Dead Wrestlers Haunting Linda McMahon


I'm in New London, Connecticut, where the screaming front-page headline in The Day, one of the state's larger (and better) papers, reads: "DEAD WRESTLER'S FATHER BLASTS MCMAHON, WWE." The story is about the former WWE wrestler Lance McNaught, who abused steroids and painkillers before dying of heart-failure at age 29 earlier this month. The story is, in a word, devastating. Here's the lede:

Harley McNaught was planning to stay silent and grieve. Then he saw what Linda McMahon said about his dead son.

McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, was asked last week about the death of McNaught's son, who wrestled for the WWE as Lance Cade and who had struggled with an addiction to painkillers before dying earlier this month of heart failure.

"I might have met him once," McMahon said as she insisted that the company could not be blamed for deaths of its employees outside the ring.

That response has left Harley Mcaught and his son's other survivors furious.

McNaught's father says Linda McMahon met her son on multiple occasions, and characterizes the attempt to brush off his death as "disrespectful." The article, which is long, well-reported, and substantial, goes on to make a convincing case to back this up. It includes excerpts from interviews that Lance McNaught himself gave shortly before his death, in which he discusses the pressure from WWE officials to use steroids to "change his body," pressure that he ultimately succumbed to.

The article provides a good sense of what it's like to be an aspiring WWE wrestler, and includes a number of details that I was not aware of, and that strike me as particularly damning, given the context--that a former employee of Linda McMahon's appears to have essentially killed himself by abusing drugs. The one that really jumped out at me is that WWE wrestlers weren't even provided health insurance, so most wrestlers self-medicated. From the piece:

Harley McNaught said his son had been injured on the job, requiring surgery on a shoulder last year and receiving a prescription for a knee injury in 2004. The younger McNaught worked his way though pain as much as he could, his father said, because he and the other wrestlers were wary of taking time off to heal, believing that they would be quickly passed over in favor of other talent, and would have to begin the long, slow climb of their careers all over again.

"It hurt me to see him wrestling in pain," the elder McNaught said, "but you talk to any one of them, once you try to climb the ladder and get a spot, you shut it down (due to an injury) and you lose your spot and go right back to the bottom. So it's, 'Here, take a few painkillers, make the world go away.'"

Right now, McMahon trails in the polls, although she's been closing on her Democratic opponent, Richard Blumenthal. In Washington, I sense that a lot of people believe she can close the gap, both because of her charisma (and ability, for the most part, to avoid the steroid/wrestling controversy) and because Blumenthal is, by all accounts, a dud as a campaigner. But if stories like this one continue to appear on front pages across the state, I have to wonder how realistic that is. The Day story, by Tedd Mann, is here. Lance McNaught's podcast interview from just before his death with the wrestling manager Kenny Bolin is here.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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