World Wrestling Entertainment, under fire since one of its top stars was involved in a double-murder suicide, announced the suspension of 10 of its wrestlers on Thursday.
They are being suspended for violating the WWE's "wellness policy."
The move comes as investigators from the Albany, N.Y., district attorney's office have been gathering information about steroid use by WWE wrestlers as part of a wide ranging investigation into online pharmacies and the doctors who write prescriptions for them.
WWE did not release the names of those suspended. A source close to the investigation said that WWE was told that the following wrestlers were among the clients of one of the pharmacies under investigation, Signature of Orlando: Shoichi Funaki, Dave Bautista, Adam "Edge" Copeland, Chris "Masters" Mordetsky, John "Johnny Nitro" Hennigan, and Shane Helms. Chris Benoit, the wrestler who killed his wife and son before hanging himself in June, was also a Signature client, as were two other wrestlers who recently died, Eddie Guerrero and Brian "Crush" Adams.
The Albany district attorney's office is examining online prescription mills where doctors get paid as little as $25 to issue online prescriptions, which in turn are filled by friendly pharmacies. In addition to Signature, its investigators raided pharmacies in Mobile, Ala. and Bay Ridge, N.Y.
Among those who have pleaded guilty are a Florida doctor named Claire Godfrey, who has admitted to prescribing performance-enhancing drugs at least two WWE wrestlers. In exchange for a plea that will keep her out of prison, she is cooperating with prosecutors.
The suspensions, which were accompanied by a WWE pledge to make future actions public after Nov. 1, comes at a time of mounting pressure on the WWE. A spokesman for the House Energy & Commerce Committee said Thursday that its commerce subcommittee will be holding hearings into the WWE in late September. The aide said a witness list has not been finalized.
Also looking into the company is the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In a request that parallels what was asked of Major League Baseball, the committee is seeking a list of drugs covered by the WWE's policies, the number of tests it conducts annually, the protocols followed after a positive test and the procedures for awarding exemptions.
The issue of steroids and WWE largely faded until late June, when Benoit killed his wife and son in their suburban Atlanta home before hanging himself. His body was found to have 10 times the normal level of testosterone, as well as the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the painkiller hydrocodone, authorities said.
The WWE instituted its current drug testing policy after the November 2005 death of Benoit's best friend, Guerrero, 38, who was found dead in a hotel room in Minneapolis. On Aug. 15, a day before WWE officials met with the Albany prosecutors, Adams, 44, was found dead of undetermined causes in his Florida home. Toxicology tests are pending.
The WWE has insisted that it randomly tests its 180 athletes at least four times a year.
Shaun Assael is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He is also the co-author of "Sex, Lies, and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment," which is available here. His second book, Steroid Nation, will be released in October.