The WWE Talent Wellness Program, often colloquially referred to on the Internet as the Wellness Policy, is one of the most important and controversial programs in WWE and sports entertainment today. The idea is something every wrestling fan should immediately jump on board with—drug testing WWE superstars and giving them regular medical check-ups to ensure they are taking the best possible care of their bodies, and the company in turn helping the wrestlers in any way possible if it’s discovered they aren’t. The Program was implemented on February 27, 2006, four months after the early death of WWE Hall of Fame superstar Eddie Guerrero, and with the goal of preventing tragedies like that in mind, it’s hard for fans to criticize the ultimate cause.
Unfortunately, the WWE Talent Wellness Program doesn’t seem to be working, or at least not completely so. Wrestlers are still dying young and getting addicted to drugs, and instead of getting help for their superstars, WWE seems to fire and forget them more often than not. Although the Wellness Program seems to be in the news almost every week thanks to a fresh violation or shocking development, many fans still don’t know that much about the cryptic and confusing policy that is costing wrestlers their careers, sometimes fairly, and sometimes not. If everything were as advertised and the true goal was to get wrestlers with drug problems the help they need, we’d be completely in support of the Wellness Policy and everything it sets out to do. However, we’ve scrutinized it pretty harshly, and found 15 reasons the WWE Wellness Policy is still deeply flawed.
15. Roman’s Redemption Rumors
The suspension of WWE’s “main guy” Roman Reigns in June of 2016 at first seemed like yet another reminder that absolutely no one was exempt from the Wellness Program (and if you want our opinions on that concept, keep reading). The full story on what will happen to Reigns is yet to be seen, but it’s been reported on the PWTorch that an early plan is a “redemption” story that will see Reigns overcome his violation and win back the fan’s trust. With the way the fans have already been violently reacting to Reigns as a main event superstar, this feels extremely suspect, and almost makes the entire thing feel faked. That, in turn, would make the entire Wellness Program seem fake, which is the last thing WWE should be looking to accomplish.
Everything else in wrestling is scripted, but fans should at least have the knowledge the superstars’ health is being taken into consideration, and making a joke and angle out of the most important health care program in sports entertainment could do the exact opposite of that. Using it to make Roman Reigns popular is bound to backfire, since the prevailing viewpoint thus far has been to shun the wrestlers who violate the program and hold them accountable for their actions. Giving Roman Reigns contrarian and exceptionally better treatment than everyone else could cause the Wellness Policy to collapse, just like it’s done to the ratings of Raw and SmackDown.
14. It Can Ruin Careers
Part of what has been so controversial about the Wellness Program has been the disappointment all fans feel when they learn a wrestler has violated it. They can’t get mad at WWE for taking a superstar off TV until they know why, and given most of the violating superstars’ life history, it can be easy to quickly assume the worst. Once things are confirmed and fans learn exactly why their favorite wrestler was suspended, if they find out it was a serious drug problem, while there may be some glimmer of hope they’ll finally get the help they deserve, chances are they’ll have their career ruined, instead.
If a wrestler violates the Wellness Program to use recreational drugs, especially at what many would argue was the peak of their career, it’s really nobody’s fault but their own. Drug addiction is an illness, but it’s an illness you can only be diagnosed with after you’ve made a certain choice that all addicts have indeed made, by themselves. Still, it’s hard to take one bad decision and use it to destroy a person’s career, but WWE have done just that in at least a few cases. The most famous example was Rob Van Dam, who violated the Policy in 2006 while WWE and ECW World Champion, and immediately lost both titles and never again rose to main event status. William Regal had a similar situation when he was General Manager and King of the Ring in 2008, only to drop down the card after a violation. It seems particularly unfair that some wrestlers have their careers ruined when others are seemingly forgiven almost instantly…
13. Others Are Forgiven Too Fast
A wrestler’s first violation of the Wellness Program results in an immediate 30-day suspension from WWE television. The second violation increases the number to 60-days, and with three strikes, a wrestler is out, and thereby fired. Depending on the nature of the violation, this might be reasonable in many cases, but in other cases, 30 days is way too fast to forgive a wrestler of a drug violation. In the case of wrestlers like Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton, it seemed like they were immediately forgiven and vaulted back into the main event World Title scene, which only lead to repeat offenses a few months down the line.
