Linda McMahon, Dead Wrestlers, and Steroids

What Women Really Think
Aug. 16 2010 3:20 PM

Linda McMahon, Dead Wrestlers, and Steroids

Joshua Green points out that Linda McMahon has a dead wrestler problem. Lance McNaught is a 29-year-old former wrestler for the WWE, the empire, I mean enterprise, McMahon runs with her husband when she is not running as the Republican nominee for Senate in Connecticut. McNaught died over the weekend of heart failure. When young athletes' hearts stop, steroids are the first suspect. Especially in wrestling. Most of what I know about this sport, which in fact McMahon succeeded in having reclassified as an entertainment in one state, thus sidestepping a sports tax, comes from Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler . His pill-popping in the movie is unsurprisingly typical. From a smart profile of McMahon by Jonathan V. Last:

Steroids-and the accompanying prescription drugs many wrestlers take to cope with the chronic body pain they develop-have long been part of the wrestling lifestyle. Explaining the common use of steroids and pain pills, one wrestler told USA Today , "It’s part of the job. If you want to be a wrestler, you have to be a big guy, and you have to perform in pain. If you choose to do neither, pick another profession." The same argument has often been made about professional football, where large men do long-term damage to their bodies. But USA Today ’s study showed that professional wrestlers are 20 times more likely than professional football players to die before the age of 45.

The question that lingers is the level of the McMahons’ involvement in wrestling’s steroids problem. Were they ignorant of what their employees were doing, or were they complicit in it?

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McMahon's husband, Vince McMahon, was tried and acquitted on steroids charges in 1993. For a time afterward, the WWE tested for steroids. Then they stopped: Linda McMahon told a congressional investigation that "it just wasn't cost-effective." In 2005, the testing started again. But Last quotes an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek in which McMahon was asked about a link between steroids and the death of young wrestlers, and answered:

There’s some evidence of muscle disease, or cardiac disease, but it’s really hard to know because you didn’t know the condition of the performer’s heart, or whatever, prior to. So I still don’t think we know the long-term effects of steroids. They are continuing to study it more and more, but I don’t believe there are a lot of studies out there today that are conclusive.

Oh dear. That sounds like the cigarette companies of yore quibbling about smoking causing lung cancer. McMahon is appealing to voters in my state on the grounds that she's a successful businesswomen who understands fiscal discipline. How does she explain the part of the calculus that might appear to involve exposing the people who work for her to terrible health risks? Richard Blumenthal, McMahon's Democratic opponent, has been far less attention-grabbing as a candidate than he was for years as Connecticut's golden boy attorney general (except when he's gotten in trouble for talking misleadingly about his Vietnam record). Does Blumenthal have an ad in him that will cast McMahon as a wrestling lady of death?

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

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