Blogging about professional wrestling
Since its implementation on February 27, 2006, a common question about WWE’s Wellness Policy is does it really work? Is it genuine?
The program was launched a few months after the untimely death of Eddie Guerrero, one of many wrestling stars to drop dead due to long term steroid abuse and drug addiction. In Eddie’s case, by all accounts he’d kicked the habit, but years of numbing his pain with pills and forcing his body to grow beyond its natural limitations in order to fit in with his peers, caused his heart to weaken and enlarge, which contributed to his death by heart failure in November, 2005.
The Wellness policy claims to test WWE stars for a comprehensive range of steroids, prescription pills and street drugs, and there’s no doubt that many wrestlers have been caught and suspended over the years. However when you look at somebody like John Cena, the top star of the promotion, or Triple H an executive of the corporation, it’s quite easy to understand people’s skepticism. These guys are absolutely huge and they’ve never failed a test. Furthermore Cena has an uncanny ability to return from muscle injuries in record timing.
Do the money makers perhaps get a free pass? Are they privy to methods of beating the test? Are steroids really that bad, or are there worse health concerns for wrestlers?
To answer these questions let’s chart the history of drug testing in WWE.
WWE’s modern testing program is not the first time they’ve tried to keep drugs out of the locker room. It also wasn’t the first time Vince acted out of self preservation, rather than genuine concern for his talent. Just as the Wellness policy was established only after the media began prying in to Eddie’s death and the laundry list of other wrestling tragedies, Vince only began testing talent in the early 90s because he was indicted for steroid distribution.
The story dates back to the 1991 trial of Dr. George Zahorian, a “mark doctor” who was convicted of distributing steroids to bodybuilders, Vince McMahon, and wrestlers on the WWF roster. 80s mega star Hulk Hogan was found to be doing a little more than taking his vitamins and saying his prayers, which became abundantly clear when the jacked up superhero thinned out after the scandal.
However the federal government were not just content with nabbing Zahorian, so they gathered evidence against McMahon himself and put him on the stand in 1994.
Vince downplayed the charges saying he simply shared some of his own personal stash with a friend, at a time when possession was still legal. The prosecution argued that McMahon was directly involved in a conspiracy with Zahorian to unlawfully distribute steroids amongst wrestlers “to enhance their size and musculature, and thereby to increase the ticket sales for WWF exhibitions and the profits to Titan and McMahon.”
Evidence supporting the case included Zahorian’s testimony and records of packages he sent directly to WWF headquarters (Titan Towers) and Vince’s home address.
The key to the case was to establish credible testimony from talent that Vince was actively providing the steroids addressed to him to the rest of the locker room, and encouraging their use. Among those called to testify were Kevin Wacholz (who wrestled as the Nailz character) and Hulk Hogan.
The Hulkster shockingly admitted to his own steroid use, that he’d essentially tried them all, and that most of the locker room were openly on roids. However he flatly denied Vince McMahon distributed them or pressured wrestlers to take them.
Nailz however testified that he was explicitly told to get “on the gas” or his job would be in jeopardy. This could have been a fatal blow, but the defense were able to discredit him by establishing that he had hatred towards Vince stemming from contractual disputes, thus a motive to lie.
Bret Hart shed light on this in his autobiography when he recounted an incident between the pair in 1992:
“Kevin cornered Vince in his office and screamed at him for fifteen minutes about all the lies he’d been told. His yelling got so loud I had goose bumps up my back as I listened from down the hall. Suddenly there was a loud crash – Nailz had knocked Vince over in his chair, choking him violently, until Lanza, Salughter and a swarm of agents teamed up to pull him off. Nailz walked out and immediately called the police and accused Vince of making a sexual advance to him.”
The charges were dropped, but a subsequent string of disputes and lawsuits around the incident made it clear Nailz would say anything to screw Vince over, and was therefore not a trustworthy witness.
Ultimately the main steroid distribution charges were thrown out because the prosecution didn’t prove where the conspiracy took place – there were few records obtained with names and details, nor evidence of where any of the steroids actually changed hands, if at all. Vince was also acquitted of lesser FDA related charges (steroids were illegally mislabeled and placed in plain brown paper bags), but the negative press and downward trend in business after the 80s boom almost put the WWF out of business.
