Shortly after the sudden 2005 death of Eddie Guerrero, World Wrestling Entertainment instituted an updated Talent Wellness Program, colloquially known as the WWE Wellness Policy. The program is designed to test for drug use, specifically fighting against prescription medication abuse and performance enhancing drugs in general. The superstars of WWE are also regularly tested for serious heart and brain conditions that otherwise could go undetected. The Policy has at times come under fire by the media for being imperfect, as it has thus far been unable to stop the sad and frightening trend of former wrestlers dying young. Even so, there’s no denying things are better now than they were just 10 years ago, and the Wellness Policy is largely to thank for the improvements.
Though they tried to deny it for many years, by creating the Wellness Policy, WWE was acknowledging that pro wrestlers experience health hazards unlike any other athletes. Scripted or not, wrestling is one of the most intensely physical and dangerous industries a person can enter and, as the forbearers of the wrestling universe, WWE is arguably more responsible for these hazards than any other organization. The Wellness Policy is WWE doing its best to save its employees from danger, but could it be doing more? Keep reading to learn 8 ways the WWE Wellness Policy is saving lives, and 7 ways it still needs to improve.
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15 GOOD: Ending The Tradition Of Ignorance
Before we even get in to the problems with the Wellness Policy as it exists today, it needs to be stressed that WWE created it relatively recently in consideration of its 60+ year existence. WWE did have a vague and intentionally unclear drug testing policy starting in the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2005 that the Wellness Policy publically started to clear things up. Therefore, it is in and of itself a very good thing for pro wrestlers that the Wellness Policy exists at all. Only slightly more than 10 years ago, wrestlers didn’t have anywhere to turn if they were experiencing drug problems and WWE had no official means of knowing whether or not they were in the first place. Just by regularly testing every WWE employee and holding them publicly accountable for any substance issues, WWE are sending a message that they want the trend of performers dying young to come to an end.
14 NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Provide Actual Health Insurance
For everything positive we’re about to say about the WWE Wellness Policy, it should be acknowledged that WWE superstars still don’t have any actual form of health insurance. In fact, the Wellness Policy specifically states that performers for WWE are “contractually responsible for securing their own insurance” when it comes to “everyday health maintenance.” Basically, while WWE will pay for the healthcare cost related to any in-ring injury, if a wrestler gets sick the normal way, the company won’t help them out financially. The distinction is due to WWE considering their superstars to be independent contractors, something they’ve been taken to court for multiple times in the past, most notably in a case filed by Raven, Mike Sanders, and Chris Kanyon. The case was ultimately dismissed due to the statute of limitations having run out. Granted, only the best businesses in the world offer complete universal health insurance to all of their employees, but the fact WWE doesn’t offer any sort of plan whatsoever leaves many wrestlers sick and unable to pay bills when they or their families suffer everyday illnesses.
13 GOOD: Taking Responsibility
In the same vein as the first positive, by acknowledging that the wrestling industry has a problem with performers dying young, WWE has also started to take some responsibility for this fact. Now, to be fair, WWE is in no way entirely responsible for the health and well being of its performers, nor are any other wrestling promotions. However, they do deserve at least some of the culpability, especially if it’s been proven that wrestlers are more prone to certain illnesses and addictions than people in any other profession. While the minor, unpublicized anti-drug policies WWE enacted in the late ‘80s were an admission that some wrestlers did drugs sometimes, the Wellness Policy is infinitely more clear when it comes to what those drugs are, how to prevent wrestlers from using them and, most importantly, how the company intends to help them stop. Whether or not it totally works, that they’ve even attempted at finding a solution speaks volumes to the fact they know they’re part of the problem and firmly desire to put an end to this reputation.
12 NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Guidelines For Prescriptions
One bizarre contradiction to the Wellness Policy is that it can be incredibly specific about certain things, such as how punishments are doled out to offenders, but at the same time it can be deceptively vague about why said punishments are being enacted in the first place. Though illegal drugs and non-prescribed steroids are obviously off-limits, things like prescription drugs and over-the-counter protein supplements, which can sometimes contain the same basic chemicals as PEDs, are more of a gray area. Even if a wrestler has a legitimate medical reason for using these occasionally legal drugs, they can still be held accountable if unable to immediately produce a prescription. In 2016 alone, both Paige and Adam Rose have argued their suspensions were related to entirely legal substances, an allegation WWE never officially responded to. Maybe the real problem is that WWE doesn’t give out enough information when superstars are suspended and we’ll get to that later. However, there’s also a chance the company is preventing athletes from using medication their doctors think they need, which is too damning an idea to ignore entirely.
