By Mike Mooneyham

Sept. 23, 2007

Sixth in a series

World Wrestling Federation, in the midst of a media firestorm, took a big step recently when the company announced it would pay for drug rehab for any wrestler under WWE contract or any who had ever been under contract who needed the help.

All one has to do is contact WWE, admit to having a current substance abuse problem, and the company will send the wrestler to rehab and cover the cost of treatment.

“Over the last ten years, an inordinate number of wrestlers have passed away. Some of those deaths may in part have been caused by drugs and alcohol. In an effort to prevent such tragedies in the future, the WWE is willing to pay for drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation at a certified treatment chosen by WWE for any performer with a prior WWE booking contract who may need this service. The WWE will pay for this service in full,” WWE chairman Vince McMahon wrote in a letter to formerly contracted employees.

McMahon added that help would be provided regardless of the circumstances of departure from WWF or the amount of time performed for the company, with intervention and treatment at the cost of WWE exclusively.

“It’s a good step in the right direction,” says Marc Mero, probably the most vocal among former wrestlers who have called for industry reform in the wake of the Chris Benoit tragedy. “This means that they’re admitting there’s a certain lifestyle that went along with this. If they’re offering rehab to people who may really need it, I think it’s awesome that they might be able to save some lives. I just hope that former wrestlers will take advantage of it.”

It would be better if the business as a whole extended a benefits package including a retirement plan and health insurance, says Mero, but that’s a battle for another day.

Former pro wrestling champ Bill Goldberg echoed Mero’s sentiments in a recent interview with a Texas radio station.

“Every person who falls victim to the wrestling business is a definite shame, and something has got to be done. I’ve been saying this for a long, long time. I’ve been a fan of a union for long, long time and guess what, now Congress is stepping in. We’ll have to see what happens with all this. It’s time for Vince McMahon to take some responsibility and stop passing the buck.”

Chris Benoit

Chris Benoit

And it’s not all about WWE. “Right after the Benoit death, WWE and TNA had an opportunity to make it right,” said Goldberg. “They had an opportunity, they had everyone’s attention and what does TNA do? They go out and sign Pacman Jones. That in itself, in a nutshell, describes TNA’s mentality.”

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, one of the most successful performers to ever lace up a pair of WWE boots, advocates a zero-tolerance policy.

“You use, you’re caught, you’re out,” Johnson said in a recent interview.

“Clearly, there has to be an aggressive educational program put in place,” said Johnson, who left the wrestling business several years ago for a film career in Hollywood. “These guys have to be armed with the knowledge and understanding of how bad these drugs are and the dangers of mixing these drugs with the lifestyles they lead.”

WWE recently suspended nearly a dozen of its performers for violating its drug-testing policy and announced that it will publicly disclose names of those suspended in the future beginning Nov. 1.

Florida congressman Cliff Stearns, part of a committee currently investigating drugs and death in wrestling, isn’t sold on the WWE’s Talent Wellness Policy.

“The WWE does not have a drug policy that’s worth a flip,” he recently told the New York Daily News. “Because the WWE didn’t catch them, the district attorney in New York investigated and found them.”

A USA Today report noted that wrestlers “are about 20 times more likely to die before 45 than are pro football players, another profession that’s exceptionally hard on the body.”

Many former wrestling stars not only gave their bodies, but their lives, to the wrestling business. For some, such as “Sensational” Sherri Martel, even rehab couldn’t save them. Martel (real name Sherry Russell Schrull) died in June at the age of 49 of an accidental multiple drug overdose.

Although she was sent to drug rehab, Martel reportedly couldn’t afford surgery for a back that took the brunt of years of bumps in the wrestling business. There was little to show for her glory years in the profession, unless you consider the trailer in which she was found dead, a trailer she had purchased for her mother years ago when she first hit it big in the sport.

Her former employer, Vince McMahon, foot the bill for her funeral expenses. Robert Booker Huffman (King Booker), who considered her a sister, paid for the headstone for her grave.

NEWS AND NOTES: Chris Jericho reportedly is entertaining offers from both WWE and TNA regarding a possible return to the business … King Booker’s future with WWE remains up in the air after the wrestler was hit with a 60-day suspension for violating the company’s wellness policy … Shawn Michaels could be back in action by the Survivor Series PPV in November … WWE released Marcus Cor Von on Wednesday. Cor Von, whose real name is Monty Brown, had taken extended time off from the company to assist with his family following the death of a relative … Former TNA performer Sonny Siaki also has been released by WWE … Rock ‘N Roll Express star Ricky Morton recently was arrested for being $63,000 behind on child support. Morton spent four months in a Tennessee jail two years ago for delinquent child support before being released under the condition that he continue working and make efforts to catch up on the delinquent payments owed to his ex-wife. Morton’s official Web site at is attempting to raise funds to help him … TNA’s weekly Impact show is expanding to two hours (9-11 p.m. Thursday nights on Spike) beginning Oct. 4 … A WWE fan died at Philips Arena in Atlanta following the Smackdwn TV tapings Tuesday night. The fan fell from a walking ramp. Investigators have ruled the fall an accident, and no charges will be filed … Prominent Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen is no longer representing Nick Bollea (Nick Hogan). Bollea, 17, remains under investigation for a crash in Clearwater, Fla., that seriously injured his friend, 22-year-old John Graziano, who had just returned from Iraq … “Brody: The Triumph and Tragedy of Wrestling’s Rebel,” the second book on legendary brawler Bruiser Brody to be released this year, is a must-read for all wrestling fans. Co-written by longtime St. Louis wrestling figure Larry Matysik and Brody’s widow, Barbara Goodish, the book is an up-close and personal look at one of the most complex and controversial performers in the history of the sport. Matysik’s knowledge of the business and his friendship with Brody, combined with Goodish’s deeply personal stories about a man very few really knew outside the confines of the ring, make for a wonderful tribute to a star whose career and life was cut short by a fellow wrestler in a Puerto Rican locker room. The soft-cover book is 206 pages and published by ECW Press … Take it to the bank – Jim Ross, comparing the current crop of performers with stars of the past, says “Stars of the 80’s would blow the vast majority of wrestlers of today away and would definitely be huge stars in today’s marketplace. Race, Rhodes, DiBiase, Steamboat, Midnight Express, R ‘N R Express, etc., would all be wealthy individuals if they were in their prime today, and many wrestlers who do have full-time jobs in wrestling would be looking for work.”