Testing in the 90s was overseen by former champion powerlifter and bodybuilder Mauro Di Pasquale, who has a degree in molecular biochemistry and was a leading expert in drug detection. The program was first revealed to the world in a July 07, 1991, New York Times article, amidst media buzz about the Zahorian case, and Hulk Hogan’s initial denial of steroid use on the Arsenio Hall show, where he bold face asserted that “I’m not a steroid abuser” and he’d only used them to recover from a few injuries – not to build his massive physique.
The full interview is below:
Broken down “Superstar” Billy Graham who had become the poster child for the anti-steroid media, and David “you think this is fake” Shultz, would take Hogan to task for this in the December during a segment for Inside Edition:
“If kids are believing that if they take their vitamins and say their prayers, that they’re going to grow up to be some super athlete, well I’ve got news for you … you’re never going to grow up to be 300 pounds with twenty-four inch arms, unless you take steroids,” said Shultz, who also claimed Hogan was the one who got him on steroids.
“I myself personally have injected Hogan with anabolic steroids,” claimed Graham.
Whether they were lying to screw the top guy or not, Hogan soon ate his words in the court room when the truth came out under oath.
This publicity was a PR nightmare for Vince and he hoped Pasquale’s program would make things right. But was it legitimate? By all accounts it was, though it doesn’t mean wrestlers didn’t fall through the cracks, or that some used substances that couldn’t be detected.
To begin with it was a 3 strikes and your out policy, with a 6 week suspension if caught. Tests mainly focused on elevated testosterone levels, which is the result of most steroids. Other illegal street drugs were initially ignored.
Scott Hall told SLAM! Wrestling: “When I was there as Razor Ramon, it was when the steroids scandal was in full swing. They were testing, and I was fully compliant with the drug policy. I went off steroids like everybody else did.”
Bret Hart quips in his book that two people watched when wrestlers were giving samples to ensure their urine was genuine and not bought or acquired in other ways.
He also mentions that Davey Boy Smith was one of the first wrestlers to be suspended for 6 weeks, after testing positive. In late 1992 both Smith and the Ultimate Warrior were fired for purchasing Growth Hormone from the UK. Jim Neidhart was also fired early on for refusing to take a test.
On June 6, 1993, Shawn Michaels had to drop the Intercontinental title to serve 6 weeks for a failed test, which is acknowledged in his book, though he ponders whether somebody spiked his drink.
Wrestlers were definitely being punished, and a comparative look at the roster from the 80s and 90s suggests that the era of the larger than life superhero was over. The top stars of the latter consisted of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels – smaller and more athletic workers. Loose skinned Ric Flair also came in. Sumo-looking Yokozuna was the antithesis of a steroid freak. When Hogan took back the title in 1993 he looked more like a basketball player compared to his previous build. Sycho Sid was big, but he was tall-big, not necessarily jacked-to-the-gills big. He had been much more muscular previously.
“I was the biggest guy that was clean. At that time, bigger was still better. I was in the right place at the right time,” says Kevin Nash about his WWF run as Diesel.
According to him, testing was frequent: “We would have an afternoon show at The Spectrum in Philadelphia and they would test us. We would then go to Hershey (Penn.) that night and they would test us again.”
Sean “Xpac” Waltman told the PWTorch:
“We’d find out we were being tested by showing up to the arena and seeing a sign on the door that said, ‘Drug Test.’ That’s when we knew. It could have been anytime. You never knew when it was coming.”
“It wasn’t just where you walk in, they give you a cup, you go into the bathroom, and you piss in a cup. The bathroom you go into to piss in, there’s a guy standing there. We call him the cock-watcher. They watched the stream of urine leave your genetalia and go into the cup. I couldn’t think of a way to beat the test.”
“From when I walked in that door to the day I left, there wasn’t a f*cker taking steroids,” said Kevin Nash on the Steve Austin Show. Though they were certainly taking other things.
In December 1991 “Vince called a meeting to inform all wrestlers that in a few weeks drug testing would be expanded to cover any and all non-prescription drugs, including marijuana,” recalled Bret Hart in his book.
While steroids were the hot button issue, this became the era of prescription pill addiction, which has caused much more damage. Indeed, overdose on drugs you can get from the doctor is the leading cause of premature death among wrestlers.
