ARCHIVE 10/28/07: Benoit & Orton & Drugs & Suicide … Let’s Go Over it Again

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In the current issue of the authoritative Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer notes that “there still appears to be no explanation that makes any sense as to why Randy Orton wasn’t suspended.”

Benoit & Orton & Drugs & Suicide … Let’s Go Over it Again

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

In the current issue of the authoritative Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer notes that “there still appears to be no explanation that makes any sense as to why Randy Orton wasn’t suspended.” Meltzer is referring to the revelation over the summer that Orton had received packages of banned substances from Internet gray-market dealer Signature Pharmacy as recently as February of this year. Yet there were no consequences.

Meltzer’s remark provides a useful context for revisiting the report here of Orton’s 2006 suicide attempt. I continue to call on Orton and WWE to come clean about it. There are connections that I believe anyone not firmly planted in deny-all quicksand would acknowledge.

I still have no reason not to believe the Orton suicide story in its essence. That something grave happened to Orton at his home in St. Louis shortly after WrestleMania 22 is not in serious doubt. At the time WWE executive John Laurinaitis was moved to investigate the suicide rumor, and though he ultimately discounted it, one person close to all the parties told me that may well have been because that was what he and others at WWE wanted to believe. A couple of sources in different places who have not talked to each other about it told me the same story and named the same area hospital. In response to a query, the public relations manager of the hospital said patient privacy laws prevented being able to confirm or deny my information, adding: “When we, on occasion, have celebrity patients, they generally request to be blacked out of our patient registry, in which case we cannot even acknowledge they are patients while they are currently at our facility, much less after they leave.”

Meltzer’s reminder of Orton’s non-suspension last month is part of the newsletter’s review of WWE’s patently fallacious responses to troubling questions about its drug practices after Chris Benoit killed his wife and son and himself. Meltzer writes, “It’s another black eye for the WWE Wellness policy to have accepted greatly over-prescribed steroids and greatly elevated testosterone levels in Benoit…. It’s also notable that [Wellness coordinator David] Black and WWE have yet to answer any significant questions regarding how many wrestlers were given exemptions.” And: “The company constantly touted Benoit as being steroid free when they knew full well he wasn’t from the prescriptions Black had to have discussed with [Dr. Phil] Astin. The company from day one pushed the idea that steroids couldn’t have been involved.”

Meltzer points out that, even after the Benoit toxicology test, WWE took the line that his “testosterone” levels did not mean that he had “steroids” in his system. Ridiculous. Vince McMahon is setting himself up at upcoming Congressional hearings to come off like those infamous tobacco executives who, one by one, deadpanned that there was no proven link between cigarette smoking and cancer.

Which brings us back to Orton. I have no idea why Orton wasn’t suspended. Specifically, I don’t have evidence, nor am I asserting, that he wasn’t suspended because WWE was afraid to discipline him in the wake of a suicide attempt. On the contrary, I think the likeliest explanation of the non-suspension is simply that the company was giving Orton a pass in order to avoid further thinning the ranks of main event stars. Did they throw a bunch of other wrestlers under the bus, because they felt they had to, but at a certain point decide to let the wheels roll over the wellness policy itself?

It seems to me that there are only two possible explanations. One is that WWE is saying Orton was not guilty of the same violation – procuring drugs online – as the others. The other explanation is that WWE is relying on a so-far-unarticulated factual loophole so convoluted that it simply reinforces the argument for outside regulation of the wrestling industry. Secretive, begrudging, half-truthful, WWE is failing miserably to make the opposite case.

I believe that whatever happened with Randy Orton in April 2006 is still relevant today. It is relevant because the credibility of WWE’s wellness policy is on the line, and a new question about the application of the wellness policy to Orton is right out there, front and center. And it is relevant, more fundamentally, because there is no statute of limitations on reflecting on matters of life and death post-Benoit – whether wrestling fans want to face up to the facts or not.

Irv Muchnick