, Guerrero had received Chris Benoit’s final text messages during the horrific double murder/suicide incident that took place, coincidentally, four years ago this weekend.

David Bixenspan of Cageside Seats reviews some of this history at

Bixenspan doesn’t mention here something else about Guerrero: the time he got knocked unconscious on live television and was attended to by, among others, Stephanie McMahon Levesque – who later would tell Congressional investigators the bald-faced lie that she had never been aware of a single occupational concussion at WWE. See the July 2010 item about Guerrero’s 2004 concussion by Cageside Seats’ Keith Harris at


Irv Muchnick

View the Dissident NFL Retirees’ Washington Press Conference at Dave Pear’s Blog

Two days ago I posted comments by one-time San Francisco 49er Super Bowler George Visger, who has lived for nearly three decades with a crippling head injury. Visger was part of the delegation speaking on June 20 at the National Press Club in Washington in support of the lawsuit led by ex-Minnesota Viking great Carl Eller. Dave Pear, who heads the best-organized group of National Football League retirees lobbying for better pension and disability benefits, has posted the video at

A few notes from here:

* The mix of faces at this event included not only Eller but also other African Americans in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, such as Lem Barney and Irv Cross (who moderated the conference). This thoroughly refutes the whisper campaign by NFL Players Association leadership that criticism of it is racially based.

* A number of current NFL players showed up to support the Eller group. I will list all their names in a separate post. While Tom Brady and the Manning brothers sue the league to end the lockout over their inalienable right to hoard $90 million a year each, or whatever the traffic will bear for their services, it is heartening to see that a contingent of their contemporaries maintains a broader perspective.

* Though the general abandonment of retired players is a legitimate economic and moral issue, I am not going to belabor all of their grievances. From a public health standpoint, there is a crucial difference between orthopedic injuries and brain trauma. What has brought us to a national tipping point, in my view, is the league’s denial of a generation of evidence with respect to the latter.


Irv Muchnick

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April 2020