11 GOOD: Regular Testing Prevents Drug Use
It’s a pretty standard element to any sports franchise that cares about the health of its athletes, but it nonetheless deserves mention that simply testing the WWE superstars for drugs on a regular basis is a monumentally good thing for sports entertainment in general. There was a point in history when the general public basically assumed Vince McMahon was feeding his workers steroids for breakfast (and hey, maybe some still do), but thanks to the Wellness Policy, accusations like that no longer have any merit. While it doesn’t apply to every wrestler in the company, to a former abuser of drugs, knowing that someone is keeping tabs on them and watching them can be the strongest deterrent to using again. Since WWE is the top wrestling company in the world, even wrestlers for other organizations know if they ever use steroids or any other illegal drugs, it’ll hurt their chances at WWE superstardom. Considering how rampant drug use was in the sport up to the early ‘90s, the only negative thing people could say about WWE regularly testing wrestlers is that they should’ve been doing it for decades.
10 NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Treat All Wrestlers The Same
Arguably the most questionable element of the WWE Wellness Policy is that it only applies to full-time WWE superstars and not part-time/guest appearances, whether those part-timers happen to be wrestlers or not. This means that even though they’re typically in the main event when they do appear, names like Triple H, The Rock, The Undertaker, and, very importantly, Brock Lesnar are no subject to the same rules as the rest of the WWE roster. Lesnar’s name stands out due to the fact he failed two drug tests for UFC in July of 2016, earning a one-year suspension from MMA, but receiving absolutely no official punishment whatsoever from WWE. Outside of the full-time/part-time distinction, some critics have argued that the early offenses of Randy Orton were swept under the rug and forgiven far faster than they would have for anyone else. In either case, the point is that being a top performer shouldn’t preclude wrestlers from getting punished for breaking the rules. It could even be said that if WWE doesn’t fix this problem, the entire Wellness Policy is invalidated, because it only applies when they feel like it.
9 GOOD: Creating Tiered Punishments
Depending on where you stand on drug control, the fact WWE tiers punishments for drug offenders could be seen as either a positive or a negative. While a zero-tolerance policy might make sense when talking about the worst drugs in existence, given that most Wellness Policy offenses are for less harmful substances, we’re going to go the other way with it and say the tiered punishment format is one of the best things the Wellness Policy has going for it. First offenders are suspended for 30 days, second offenders are suspended for 60 days and told to enter rehab, and third offenders are fired for at least one year pending completion of the WWE Redemption Program, which includes regular treatment with rehab specialists. Any previous WWE drug policies seemed to be one and done, that is, if the company bothered responding at all. By creating policies for varying levels of offenders, WWE is showing a strong understanding of how addiction works in the first place and ensuring people with real problems get the help they need.
8 NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Allow Outside Testing
Because professional wrestling is itself fake, there will always be people who refuse to believe whatever Vince McMahon tries to sell them. This can even include the WWE Wellness Policy and especially the eight WWE approved doctors who conduct all company drug testing. To be fair, all eight doctors hired by WWE are indeed accredited medical professionals and our intention isn’t to call any of them into question. That said, certain news organizations won’t believe WWE superstars aren’t using steroids unless they test wrestlers with their own doctors, something WWE won’t allow. Obviously, there’s the small chance that the news organizations could lie or manipulate the results to make WWE look bad, but it also looks bad for WWE to deny outside testing. All they need to do is allow John Cena or some other top superstar to pass a single drug test by a random doctor not on their payroll and more people could be willing to believe him when he says he’s never used them.
7 GOOD: Forgiveness For First Offenses
Continuing our argument the tiered punishment system is in the best interest of WWE superstars, arguably the best part of it is that first time offenders receive what some might consider a fairly light sentence. 30 days to sit at home and think about what you didn’t doesn’t sound like much, but thanks to how vague and confusing the Wellness Policy can be at times, it might be all a superstar needs to realize they’ve made an honest mistake. Simple statistics make it obvious there are far more first time offenders than second or third and this is because most offenders didn’t necessarily know they were doing something wrong. If they did, they didn’t know they would get caught and most of them care more about their jobs than getting high. If someone only breaks the rules once, they don’t deserve to lose their career over it.
6 NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Explaining What Happened
WWE has been very open and honest about what the Wellness Policy entails, posting it on WWE.com for all the world to see. The company is also quick to break the news whenever a superstar breaks the policy, generally posting the information on their website before most outside news sources become aware of it. However, one thing they almost always leave out is what specific drugs the wrestlers who get suspended were using. This continues the aforementioned problem with prescription drugs, as a number of superstars later claimed they weren’t using anything illegal and WWE never bothers to tell fans whether or not that was true. Paige and Adam Rose aren’t the first to make complaints like this, as Booker T did the same thing in 2007, temporarily walking out of the company when WWE doctors wouldn’t even return his calls to discuss the issue. If WWE was more open about what the violations were with the wrestlers and the fans, less people would have any reason question them.