“After eating (and usually drinking), when wrestlers got to their rooms, they’d still be supercharged on adrenaline, almost euphoric. It was impossible to fall asleep in order to make that early-morning flight unless you took something to help. Then in the morning a lot of wrestlers would take something to help them wake up,” Bret explained.
“Then there were the pain pills that were popped like candy. All too often I can remember washing them down with coffee.”
Bret thought the pot policy actually made the situation worse.
“I believed Vince’s decision was shortsighted. With weed taken off the menu, even more wrestlers wound up as alcoholics; instead of smoking a bit of weed holed up in their hotel rooms talking about the business, they roamed hotel bars drunk and on downers”.
Remembering his final night with the WWF in May 1996 – the infamous curtain call – Kevin Nash told Steve Austin:
“Booze and pills, well you can get them from a doctor and alcohol is legal, but anything illegal was not being allowed … We’re driving up to the building and Scott looked at me and he goes, ‘This is the last time we’re going to be at the Garden. Let’s work this mother f*cker stoned’. I said, ‘Man I hadn’t been stoned for three years.’ We rolled one out, he had a little bit of weed, we smoked one, you walk into Madison Square Garden and the house was like a $350,000 house.”
Nash’s poor choice of wrestling while high aside, I’ve previously explored the case for Marijuana in wrestling. Wrestlers are often in constant pain with one of the toughest travel schedules of any profession; this explains why so many have used weed to relax and wind down after shows. When that’s taken out of the equation the easiest options are alcohol, painkillers and prescription drugs.
“I walked into a company that was full of people who were taking tons of pills and drinking tons of alcohol on a nightly basis. I got caught up in that whirlwind really quick,” says Sean Waltman.
“We weren’t allowed to smoke a joint. They were testing for illegal drugs, and marijuana was an illegal drug in most states. So that was the big thing. We weren’t allowed to smoke a joint. If they had only allowed us to smoke pot, we wouldn’t be taking all of these pills and getting f—ed up and getting drunk every night.”
Addiction to prescription meds, especially mixing with alcohol – another legal drug – causes a lot of long term health problems. Just ask Luna Vachon, Lance Cade, Umaga, Chris Kanyon, Test, Sherri Martel, Johnny Grunge, Crash Holly, Miss Elizabeth, Bobby Duncum Jr, Rick Rude, and Louie Spicolli – oh wait, they all overdosed and died.
This highlights one of the problems with drug testing. Genuine concern for people’s health is clouded by unscientific laws (Marijuana being illegal) and public image (focusing on steroids when other drugs may be more harmful).
This is not to single out WWE, as not all of these people were associated with the company at the time of their deaths, but it’s the culture of wrestling, the addictions formed around it, and illogical US laws, that may have prevented them from experimenting with less harmful emotional and physical pain relief. Granted not everybody is going to choose pot over pain pills, but pain pills have often been an overlooked aspect of wrestling’s drug problem, when they’re doing the most harm out of anything.
The majority of WWF wrestlers may have been off the juice in the early and mid 90s, but they were still passing out at bars and in hotel rooms at the hands of legal drugs, and that trend continued well in to the 2000s, when the deaths were starting to rack up.
WWE’s first drug testing program was quietly removed in 1997. No official reason has ever been given why, but we can logically speculate that with the media scrutiny well behind them, Vince didn’t see any need in forking out the money for doctors and lab work. After all the wrestlers wanted to use steroids and WWF’s rival WCW had no testing and therefore had an aesthetic advantage.
The untimely death of Brian Pillman in the October was chalked up to heart disease which ran in the family, however his heart was also enlarged which is a direct result of long term steroid abuse. Pillman’s unbreakable pain pill addiction due to a broken ankle also likely played a role. This did not reverse Vince’s decision.
The roster soon ballooned in mass. Rocky Maivia went from being big and slightly pudgy to massive and more cut. Triple H also transformed his physique, and Ken Shamrock was freakishly big for his 6ft frame. Virtually everyone got bigger, while a lot of the new faces came in with questionable physiques. Of course there’s no way of being 100% sure who was or wasn’t using, nor what they were or weren’t using, but common sense suggests that to be able to maintain those bodies while traveling and performing without an off season, a lot of them had to be doing something – and who can blame them? It’s not like they were cheating to win Olympic medals, it’s a show.
Over the years lots of wrestlers have admitted to juicing during this period in one way or another. Others have flatly denied it or skirted around the issue.
