Who Quashed Federal Steroid Investigation of WWE? McMahon Campaign’s Open Question

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February 28, 2010
View Hearst’s Sunday Story on Linda McMahon and the Aborted WWE Federal Steroid Investigation
March 1, 2010

A political insider pointed out to me that an element was missing from Brian Lockhart’s Hearst newspapers story Sunday on Linda McMahon’s “lucky break” – how, as Lockhart put it, “the White House and Congress dropped the ball  in 2009 on an effort to  investigate the use of steroids in professional wrestling.”

“Nothing happens without someone pushing it,” the politico said. “So who was the friend or powerful contributor who asked, on McMahon’s behalf, to have the investigation buried?”

I don’t fault Lockhart for not going further with this particular story. That’s the next piece of the puzzle. You can’t publish everything in one article. Hell, I could write a book – and come to think of it, I did.

Before getting  to how I try to explain things in CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death – written after Linda McMahon was named to the state Board of Education but before she began her Senate run – let’s talk about the likeliest names in the gossip chain.

The camp of Rob Simmons, McMahon’s main rival for the Republican Senate nomination, can be counted on to whisper, as audibly as a shout, “Rahm Emanuel!” Linda’s pattern of bipartisan donations over the years includes what she has termed a “business investment” in Emanuel’s past Illinois Congressional campaigns, which Linda said were “not politically motivated.”

Of course, Emanuel is now President Obama’s chief of staff. The implication that Emanuel was the one offers subliminal bonus points for Simmons, since it was Emanuel’s recent ill-chosen description of administration critics as “fucking retarded” that helped set off the most furious attacks on the tasteless content of the television programming of McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment.

Another obvious candidate for speculation as the Washington fixer is Lowell Weicker of the WWE board of directors.

Chapter 13 of CHRIS & NANCY , “Congress Cuts a Promo,” posits a theory that is both less and more nefarious: the idea that, because the industry under scrutiny was “only pro wrestling,” the public attention span was short and the political cost of failing to follow through was nil. This consideration gains greater weight from the way wrestling drug scandals juxtapose with those in legitimate sports.

By the late fall of 2007 the Benoit story had exhausted its media shelf life, at the moment when Barry Bonds was getting indicted for lying to the BALCO grand jury and Rogers Clemens was disputing his former personal trainer Brian McNamee’s statement in the Mitchell Report that he personally poked Clemens in the butt with steroids and growth hormone.

Congressman Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform – which, as the Lockhart story notes, fanned on follow-up after conducting a pretty decent behind-the-scenes investigation – was the second to pipe up about scrutinizing wrestling in the wake of the Benoit murder-suicide. The first was Bobby Rush’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.

(The Rush Subcommittee is under the House Energy Committee – whose chairmanship Waxman assumed after giving up Oversight and Government Reform in January 2009 with the 111th Congress. It also should be noted that Rush and Emanuel share Chicago political turf; indeed, the former is the only politician ever to defeat Emanuel’s boss, Obama, in an election.)

On November 21, 2008, I blogged a post headlined “Where Are They Now? Congressman Bobby Rush.” I accused Rush of being missing in action nine months after saying at a hearing (which every major sports league attended but Vince McMahon blew off), “This committee fully intends to deal with the illegal steroid abuse in professional wrestling.”

Three months before that bit of bluster, Rush had expressed the same sentiment in an email to a Baltimore Sun reporter. But the November 2007 Rush email turned out to be a month before the Waxman staff interviewed Vince and Linda McMahon. I suspect the fix was in at that point, and that the terms of the committee’s closed-door interrogation included a tacit deal that this would be the McMahons’ last words on the matter.

Whatever the explanation, on January 2, 2009 – in a classically buried Friday afternoon release, further buried by the fact that it came as George W. Bush was preparing to leave office and Barack Obama was preparing to to occupy it – Congressman Waxman published his letter to the White House drug policy office.

Three days later I wrote:

“One thing, and one thing only, mattered when the [Waxman and Rush committees] began their work in the summer of 2007: Would it culminate in public hearings on C-SPAN? At a closed interrogation by counsel and investigators, McMahon could play the royal asshole to his heart’s content. But would he — like the tobacco executives who denied with straight faces the link between smoking and lung cancer — really have the chutzpah to contend in a Congressional hearing room, in front of live cameras, that the wrestling industry’s early-death rate was anything other than off the charts?”

Irv Muchnick