Yesterday I received a package from Jerry McDevitt of K&L Gates, attorney for World Wrestling Entertainment. Below is the text of my response. At the bottom of this post are links to McDevitt’s letter and exhibits.
Dear Mr. McDevitt:
I have read your December 16 emails (13-page cover letter attachment and the 110 pages of exhibits). Thank you for sharing this material. After transmitting this response to you, I will post this text along with links to the text of your own letter plus attachments.
The pertinence of much of your package is not immediately obvious to this layman. Nonetheless, as a believer in the value of transparency, I think it is good to have as much as possible in the public record. In that spirit, I am publishing your material in full. Various cited third parties, such as Benoit estate attorney Cary Ichter and West Virginia Brain Injury Research Institute attorney Robert Fitzsimmons, are invited to share their sides of some of your stories.
Let’s move on to your demands for retractions and related points.
On page 2 you complain that I am factually wrong when I disparage the World Wrestling Entertainment Wellness Program by stating the opinion that WWE and Vince McMahon ultimately control the work of their contractor David Black and Aegis Labs. (Please note that page references here correspond to the pagination of the hard-copy version of your letter, not to the posted PDF file of its text.)
My opinion is based, first, on the inherent difficulties any contractor faces in processing controversial information on behalf of, or delivering complex advice to, the client footing the bills.
In addition, many specific concerns in connection with this opinion were the focus of interviews conducted in 2007 by staff investigators for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Dr. Tracy Ray, the physician who at the time was contracted to assist WWE with claims of therapeutic use exemptions, said that “there was shadiness in almost every case that I’ve reviewed.”
David Black said to the committee staff, “Oh, sure, I would agree that that’s not good,” when asked why Randy Orton appeared to be excused from sanctions after a particular apparent violation of terms of the Wellness Policy. In general, portions of the Ray and Black testimony support the notion that the WWE medical and drug-testing contractors were in the business of forwarding recommendations for ultimate disposition by others, rather than acting as independent agents.
On page 3 you complain about my Randy Orton reporting. I am not privy to the communications between the Albany district attorney’s office and WWE, and therefore do not claim to know the veracity of or to contradict your statement that “no action was taken against Randy Orton because he was not on any customer list for Signature Pharmacy ever provided to us by District Attorney Soares.” I do know, however, that Orton was in many published media reports of lists of Signature customers, and some of those reports included detailed shipment dates and names of drugs. And as noted above, your own David Black, in response to direct questions about what happened with Mr. Orton, agreed with Congressional investigators that the handling of that matter by WWE was “not good.”
On page 4 you begin a long and rather unfocused complaint about the evolution of my views on Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy and on CTE’s perceived centrality to the Benoit murder-suicide. Like many others who have followed the mounting evidence on CTE, both anecdotal and scientific, I have indeed moved considerably closer to the views of Michael Benoit since the publication of my book (though, I must say, not close enough to satisfy Mr. Benoit). While every individual case has its own unique factors and emphases, I believe we are finding that CTE is a key ingredient of what I term the “cocktail of death.”
I welcome the opportunity you have given me here to advocate again for more aggressive research on and investigation of the interplay of abuse of steroids and other drugs (primarily prescription pharmaceuticals), occupational brain trauma, and other factors. I helped put Mr. Benoit in touch with the Richard Blumenthal campaign because I did and do believe that Linda McMahon’s campaign for a United States Senate seat was an appropriate and useful platform for public education on this issue. Others reading our exchange can make their own judgments as to the wisdom of my activism in this area.
As you note, I have written in CHRIS & NANCY and elsewhere that I believe Cary Ichter had a conflict of interest in his work on the Georgia State Athletic Commission. If anything, my disagreements over the years with (among others) Mr. Ichter, Mr. Benoit, and Dr. Bennet Omalu only reinforce the independence of my journalism and do not support your statements that I am motivated by partisanship.
On page 6 you note that the Sports Legacy Institute’s early media outreach was undertaken without the benefit of published peer-reviewed scientific literature. I have never reported or suggested otherwise, so I am not sure what point you are making here.
On page 7 you begin your explanation of what I have called WWE’s lie to ESPN, and your medical director Dr. Joseph Maroon’s unfortunate enabling of that lie. In a nutshell, the explanation is that you question the chain of custody of what Dr. Omalu and others have represented as Chris Benoit brain specimens; in turn, this would mean that the statement, “WWE has been asking to see the research and test results in the case of Mr. Benoit for years and has not been supplied with them,” is accurate. I disagree. If WWE told ESPN reporter Greg Garber that Dr. Maroon attended the October 2008 meeting in West Virginia with Dr. Omalu and Dr. Julian Bailes – months after Dr. Maroon was named WWE medical director – and ESPN chose not to include that crucial fact in its story, then please so inform me and I will report as much.
Your background on Dr. Omalu, starting on page 8, is of no immediate relevance to any grievance you might have with my reporting. Your take on Dr. Omalu’s role in the Dr. Cyril Wecht trial, in which you guided your client’s exoneration, is very interesting, but this is not anything on which I have reported in detail or depth. Nor have I have reported on the turf battles and professional differences of the various leading players in CTE research.
(With respect to Dr. Wecht, you assert in passing that I have “systematically defamed” him but do not say how. I believe my only mentions of Dr. Wecht have been quotes from Michael Benoit about Dr. Wecht’s contact with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Kris Sperry, during the murder-suicide investigation.)
Again, thank you for reading my blog and adding your voice to this important public discussion.
P.S. Technical note: Due to limitations on my end, the second-generation versions of your exhibits, which are being posted, have poor resolution. I will be fixing that problem. If having clearer online images of these documents is a priority for you, please have your office email back to me each individual exhibit as its own PDF file.
JERRY McDEVITT’S LETTER
“Sports Legacy Institute Announces Findings on Wrestler Chris Benoit’s Brain, September 5, 2007”
Sports Legacy Institute news release, September 9, 2007
Cary Ichter to Jerry McDevitt, September 11, 2007
“Fifth Estate, Chris Benoit – Fight to the Death, Aired February 6 on the CBC Network across Canada”
“Muchnick Flashback – EXCLUSIVE: Linda McMahon’s WWE Medical Director Met With Chris Benoit Brain Experts in 2008”
Bennet Omalu to Cyril Wecht, April 17, 2006
GQ article, “Game Brain”
Transcript of Bennet Omalu testimony at Cyril Wecht trial
“CHRIS NOWINSKI INTERVIEW, DENNIS AND CALLAHAN RADIO TALK SHOW, WEEK OF OCTOBER 14, 2010”
Bennet Omalu journal article, “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a professional American wrestler”
“BENNET OMALU ON HIS INTRODUCTION TO AMERICAN FOOTBALL”
“Dr. Bennet Omalu, Brain Injury Research Institute: B/R Exclusive Interview”