Following the Benoit Tragedy, Marc Mero admitted all over the news that he took steroids. “We did steroids and pain killers. We took all kinds of drugs, we did whatever it took to make it to the show to keep our spot on national television,” he told Nancy Grace.
Steve Austin’s ex-wife Debra also appeared on the news cycles and claimed that Austin used steroids.
“My brother Ken did them his whole life,” said Frank Shamrock, when Ken failed a test ahead of an MMA fight in his post wrestling years.
Bob Holly admitted to using steroids prior to the Wellness program in his book: “I cycled on and off the Test but once I was on Deca I stayed on it until I came off it for good.”
“I never felt like I was abusing it like some other guys.”
Though he certainly wasn’t big compared to his peers, when Sean “X Pac” Waltman returned in 1998, he’d put on the pounds and has been quite open about using steroids, starting with his time in WCW.
Billy Gunn also got bigger during the Attitude Era and openly admitted to using steroids during a HighSpots shoot interview.
Triple H has flip flopped on the subject over the years, but has stated on ESPN Radio that he used steroids to recover from his first quad injury, and judging from his size when he returned it wasn’t just recovery that he benefited from.
The Rock, Chris Jericho and others claim to only have used steroids in their younger years before the WWE.
The first stage of the Wellness Policy after the death of Eddie Guerrero has been picked apart as completely ineffectual. Here is an excerpt from WWE’s announcement of the program back in 2006:
Effective today, February 27, 2006, WWE is implementing a broad WWE Talent Wellness Program. The Program has two components: 1) an aggressive substance abuse and drug testing policy; and 2) a cardiovascular testing and monitoring program.
The Substance Abuse and Drug Testing Policy (“Policy”) prohibits the non-medical use and associate abuse of prescription medications and performance-enhancing drugs, as well as the use, possession and/or distribution of illegal drugs by WWE Talent. The use of masking agents and/or diuretics to conceal or obscure the use of prohibited drugs is also prohibited. This Policy will be administered by Dr. David L. Black, Ph.D., D-ABFT, D-ABCC, of Aegis Sciences Corporation, Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Black will be responsible for scheduling Talent for testing, administering collection of samples, coordinating secure shipment of samples to the testing facility, determining whether any WWE Talent has tested positive and directing the appropriate penalty be imposed.
Under the Policy, WWE Talent may be tested on a random and/or reasonable suspicion basis. The initial test of all Talent will be considered “baseline” testing. No discipline will be imposed for a positive test on the baseline test. The results of the baseline test, if positive for any prohibited substance, will be utilized thereafter by Dr. Black to determine if use has continued. After the baseline test, subsequent positive tests for non-medical use of a prohibited substance will result in disciplinary action. For testing positive the first time, a Talent will be suspended for 30 days without pay. A second positive test results in a 60-day suspension without pay or, if Dr. Black so determines, in-patient care at a substance abuse facility, during which the Talent also will be suspended without pay. A third positive test results in termination.
The loophole is the phrase “non-medical use”. That meant with a doctor’s prescription certain steroids and all painkillers would be allowed.
Wrestlers will always be able to convince a doctor that they’re in pain – they are in pain – so the abuse issue is much more complex than the policy would acknowledge.
Bob Holly explained in his book:
“I was taking Lortab, and was getting it legally so my prescriptions were above board. Benoit had hooked me up with a doctor who was very liberal in writing prescriptions, so I was able to get quite a lot – far more than I needed.”
All a wrestler had to do was find one of these “mark doctors” and keep their stash well hidden.
There’s no doubt that some wrestlers did lose muscle mass after the policy was implemented, but a massive exposé of an illegal drug ring by Sports Illustrated in the Summer of 2007 made it abundantly clear that something was going wrong. 14 main roster WWE wrestlers were named and shamed as being involved with an online pharmacy that was illegally selling performance enhancing drugs and related substances. Dates of purchases were mostly after testing had began.
Booker T, Chris Masters and Snitsky were implicated, but what they purchased is not public knowledge. Here is what everybody else obtained:
Also on the list was Eddie Guerrero who ordered nadrolone, testosterone and anastrozole two weeks before passing away, and Chris Benoit who purchased nandrolone and anastrozole in February 2006, not long before he would murder his family and commit suicide.
