Great-ing Gimmicks of the Present: WWE Wellness

(Steroids are) “…not part of the business any more. They can’t be – we’ve been strictly tested over the past couple of years, but they’re not really necessary to wrestling. A lot of this is more about mind and personality.” – Chris Jericho

Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: A Rebuttal to Chris Jericho

The Daily Mail website ran an article on the WWE’s European tour back at the end of April. In it, Chris Jericho made the following statement:

“They’re not part of the business any more,” he said. “They can’t be – we’ve been strictly tested over the past couple of years, but they’re not really necessary to wrestling. A lot of this is more about mind and personality.”

The “they” in the quote above is referring to steroids. Let’s face it – steroids have been the elephant in the room for years in the WWE.

Back in the early 1990’s, Vince McMahon himself found himself on trial for distribution of steroids. The trial had affects his business almost before it began as his World Bodybuilding Federation suddenly had to go steroid-free. Lou Ferrigno immediately quit, and the June, 1992 PPV was a debacle. Many of the competitors looked bad, and Lex Luger (McMahon’s prime star) was out of action after a motorcycle wreck. A month later, the WBF was shut down.

Although McMahon was acquitted at the end of the trial, the cloud created by the legal controversy hovered over the WWF for some time before clearing.

But then came 2005. On November 13, Eddie Guerrero passed away from heart failure that was related to his past drug use. The WWE immediately went into action, creating its Wellness Policy, which was enacted in February of 2006. A similar drug testing plan had been in place in the WWF during the early 1990’s, but its cost had resulted in the program being completely phased out during the Monday Night War.

The Policy was designed to test for drug abuse and also included regular cardiac tests (which did, in fact, discover a potentially fatal condition that MVP had in August of 2007). The penalties were also laid out clearly – the first test was a 30 day suspension, the second was 60 days, and the third was termination.

All went well for a bit over a year. Then, in June of 2006, Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son before taking his own life. Steroids were found in Benoit’s home and the spotlight was firmly on McMahon and the WWE. Congress also became interested (especially following baseball’s steroids scandal) and shortly after Benoit’s death a House of Representatives committee (the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to be precise) began an ongoing investigation that targeted not the WWE, but also TNA and the NWA. Needless to say, the Wellness Policy was quickly amended to include testing for steroids, although the test’s failure level is roughly double that of professional sports.

In September, the Wellness Program was put to the test when Signature Pharmacy, an online pharmacy, was revealed to have been supplying WWE wrestlers with steroids in a Sports Illustrated article – a Wellness Program infraction. Ten wrestlers – Randy Orton, Charlie Haas, Edge, Booker T, Gregory Helms, Nova, Santino Marella, Johnny Nitro, William Regal, Ken Kennedy, and Chavo Guerrero were reported as suspended.

However, these suspensions weren’t as awful as they sounded at first. Nova was working in development and wound up fired as a result. Edge had torn a pectoral muscle and was already out for four months, so his suspension occurred while he was recovering. Helms had undergone neck surgery in May of 2007 that would keep him out of action for a year. Like Edge, his suspension also occurred during his recovery. Booker was suspended and then he and his wife Sharmell left the WWE in October of 2007. Nitro, Regal, Kennedy, and Chavo were all removed from WWE programming for thirty days for storyline reasons.

Kennedy’s naming was the worst of all for the WWE. Less than two weeks before the scandal broke, Kennedy was praising the Wellness Program. He claimed that he’d been on steroids while on the indy scene, but the Wellness Program’s tests had gotten him clean in November of 2005. The Sports Illustrated report, however, showed records from Signature that revealed that Kennedy had in fact been supplied until February of 2007. Just like that, Kennedy’s credibility was shot.

However, for the most part, the suspensions have occurred with developmental guys (with one notable exception being Jeff Hardy’s suspension shortly before Wrestlemania). Another example is DH Smith’s suspension at the end of 2007. Smith had been in development and was called up to Raw. Two weeks later, he was suspended. The latest suspension was for Afa Jr. – who is also in development (and reportedly for trying to cheat on a drug test).

These facts all seem to indicate one thing – the Wellness Policy does have teeth (depending on who you are). After all, Scott Steiner has related a story where he was told that as a condition of his WWE employment he had to take a steroid test. He agreed – as long as Triple H did it at the same time. The matter was dropped and never mentioned again.

When you look at the list from the Signature bust, the only main eventers on the list were Booker, Edge, and Orton. Edge was already out. Orton was not punished and the reason given was that he had already been suspended for the matter. Booker was suspended and left the company soon thereafter, still proclaiming his innocence.

Another fact is that the Policy’s “teeth” seem to vary according to the level of public scrutiny the WWE is under at the time. After the Signature bust, it was announced that wrestlers who were suspended would have their names announced publicly as well as the substance they tested positive for. When Jeff Hardy was suspended, scrutiny was less intense (and Hardy was in the midst of a possible world title push), so the policy was amended – now substances would no longer be announced. Why?

Do I think Vince McMahon is an evil man who doesn’t care if his wrestlers drop dead or not? No. Do I think that the Wellness Program should be completely scrapped? No. I think that it is flawed, but the WWE needs something like this (especially with Congress’s current interest). It also wouldn’t hurt TNA and other prominent organizations to begin planning a program like this.

Of course, going back to the main focus of this article, if there are no steroids in wrestling, then why raise the security levels on the screening? Why would guys need to cheat?

The most important thing to remember is this – wrestling is a business (especially in the WWE) where peak physical condition is a requirement. A few years back it was being reported that the decision to release Gangrel had been made after his shirt flipped up during a match and revealed his gut. To a group of guys that are on the road constantly and have little time to hit the gym, steroids provide an easy way to gain and keep the body that the job requires.

Overall, since the Wellness Program hit its stride, a lot of WWE superstars have begun to shrink. However, just because Chris Masters is no longer on the roster doesn’t mean that nobody there is using steroids. They just haven’t gotten caught. And even with the recent upgrades in security, you can bet that the fight to keep from getting caught using isn’t over yet.