5 GOOD: Offering Long-Term Treatment To Multiple Offenders
In addition to first offenders being forgiven, the tiered punishment system is one of the best elements of the Wellness Policy due to the fact serious, multiple offenders are essentially forced into rehab if they want their careers to continue. Though the policy isn’t as clear as it should be with second time offenders, the fact both Jeff Hardy and Umaga were fired for refusing to enter rehab on their second offense is in a way a backhanded good sign that the company is pressing superstars to get treatment or face consequences. The Policy is more specific about third time offenders, in that they can never be rehired by WWE until the company medical director advises them through an 18 month program, often deferred to an addiction specialist. A year and a half is an especially long time for the company to follow up on wrestlers who need treatment and it shows they genuinely care about superstars getting better. Of course, there’s a downside in that the superstars need to be willing to complete treatment, which not every one of them is, though we’ll get to that as the list continues.
4 NEEDS TO IMPROVE: More Sick Days
Earlier on in our list, we kind of glossed over the details about why the Wellness Policy isn’t the same as a normal healthcare plan, so let’s get into one of the specifics so important it’s caused major wrestlers to walk out of the company. Nothing about the WWE Wellness Policy protects wrestlers who suffer from everyday illnesses or even acknowledges the possibility that wrestlers can get sick. WWE superstars in general don’t get sick days, let alone help paying for Nyquil if they get a cold during their nonstop travel schedule. In 2014, CM Punk made headlines by explaining a big part of his decision to leave wrestling was due to this fact and, even worse, that WWE essentially forced him to work through both serious illnesses and injuries. Punk also alleges WWE doctors misdiagnosed illnesses that could have proven gravely serious, only discovered when he used outside doctors who didn’t consider how much time off he would need in making their diagnosis. Regardless of the specifics, one thing that's certain is that WWE superstars need more discretion in taking time off and any actual Wellness Policy would consider that they can get sick like anyone else.
3 GOOD: Noticing Dangerous Ailments
Outside of the drug testing it has become best known for, the WWE Wellness Policy also tests for a variety of brain and heart injuries. The reason proved evident in the second year the policy existed, when reigning WWE United States Champion Montel Vontavious Porter/MVP discovered he was suffering from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which easily could have caused his early death if undetected and untreated. More recently, the section of the Wellness Policy covering ImPACT, which is the testing of basic brain functions, led to Daniel Bryan’s retirement, when doctors discovered his wrestling career could be increasing his risk of concussions and other memory issues. While everything the Wellness Policy does to prevent addicts from getting worse, when it comes to actually saving lives, stories like these are perhaps even more indicative of the power the policy has. As the testing becomes more refined and geared towards the actual health of the wrestlers, the doctors will likely continue to discover unrelated ways to enhance their careers and even lifespans.
2 NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Outreach For Fired Wrestlers
The downside to WWE forcing repeat offenders into some form of rehab is that if they refuse treatment, that’s pretty much the end of their story when it comes to the WWE Universe. Obviously, there’s no way for WWE to outright force past employees into rehab or other treatment. If an addict would rather keep using drugs than hold a steady job, chances are nothing is going to get them to change their mind. Even so, to completely cut them loose and forget about them until it’s too late is a pretty harsh alternative. The 2016 death of Chyna was a bitter reminder that wrestlers outside of the WWE bubble still suffer substance abuse issues and, especially in her case, her former employers were almost intentionally ignoring her because of it. Chyna wasn’t different from the average superstar in that she still had a few friends in the industry, but apparently none of them had the proper means of letting WWE know how much trouble she was in. She probably won’t be the last superstar to fall into drug abuse when their career ends and WWE still has no plans for if it happens again.
1 GOOD: Rehab For Past Employees
As we just covered, WWE can’t do anything to force people into rehab. However, if a wrestler is willing to enter rehab on their own, the company can help them out immeasurably by paying for their treatment. Regardless of how long ago a wrestler left WWE or even the wrestling industry altogether, the McMahon family has repeatedly shown a willingness to take care of the rehab bills related to anyone who ever worked for them, regardless of how much it costs. Superstars such as Scott Hall, Jake Roberts, and Sean O’Haire were all reported to take advantage of this practice on multiple occasions. Roberts and Hall are famous examples showing WWE won’t give up on seemingly lost causes, while O’Haire’s tragic story at least serves to prove it doesn’t matter how big or small a star the wrestler was when it comes to WWE’s generosity.
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