Brian Adams (Crush) received nandrolone, testosterone, and somatropin in December 2006. He was not employed by WWE at that time, and hadn’t worked for the company for several years.
Mike Bucci, who had retired the Simon Dean character to work as a WWE trainer also turned up on the list, as did Santino Marella, who was in developmental at the time.
Kurt Angle also appeared on the list but escaped a lot of media attention because he was working for lesser known TNA wrestling.
In a desperate attempt to save face WWE immediately suspended most of those caught in the scandal, and Mike Bucci was fired from his trainer job.
WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt appeared on Greta Van Sustren and in several publications to demonstrate that the company were taking a tough stance. What he didn’t address was why the majority of the wrestlers weren’t caught out and suspended when they were actually taking the substances.
On the flip side some wrestlers like Booker T felt they were only being made an example of because of the media intrigue. It’s true that he had previously been suspended for 30 days so maybe he felt he’d already been punished? After this second suspension he chose to leave the company and jump to TNA.
Randy Orton was also in a gray area because he too had already been suspended in August 2006 for failing a test, though unlike Booker he was not suspended along with everybody else in 2007, a clear double standard. Orton continued to obtain orders from the Signature Pharmacy for about 6 months following the first suspension anyway, so technically he may still have been guilty the second time around. Perhaps his main event feud with John Cena was seen as too important to jeopardize?
After this scandal WWE would begin publicly naming and shaming wrestlers who were suspended, though interestingly they do not reveal the substance they were suspend for, which is a very important point of criticism. It’s one thing to have a list of banned substances, but that does not mean their testing is capable of detecting those substances in the body. In other words there may be plenty of drugs that would get you suspended if management found you taking them openly backstage, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be caught during a test. You just have to be discreet when taking them. A fully transparent policy would explain exactly what they test for, how the tests are administered, and what substances cannot be detected, or leave the body quickly and therefore are unlikely to show up.
Following the Benoit family tragedy in June 2007 – which the media speculatively linked to roid rage – the government decided to investigate WWE. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Tom Davis, its ranking minority member – who were both involved in Baseball’s steroid investigation – requested Vince McMahon hand over details about exactly how they were testing wrestlers.
“The tragic deaths of World Wrestling Entertainment star Chris Benoit and his family have raised questions about reports of widespread use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs by professional wrestlers,” the congressmen wrote.
All evidence weighed up, the idea that roid rage caused Benoit to do those horrific things is a pretty weak argument, which I’ve previously explored, though it’s possible steroids played a more subtle role in his depressive state, which was affected much more by brain damage from untreated concussions.
Vince remained tight-lipped and dismissive during the futile questioning, and committee members seemed ill-informed, unprepared and overreaching. He easily and rightfully dismissed questions about the effects of steroids and drug abuse. Vince isn’t a doctor and it’s not like either side came equipped with medical studies to be able to make any statement based on scientific evidence.
When asked about the time period between dropping the first testing program and launching the Wellness program this exchange occurred:
House Lawyer: “In [that] time period, did you ever learn firsthand or receive firsthand information that any individual associated with WWE had used steroids?”
McMahon: “Not that I recall.”
House Lawyer: “How about employees?”
McMahon: “Not that I recall.”
House Lawyer: “How about management?”
McMahon: “Not that I recall.”
It’s not surprising then that they concluded WWE weren’t being transparent. But how transparent did they expect them to be? With no evidence of distribution, the company weren’t doing anything wrong. And it’s not like Vince called meetings to tell everyone they had to be on steroids. It was a subtle pressure, based on the creative pushes bigger wrestlers seemed to get. Nobody pinned any of these grown men down and jabbed them with a needle. In the eyes of the law personal responsibility has to be the overriding factor. As much hate as Vince gets, he’s not responsible for the choices of his talent. If steroids are to be eradicated it has to be a cultural and educational shift.
Congress also seemed to gloss over the bigger issue of prescription drug abuse. Vince openly admitted that one of the reasons the policy was implemented was because talent were falling asleep backstage. Roids don’t make you pass out.
“The original idea was that we felt that the abuse of prescription drugs was the problem that we had; so naturally we went out and had a program put together by professionals,” McMahon said. “There were a number of incidents in which, in the past, people have fallen asleep when they shouldn’t, which would indicate that they were taking too many pain killers, things of that nature.”
