In Pennsylvania, Wrestling Deregulation Is Tied Up With Another Small Piece of Linda McMahon Baggage: Obstruction of Justice

Stand Up for Muchnick and Buy My Book CHRIS & NANCY
October 20, 2010
‘Connecticut Has Dodged a Bullet. Now, Can We Defeat “Linda McMahonism”?’
October 21, 2010

The Linda McMahon camp is pointing out that Richard Blumenthal, as a rookie state legislator, approved Connecticut’s part in the tide of states deregulating the pro wrestling industry in the 1980s, thanks to the lobbying efforts of her company.

I’m not sure just what McMahon is trying to prove here. As my historical writing on the business has established, deregulation at the time was portrayed as an amusing legislative sideshow, the “end of an error” in which wrestling promoters had found it advantageous to lump their scripted athletic entertainment together with the (mostly) legitimate sport of boxing. [See “Muchnick Book Bonus – ‘The (Thwak!) Deregulation of (Thump!) Pro Wrestling (The Bureaucrats Behind Hulk Hogan’),”]

Blumenthal correctly notes that the rationale for deregulating the industry three decades ago has nothing to do with the need to re-regulate it today.

But Linda’s focus on 1980s deregulation gets much worse for her: it redirects attention to her 1989 memo instructing a subordinate wrestling executive to cut loose one of the then-World Wrestling Federation’s ring doctors in Pennsylvania, George Zahorian, and to tip off Zahorian that he was under federal investigation for illegal steroid distribution. Zahorian would be convicted at a federal trial in 1991. Linda’s husband Vince McMahon and their company would be acquitted of related charges in 1994.

Here’s the full Pennsylvania deregulation chronology:

In 1987, working out of the Pittsburgh office of the McMahons’ outside law firm, then called Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Rick Santorum (later a U.S. senator) helped coordinate lobbying efforts aimed at the Pennsylvania state legislature. Linda McMahon herself testified before the State Government Ad Hoc Committee in June 1987. General Assembly Bill 1198, “Professional Wrestling Act,” was signed into law in July 1989. Among the bill’s provisions was that the attending physician at wrestling events no longer would be appointed by the state athletic commission; instead, “The promoter shall be responsible to employ a physician.”

Dr. Zahorian wanted to continue to be that physician for WWF events in such locales as Harrisburg, Hershey, Allentown, and Hamburg, Pennsylvania. For years he had been running a cash-and-carry steroid operation backstage at WWF shows. He also FedExed steroids and other prescription drugs to many wrestlers. Records at Zahorian’s trial would confirm that Vince McMahon, though not yet an in-ring performer himself, was one of Zahorian’s dozens of steroid customers within wrestling.

Anita Scales was the WWF employee responsible for hiring the ringside physician in Pennsylvania beginning in July 1989. She would testify at Vince McMahon’s trial that she immediately sought to dismiss Zahorian. Zahorian showed up on his own, begging to be retained, at a WWF event in August, which was staffed by another physician. “The boys need their candies,” Zahorian told Scales, who was unmoved.

However, on Linda McMahon’s instructions, Scales relented and WWF took Zahorian back. A November 3, 1989, letter from Scales to the state athletic commission listed Zahorian as the attending doctor for the December 26 show in Hershey.

But before that could happen, the McMahons got a tip from Jack Krill, another Kiirkpatrick & Lockhart lawyer who was working with Rick Santorum on deregulation lobbying. Krill told Vince and Linda that he had heard that Dr. Zahorian was “hot” – under federal criminal investigation. On December 1, 1989, Linda wrote the infamous memo to subordinate Pat Patterson ordering him to distance the company from Zahorian and alert him to the investigation. Zahorian’s inclusion at an athletic commission “meet and greet” was canceled, as was his December 26 Hershey booking. And around a month later WWF executive Pat Patterson called Zahorian from a pay phone and advised him to destroy the records of his dealings with WWF personnel.

The source of the leak is ambiguous. In original historical accounts, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter wrote that the tip came from someone inside the state athletic commission. Linda McMahon’s memo to Patterson said, “An officer from the State Department mentioned to Jack Krill, one of our attorneys, at a recent fundraiser that his office would be conducting these investigations at the same time he told Krill that perhaps it was a bad idea to mention it to him because Krill’s firm represents the WWF.”

Ted Mann of The Day in New London unearthed the McMahon-to-Patterson memo this spring, and a facsimile accompanying Mann’s coverage is viewable at Linda McMahon told The Day that the “State Department” reference was mistaken and she meant to say “Justice Department.” She said the source of the tip was James J. West, at the time a federal prosecutor.

On April 10, West (now in private practice in Harrisburg) denied to Mann that he had told Krill such a thing. “Absolutely nothing like that would have occurred,” West said, adding that as a prosecutor would have been barred from attending a “political fundraiser … I can say that without equivocation.” (But McMahon’s memo did not say “political” fundraiser.)

In an email to me on April 20, West put it differently: “I am not commenting on something that happened 20 years ago. “

But Linda McMahon is commenting. She wants to call out Richard Blumenthal for voting for wrestling deregulation in the Connecticut legislature. For my part, I want to call out McMahon for the state of her industry today – and for her own actions, including obstruction of justice, that brought things to this state.

Irv Muchnick

1 Comment

  1. […] My most recent of many posts on this subject: “In Pennsylvania, Wrestling Deregulation Is Tied Up With Another Small Piece of Linda McMahon Baggage: Obstruction of Justice,”… […]

Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick