Deposition details McMahon steroid testimony
On Dec. 13, 2007, in Room 2247 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, Linda McMahon sat across the table from a team of congressional lawyers, prepared to defend her company's policies regarding anabolic steroids.
In a sworn deposition, McMahon defended World Wrestling Entertainment's efforts to safeguard the health of the wrestlers it refers to as "superstars."
With WWE's lead attorney at her side, the then-CEO said her company had been appropriately aggressive about drug testing, even before a prominent WWE wrestler, Chris Benoit, had killed his family and himself earlier that year, leaving behind a cache of steroids and questions about the prevalence of abuse among wrestlers.
McMahon also said she wasn't surprised to discover rampant abuse of steroids by 40 percent of the company's wrestlers when the WWE revived its steroid testing program after a decade-long hiatus in 2006.
Some of McMahon's statements to lawyers from the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations that day suggest she had little interaction with George T. Zahorian III, a Pennsylvania doctor convicted of selling steroids, including to WWE wrestlers, who would figure as a witness when the company and McMahon's husband, Vince, were unsuccessfully tried on steroid distribution and conspiracy charges in 1994.
Zahorian, who was first appointed to attend then-WWF events by a Pennsylvania regulatory commission, was "at a lot of our events, and had, in fact, distributed steroids unbeknownst to us at arenas where we were playing to some of our talent," McMahon said that day.
Zahorian was not unknown to the McMahons. Attorneys for Vince McMahon and the company acknowledge that he purchased steroids from Zahorian in the 1980s. McMahon's name, like that of the wrestlers Hulk Hogan, Danny Spivey and James Hellwig, among others, appear in the FedEx manifests that were evidence in both the Zahorian and McMahon trials.
Linda McMahon ordered an employee, Pat Patterson, to alert Zahorian that he was under investigation by the Justice Department, the probe that eventually sent him to federal prison. McMahon has said she does not remember why she decided to alert Zahorian to the federal investigation.
McMahon and Titan Sports, which eventually became World Wrestling Entertainment, were acquitted of a charge of conspiracy to defraud the FDA in the 1994 trial. A charge of conspiracy to distribute steroids was dismissed by the trial judge on the grounds that prosecutors had not established legal venue.
In an interview Tuesday, Jerry McDevitt, the lead attorney for the WWE who sat in on the deposition in 2007, said Linda McMahon meant to underscore that company officials had been unaware of Zahorian's steroid sales when they occurred in the arenas where live wrestling performances were held in the late 1980s.
"She was talking about what was going on at the arenas," he said, not suggesting that all of Zahorian's activities were unknown to Vince and Linda McMahon.
The 2007 McMahon deposition is notable for its combativeness. As in the 1994 trial, McDevitt aggressively countered the would-be interrogators of the company, frequently charging them with engaging McMahon in a "memory test" over the results of drug tests on individual wrestlers, and the identities of the "two or three" wrestlers, like Benoit and John Cena, who investigators believed had been given exemptions by the WWE to take testosterone as part of a hormone replacement therapy sometimes linked to past steroid use.
The deposition also shows just how endemic steroid use had become in the WWE between 1996, when the company dropped the drug-testing regimen it had imposed four years earlier as federal investigators began circling, and 2006, when a new random-testing program was imposed.
According to information WWE provided to the committee, which was then investigating steroid use, 75 wrestlers - 40 percent of the company's total stable - tested positive when testing resumed in 2006.
"Were you surprised by the number of athletes who tested positive?" a committee lawyer asked McMahon in the deposition.
"I don't think I was," she eventually answered.
"I don't know," McMahon said.
McMahon also faced skeptical questioning from committee attorneys about the WWE's reasons for halting its testing program in 1996. At first McMahon said the program was halted because it had been so successful in reducing steroid use and because it was not "cost-effective," but later added that another factor was the WWE's belief that a competitor, Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling, was not testing its performers.
"Why did WWE or WWF at that time stop the program?" one attorney asked.
"I think Vince had pretty much stated it in his first paragraph of this," McMahon said, referring to her husband's 1996 memo announcing the end of random steroid testing. "It says, low incidents of positive results at that particular time and it was just - the program was very effective. We were pleased with the results. It was just no longer cost effective to random test across the large pool of talent that we had."
A committee attorney followed up.
"Was it your view in 1996 that WCW had a business advantage in not having a drug-testing policy in place?" he asked.
"Yes," McMahon replied.
Asked to explain why that alleged failure of WCW to test its wrestlers represented an advantage over WWE, she replied: "Well, if - it's not just one aspect. They also had much more money to attract our talent, but if our talent knew that they were with us and they were tested and they were going to be positive, and they could go someplace else and not be tested, that was attractive on one measure for them."
In other instances, McMahon defends the steroid-testing program after 2006, including the decision to notify - not suspend or fire - wrestlers who tested positive for the first time.
The testing "is not a 'gotcha' policy," McMahon said, but a broader attempt to instill a "healthy lifestyle."
"We are not the police," McMahon said. "I am not looking to catch you. I am looking to tell you that if you are doing this, to stop."
David Black, the toxicologist who oversees the WWE's wellness program and previously set up steroid testing in the NFL in the 1980s under Commissioner Pete Rozelle, said that approach is the appropriate one.
"The purpose of the program was not ... to end careers," he said in an interview this week. "The intention of the policy is to change culture, to ensure that they engage in healthy behavior."
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