Despite McMahon’s open admission that prescription drugs are the more important issue, the “medical use” loophole was only tightened in more recent years. On top of having to use a valid prescription, WWE’s own doctors now have to vet everything. That doesn’t mean wrestlers can’t do undetectable pills on the quiet, but it does make things more of a hassle.
However for the longest time, as long as the wrestler had a recent prescription from a doctor and wasn’t getting those drugs from the internet, then there were no repercussions.
The exception to the medical use loophole is Carisprodol (known as somas) which were outright banned regardless of a prescription in 2010.
Somas are muscle relaxants that were once popular among wrestlers and contributed to the deaths of at least Loui Spicolli, Johnny Grunge and Crash Holly – though possibly several others.
While we may assume WWE tests for pain pills because they are regulated by the policy, anecdotal evidence suggest they either don’t, it’s not possible, or not practical considering the wide variety out there. In a video blog addressing the substance abuse problems of his friend Matt Hardy, former WWE Superstar Chris Masters admitted to ingesting “70 pills daily on a regular basis.”
A paragraph in Bob Holly’s book is particularly enlightening on this issue:
“In mid 2008, we were down at a show in Bakersfield, California. I needed some pain meds because my neck was hurting and I needed yet another elbow surgery, so I asked Ken [Kennedy] if he had anything. He said sure and gave me some meds. He then said that if I needed any more later, I should just go in his bag and get them. That’s normal. I can’t tell you the number of times Ken came to me, saying, ‘Have you got anything?’ and I told him, ‘Help yourself.’ Everybody in the locker room helps each other. It’d an unwritten rule. The office knows it happens and they turn a blind eye.”
If wrestlers were sharing pills like it was nothing, we can assume they’re not regularly getting popped for using them in tests, even if on paper they’re not allowed without prescription.
When we look back at the Signature Pharmacy scandal something doesn’t quite add up. Wrestlers were definitely being suspended at the time.
Balls Mahoney, Booker T, Chavo Guerrero, Festus, Jeff Hardy, Kid Kash, Kurt Angle, Randy Orton, Rene Dupree, RVD, and several rookies in developmental had all been suspended in 2006 or early 2007.
So why did so many names initially fall through the cracks with Signature?
If WWE were outright letting some wrestlers slide, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Funkai was on the Signature records and wasn’t suspended previously, yet several stars with more value had been suspended before the scandal who wound up on the list, like Chavo, Booker T and Orton. Do we really think they let Funaki slide but not the stars?
Some of these discrepancies might be down to the substances some wrestlers were receiving. Somatropin and Genotropin are Growth Hormones not steroids, and labs have trouble detecting Human Growth Hormone (HGH) throughout the sports world because it’s only detectable in blood – not urine samples – and even then tests are not always accurate because HGH leaves the body quickly. Testosterone cannot be used as a marker for HGH use, because HGH does not elevate Testosterone. In fact it’s Testosterone that elevates the body’s natural HGH production.
Anastrozole is a substance that can be used to counter breast growth in steroid abusers, and therefore may also not show up in tests.
Testosterone is detected by the program, but is allowed for therapeutic usage, as older males and long term steroid abusers can’t always produce normal levels naturally. WWE’s policy allows testosterone if prescribed by a doctor.
Nandrolone and Stanozolol are the only anabolic steroids on the list that would automatically cause a red flag. So technically Funaki, Umaga and Mr. Kennedy did not purchase steroids and likely couldn’t be detected.
If we scratch Orton and Chavo for already serving time, this would leave Sylvain Grenier, Shane Helms, Charlie Haas, John Morrison, William Regal and Edge, as wrestlers who technically should have been caught with steroids in their system, if we assume they took the roids they bought. Other than John Morrison and Edge, none of these wrestlers were big stars worth protecting.
This would suggest a failure of the system – tests not being regular enough or ways of beating the test – rather than favoritism.
The Human Growth Hormone loophole was dealt with by Bob Holly in his book:
“Urine testing can show testosterone, Deca, and a host of other steroids, but my understanding is that it can’t show human growth hormone. If you’ve got a legal prescription for your testosterone and combine it with HGH, that’s a great combination for building muscle and getting around the Wellness policy but it costs. HGH runs to a couple of grand a month, so only top guys can afford it. Deca was only $150 for a 10cc bottle that would last a few months. That’s the sort of thing that the underneath guys can afford. When I was there, it was hard to get to be a top guy without being on something, so a lot of people had to take their chances with the cheaper stuff and hope they didn’t get caught.”
