TODAY – “Two Words: Public Relations” – Vince McMahon on Why WWE Now Underwrites Drug Rehab for Ex-Wrestlers
At the World Wrestling Entertainment corporate website, the final question on the Frequently Asked Questions page about the WWE wellness program is, “Do you provide any assistance to former talent?”
The answer: “WWE is committed to assisting former WWE Talent in receiving appropriate drug rehabilitation and treatment programs and has expanded this offer to include any individuals who had ever performed under contract to WWE during their careers. Letters to former talent are sent out annually offering this assistance.”
As with so many of WWE’s ostentatious good deeds, this one makes a virtue out of necessity. The first letters of this initiative were sent in September 2007. Following the Chris Benoit double murder/suicide in June 2007, the talent-management practices of World Wrestling Entertainment had come under scrutiny by both the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
In the letter to more than 500 ex-wrestlers, WWE chairman Vince McMahon stated, “Over the last ten years, an inordinate number of wrestlers have passed away. Some of those deaths may in part have been caused by drugs and alcohol. In an effort to prevent such tragedies in the future, the WWE is willing to pay for drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation at a certified treatment chosen by WWE for any performer with a prior WWE booking contract who may need this service.”
On December 14, 2007, McMahon was interviewed privately by Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigators. (The transcript would not be released until January 2009.)
When the letter came up, McMahon said that this was “unfortunately about the only thing we can do.” He added: “I don’t like to read about these deaths at all. And some of these people who have overdosed and things of that nature have been friends of mine. It’s upsetting on every conceivable front. So as a not necessarily a responsible, but I think I would like to throw in responsible as well, corporate member of society, notwithstanding again the fact I’m a human being, I don’t know anything else we can do other than to extend that service or whatever to someone who may have a problem.”
What motivated the letter? McMahon was asked.
“Two words: public relations. That’s it. I do not feel any sense of responsibility for anyone of whatever their age is who has passed along and has bad habits and overdoses for drugs. Sorry, I don’t feel any responsibility for that. Nonetheless, that’s why we’re [sending the letter]. It is a magnanimous gesture.”
Robert Zimmerman, WWE’s vice president for corporate communications, recently told the trade publication Human Resource Executive that four percent of ex-talent had taken up the company on the rehab offer.
One of these wrestlers was Lanny Kean, an eighties guy. Last year, shortly after he left rehab, Kean died of a heart attack in Kentucky, at age 48.
Another ex-WWE wrestler, “Mad Dog” Mike Bell, was featured in his brother Chris Bell’s widely praised 2008 documentary about the steroid culture, Bigger, Stronger, Faster. Shortly after the film’s release, Mike Bell checked into a rehab facility in California for alcohol and painkiller addictions. (I don’t know whether this was through the WWE program.) On December 14, 1998, he was found dead there, at age 37.
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