In a move that significantly widens the impact of wrestler Chris Benoit's murder-suicide case, two congressmen who opened steroid hearings into Major League Baseball have requested that World Wrestling Entertainment provide records pertaining to the WWE's testing policies and practices.
In a three-page letter dated Friday, Rep. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Tom Davis, its ranking minority member, asked WWE to provide a series of documents intended to give the committee and its investigation a detailed look at WWE's drug-testing policy, including information about the results of performance-enhancing drug tests on pro 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.
"These allegations -- which include first-hand reports of steroid use by prominent former wrestlers -- have swirled around the WWE for over a decade. Investigations by journalists have described a culture of performance-enhancing drug use in professional wrestling, high fatality rates among young professional wrestlers, and an inability or unwillingness of WWE to address these problems."
The letter from Waxman and Davis described WWE wrestlers as "multimedia stars that have an influence on the behavior and attitudes of the nation's youth."
"WWE has a responsibility to do everything possible to eliminate the use of performance-enhancing drugs -- or the perception of such use -- by its wrestlers."
The records request is wide ranging, and parallels what was asked of Major League Baseball. It seeks a list of drugs covered by its policies; the entity that conducts its drug testing; the number of tests it conducts annually; the protocols followed after a positive test; and the procedures for awarding exemptions.
It also wants hard figures about the number of tests that the WWE conducts each year; the numbers of wrestlers tested; positive results for each specific drug; and the number of positive tests for which wrestlers were penalized.
In an attempt to investigate the WWE's reaction to past scandals, the committee is also seeking "the results of any investigations prepared [by the company] regarding the deaths, injuries, or illnesses of current or former professional wrestlers that may have been related to the use of steroids."
It adds to the list "all communications between [the company] and outside entities including communications with health care professionals or law enforcement authorities, regarding allegations of drug use by wrestlers."
WWE chairman Vince McMahon was given until Aug. 24 to comply.
"We are reviewing this letter and will respond accordingly." said WWE spokesman Kevin Hennessy.
The WWE instituted its current drug testing policy after the November 2005 death of Benoit's best friend, Eddie Guerrero, 38, who was found dead in a hotel room in Minneapolis. A subsequent autopsy showed heart disease. Because steroids cause the heart to work harder to pump blood to an enlarged physique, they have been associated with arterial wear and tear.
The WWE has insisted that it randomly tests its 180 athletes at least four times a year. But its program has been criticized for being too employee-friendly. In a recent interview with the New York Times, David Black, the company's hired drug testing administrator, said: "The intention is not to punish, but to get them [the wrestlers] to engage in a different lifestyle.''
In a June 28 interview on the Today show, McMahon defended his employees, saying: "Everyone that's in this organization, to my knowledge, is well-adjusted, family people. They go to work like everybody else, except their definition of what their job is, is to put a smile on somebody's face. They're performers and they do their jobs very, very well."
The congressional request is the most direct approach on the WWE since 1994, when federal prosecutors charged McMahon with steroid distribution. A jury found him not guilty. In the years since, McMahon has regained widespread respectability, selling shares in the WWE to the public and luring celebrities like Donald Trump to his shows. But the double murder-suicide in late-June involving Benoit, one of his company¹s biggest stars, has refocused attention on the issue of wrestler deaths and steroid use.
Authorities have said Benoit's body was found to have 10 times the normal level of testosterone, as well as amounts of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the painkiller hydrocodone, but there has been no evidence that steroids played a role in the deaths of Benoit's wife, Nancy, and 7-year-old son, Daniel. Georgia's top medical examiner said the testosterone, a synthetic version, appeared to have been injected shortly before Benoit died. He hanged himself in the basement gym of his suburban Atlanta home.
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.