WWE does do blood testing but they do not say what their testing is able to detect nor what wrestlers tested for when they are suspended. Holly claims that during his time there was no blood testing for HGH, only for diseases like HIV. In fact British rugby player Terry Newton was the first professional athlete ever to test positive for illegal use of HGH reports the BBC, and that was in 2009. American sports groups like the NFL and MLB are only just wheeling out programs after hot debate, and there is still no agreed on form of testing. MMA and most other sports are not even close to standard HGH testing.
Testing for HGH has been likened to an IQ test, because it has a very short half-life in the body; about 2.5 hours. A day after injecting, serum levels are 0.1 percent of the injection dose, and a week after using HGH, the drug is completely gone from the system.
In other words you’re likely only to get caught if you inject it while backstage and the test is a few hours later. If a wrestler does it at home, when they’ve left the building, or some other convenient time, it’s simply going to disappear out of their system before blood is taken, stored, shipped to a lab and tested.
If WWE had been effectively testing their talent for HGH as far back as 2006 we’d know about it – they’d be promoting their test as the gold standard, and would probably be gloating about it on the RAW info-graphics each week. In truth wrestlers can use HGH quite freely and will only get busted if they’re names come up in other ways, like the Signature scandal or way back when Davey Boy Smith and Warrior got caught importing the stuff.
When John Cena was asked by CNN if he’d used steroids, he initially responded “absolutely not” …
“Not even back in the football days, bodybuilding days?”
Cena then got more ambiguous: “This is a crazy question and it’s something that’s tough to answer just because of the way society is now. The way people conceive things, because performance-enhancing drugs have got the spotlight and it’s a hot thing to talk about. I can’t tell you that I haven’t, but you’ll never be able to prove that I have.”
Is that because he’s on HGH instead?
If Holly is correct, then top stars like John Cena and Triple H could be using HGH and their tests are coming back clean, and when asked if they’re using steroids they can deny it, because HGH is not technically a steroid. Triple H who is getting on in age and maybe even Cena, could also be getting testosterone prescribed legally and cleanly in regard to the Wellness program, something Holly says he did personally himself.
WWE’s allowed level of testosterone itself has been criticized. The program states that a “Testosterone/Epitestosterone (T/E) ratio above ten (10) shall be conclusively regarded as a positive test,” whereas for example the NFL follow Olympic guidelines of a 4:1 ratio. This means if prescribed by a doctor WWE actively allow elevated levels of testosterone.
This along with HGH is the single biggest loophole in the program.
It stands to reason that when a wrestler is injured and at home rehabbing, they’re not being drug tested. Wrestlers like Kurt Angle, Edge and Triple H have admitted to using steroids to help recover from injuries – this is normal for any athlete.
However it would be naïve to think some don’t use this to their advantage before they return to action. Not only does Cena return from injuries as bulky as when he left, but he returns faster than anybody else. Triple H also always seems to have the ability to return from injury completely jacked.
This is not so much a loophole but a convenience for outsiders. Only regular contracted talent are subjected to the Wellness policy.
That means older stars like The Rock or celebrity guests making short appearances, legends, and corporate office staff can do what they like. A logical speculation is that Triple H doesn’t even get tested since he’s an executive and not a regular talent.
All this being said, the incessant focus on steroids in wrestling seems to be disproportionate to the harm suffered from other illegal and legal drugs and substances. WWE is not a competitive sport, it’s a show, they’re not cheating anybody and should not fall in to the same net as baseball and other sports. Despite the media attention, steroids in wrestling is neither a massive scandal nor a surprise.
Compared to Hollywood (look at how many action heroes are jacked to the gills well in to middle age), WWE’s treatment by the media and congress is actually quite unfair. As far as the evidence shows nothing illegal has ever taken place. It’s not like Vince actually has a “head of steroid relations” department that hands out monthly vials to wrestlers. No matter what the indirect pressure is, it’s still a personal choice.
“People always make a big deal about steroids. I never understood the judgmental attitude,” says Bob Holly. “Drinking alcohol is far worse than doing steroids and almost everybody drinks.”
