Wannabe Senator Linda McMahon, Congresswoman Diane Black, and the ‘Sports-Drug-Testing-Industrial Complex’

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by Irvin Muchnick

Obviously, Linda McMahon isn’t the only rich woman or person running for public office. For example, Diane Black, the wife of the founder and principal owner of a Nashville company called Aegis Sciences, used her marriage’s fortune to ride the Tea Party wave in 2010 and win the House of Representatives seat from Tennessee’s 6th district. (Though Tea Partiers seem unhappy with Black, too, these days.) Reporting in March on analyses of financial disclosure documents by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), Politico.com called Black, with assets of $49.4 million, the second-richest new member of Congress – surpassed only by the $94.87 million fortune of Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who coincidentally had defeated McMahon for his Senate seat.

But Linda McMahon and Diane Black have more in common than big bucks, theirs and their spouses’. Their husbands’ businesses also work together – David Black’s company has been involved in the on-again, off-again drug-testing programs of Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment for 20 years. Ms. McMahon and Ms. Black are prime products of what might be termed the sports-drug-testing-industrial complex.

CRP’s user-friendly database of public records, at http://opensecrets.org, shows that on October 21, 2010, weeks before her election, Black both bought at least $5 million and sold at least $25 million in Aegis Sciences stock. The meaning of these dual transactions is not clear; I speculate that they may have been related to her perceived need to divest herself of these assets for ethical reasons, or to a strategy to save on her taxes or on transaction commissions. (Thanks to CRP senior researcher Dan Auble and communications staffer Michael Beckel for helping me interpret the data. Congresswoman Black did not respond to a request for clarification.)

In September 2007, three months after the double murder/suicide of WWE star Chris Benoit, David Black testified about the history of Aegis Sciences and WWE’s “wellness policy” to staff investigators of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (Though commonly referred to as “Dr. Black,” he is not an M.D.; he has a Ph.D. in forensic toxicology.)

Black told the committee of his company’s beginnings as a program at Vanderbilt University in 1986. There had been a steroid scandal on the football team there, and athletic director Roy Kramer, who later would be instrumental in setting up the drug-testing apparatus throughout the National Collegiate Athletic Association, asked Black to help start a campus lab for that purpose. In 1990 Black spun off the lab as a for-profit company. Aegis is probably the oldest of around 45 drug-testing facilities certified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services. Aegis has around 3,000 clients, including Nissan, Bridgestone Firestone, the NASCAR auto-racing circuit, and about 80 universities. Yes, one of them is Penn State.

“While I was at Vanderbilt,” Black testified, “I had a relationship with a number of other entities. The National Football League, Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the NFL, asked me to set up the anabolic steroid testing program for the NFL, which I did while I was there. That began my involvement in the professional sport area.”

Today Aegis consults not for the NFL but for the NFL Players Association, which is resisting what many independent observers believe is a sham model of testing blood for human growth hormone. Black’s company also consults for the Major League Baseball Players Association. (In response to a query, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Black’s association with the league was “ancient history.”)

Black recalled to the House Oversight Committee that he helped set up WWE’s first steroid testing following the 1991 federal conviction of Pennsylvania ringside physician Dr. George Zahorian for illegally prescribing steroids for non-therapeutic purposes. “It was Linda McMahon who called me because I actually met Linda McMahon before I ever met Vince McMahon,” Black said. Of course, Linda was chief executive of WWE prior to resigning in 2009 to run for the Senate for the first time.

In 1996, WWE ended comprehensive testing. The current “wellness policy,” which came into being a decade later, reinstated it. “I was contacted again by Linda McMahon…. [W]e met in December of 2005 to discuss creating a new policy,” Black told the committee. He said the reason for the new policy was the November 2005 death of WWE star Eddie Guerrero. In her own later testimony to the committee, Linda McMahon would agree that the Guerrero death was the impetus. In his, Vince McMahon would dispute that notion.

The disparities between stars and journeymen talent in WWE’s enforcement of sanctions for positive drug tests are a joke. In 2007, Randy Orton, one of the company’s biggest names, was not suspended for his appearance on widely publicized lists of customers of the gray-market Internet steroid dealer Signature Pharmacy, and the reasons remain unclear to this day. According to WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt, Orton’s name was never on a list of Signature customers given to the company by the Albany, New York, district attorney’s office. Of the whole Orton controversy, Black told the House Oversight Committee, “Oh sure, I would agree that that’s not good.”

The most recent apparent contradiction in WWE wellness policy procedures surrounds the suspensions of wrestlers Matthew Korklan (“Evan Bourne”) and Ron Killings (“R-Truth”). Both are believed to have been busted for using marijuana, or a banned substitute, at the same time and place. But their testing was on different tracks, and Killings’ suspension wound up not getting announced or implemented until after he finished working in the main event at the recent Survivors Series pay-per-view show. Historically, Black’s basic explanation for these things is that he doesn’t administer the WWE drug program, but merely supports it with lab findings.

Ultimate decision-maker or not, he does OK for himself. Between 2007 and 2009, Aegis jumped from 40 to 200 employees, and it reached 250 in 2010. According to reports in the Nashville business press, annual revenues in 2009 topped $30 million. The company’s board of directors includes Bill Frist, the retired Senate majority leader.

Now Mrs. David Black is Congresswoman Diane Black. And for the second time, Mrs. Vince McMahon hopes to be joining her on Capitol Hill.

Irvin Muchnick’s UPMC: Concussion Scandal Ground Zero — the second ebook short from the Concussion Inc. imprint — will be published shortly.

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