“Sure, steroids can weaken the heart when taken in excess. Alcohol in excess weakens the heart, the liver and the kidneys, on top of hugely affecting the brain. People die of alcohol poisoning, cirrhosis of the liver, and so on.”
During the Dr. Zahorian scandal he consistently made the claim that steroids were beneficial, especially for pro wrestlers who needed to recover from injury and maintain good bodies.
“I took them when coming back from my spinal fusion neck surgery when I was told by doctors that it would help the bones grow back around the screws and plate that were now inserted in my neck,” wrote WWE Hall of Famer Edge.
The regulated use of roids is permitted throughout the world to treat muscle wastage diseases, puberty issues, and in replacement of natural testosterone in older males or those with low testosterone conditions. Steroids are also permitted to help heal the skin of burn victims, muscle tears and bone injuries. In fact steroids were only tighter regulated in the US after the fervor surrounding the 1988 Olympic scandal with runner Ben Johnson, which was a cheating issue not necessarily a health issue.
“I don’t have a problem with people who take steroids. It’s a great medicine for people who need it, and it has a place in the world just like any other medication,” said Triple H in 2002.
Medical experts agree that steroids are safe and beneficial within reason. Like all substances – including twinkies – it’s abuse, not educated use that causes harm.
“Although anything can be overdone to where they’re harmful … Done in therapeutic dosages, I think the guys should be allowed to take a little something under doctor’s supervision,” says Sean Waltman.
A review of studies and information spanning more than three decades found that male body weight may increase by 2–5 kg of mostly muscle as a result of short-term anabolic steroid use. Muscles that responded most significantly were the quads (hello Triple H) and the Traps, which are actually very important in protecting a wrestler’s neck when bumping. Muscle gained through steroid use can last between 6–12 weeks after cessation, so most educated users cycle on and off.
It’s high doses, long term abuse, without cycles and a lack of medical oversight that make steroids dangerous. Steroid abuse can damage the immune system, promote bad cholesterol, cause liver damage (if taken orally), acne (back-ne), early baldness – though also hair growth; it temporarily shrink the testicles, and enlarges and thickens the left ventricle of the heart. Most of these negative effects are reversed when cycling off, and very few people will experience them all, if any.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests long term abuse may cause mood problems – including depression – especially when going through withdrawal, but data on this is often inconclusive. Correlation does not equal causation, and only a small percentage of the total steroid using population will experience depression.
A fit and healthy pro wrestler taking steroids with medical supervision and close monitoring of blood work is not going to keel over and die from using steroids, no more than the millions of users outside of wrestling. The only wrestler deaths linked directly to steroid related heart failure are Eddie Guerrero, Randy Savage (who crashed his vehicle during a heart attack) and Davey Boy Smith. No abnormalities were recorded for other wrestlers who died of heart attacks, and cases like Umaga were heavily dependent on prescription drug overdoses and other drug/alcohol combinations. Past abuse of drugs is also a factor in most wrestler heart attack deaths that weren’t straight up overdoses. Furthermore heart disease ran in Brian Pillman’s family and we can’t ignore that when making contextless lists of wrestler deaths either. The killer is still overwhelmingly prescription pills.
It depends what we define by “legitimate”. If we strip away laws, prejudices and societal expectations, a Wellness program should by definition be about promoting overall wellness regardless of outside pressure.
Wrestlers certainly get suspended when they test positive for banned substances like steroids, but whether steroids are really that harmful is debatable. Those that can afford HGH or can get testosterone prescribed by a doctor can basically bypass testing even with elevated levels anyway.
More importantly prescription drug abuse may still be taking place through a lack of detection, while relatively harmless drugs like marijuana that can be quite beneficial to wrestlers, is subject to heavy fines because it’s illegal in most states.
Perhaps the most important question is why do some wrestlers need substances to perform in the first place? Most likely because they’re in physical and emotional pain, and unable to maintain their bodies, due to a schedule that could quite easily be shortened. An effective Wellness policy should probably go to the root of the issue, that wrestling is physical and hurts – so how do we give these guys enough time to rest and recuperate?
Right now WWE are doing enough to placate society. That doesn’t make it the most effective program for genuine wellness, but it doesn’t mean we can blame them either. They’ve made tremendous strides, especially in regard to concussion monitoring.