Smaller scale wrestlers have the same problem, as evidenced with Evan Bourne’s string of violations in 2012 and 2013. Bourne explained that his violations were both for smoking synthetic marijuana, and the first 30-days he basically had a free pass to keep smoking as long as he could beat the test when he got back. Obviously, he couldn’t, which is why he was suspended again so quickly, but the mindset he shared was the same as many wrestlers on the higher level, who simply won’t get tested again for a while thanks to the way the policy is structured to a main event talent’s advantage.
12. Prescriptions Make Everything Legal
While a wrestler using recreational drugs is definitely a problem that WWE and other wrestling companies need to take some responsibility for, the real drug problem in the sports entertainment world has always been anabolic steroids. Naturally, one of the biggest jobs of the Wellness Policy, then, is testing superstars for steroid use, and the many other forms of human growth hormone and performance enhancing drugs that today’s modern athletes are so well known for using and abusing. However, there are dozens of different kinds of steroids, and with the many different kinds of steroids there are many different reasons to use them, and that’s where the whole thing gets a little bit confusing, and difficult for WWE to enforce.
While recreational use of steroids is illegal, there are many ways to get a legal prescription for steroids from an accredited doctor, and dozens of wrestlers have done so for years. Especially when recovering from a serious sports injury, which wrestlers suffer all the time, steroids can be very helpful in the recovery process and helping muscles develop and redevelop faster than they normally do. Of course, it’s also totally possible for a wrestler to fake these ailments and in turn have a doctor fake one of these prescriptions, and WWE would have no real way of knowing about the fraud until an outside investigation took place to prove it.
11. Inability To Provide A Sample Breaks The Policy
The main goal and cause for suspension the WWE Talent Wellness Program is known for is drug abuse, whether prescription, illegal, or even some grey-area combination of the two. However, in order to assure due diligence is given to these violations, certain contingency clauses needed to be added for times superstars were unable to provide a sample, and it’s arguable the punishments in these contingency plans don’t exactly fit the crime. The most efficient way to test someone for drugs is to take a blood sample, but that can take a long time and get kind of expensive, depending on what you’re looking for. A much faster and easier way is a urine sample, and this is the route WWE and most medical professionals choose to go.
As former WWE superstar Hornswoggle can attest, not everybody can produce a urine sample on demand. In fact, it was Hornswoggle’s inability to do so that got him nabbed with a violation in 2015. He explained a WWE doctor needed to be present and the superstar naked in order to assure no tampering was done to the same, and the pressure of needing to produce a sample left him feeling a little pee shy, resulting in a 30-day suspension. While it makes sense to test wrestlers for drugs in the most efficient way possible, perhaps the limitations of the human body could be considered before doling out suspensions.
10. It Doesn’t Cover Injuries Very Well
When CM Punk left WWE in early 2014, one of his main complaints was that the company wasn’t giving him proper medical attention. He claimed he was being forced to work through several injuries to his severe physical detriment. Although people associate the WWE Talent Wellness Program with curbing drug use, the words “talent wellness” should imply at the very least they won’t be forced into competition that will without question make their injuries and pain worse, but as it would turn out, that isn’t the case at all. While the Wellness Program does outline physical testing for injuries, unless WWE doctors are the ones that diagnose them, the wrestler doesn’t get any time off to rehab the problem.
The Wellness Program makes sure to point out that all WWE workers are responsible for their own personal health insurance, and the company only covers medical expenses related to injuries suffered in the ring. Of course, if the injury has existed forever and only got worse in the ring, the legal grey area comes into play and the health and safety of wrestlers are at a disadvantage once again. Punk was the only one to get vocal about it, and wrestling journalists have noticed for years that WWE didn’t seem to have any problem allowing or even forcing clearly injured wrestlers to get into the ring, “wellness” be damned.
9. It Can’t Save Everyone
WWE isn’t entirely to blame for this one, as this is an issue with all drug-testing programs that we’re aware of. One of the most difficult things about drug addicts is they’re extremely good at doing drugs. It doesn’t matter what they’re position in the world is or how much money they have; if a drug addict wants drugs, they’re going to get and do drugs. A “smart” drug addict can be extremely successful while they do so, beating every test and keeping their habit completely secret. We’re not accusing anyone in WWE of doing this, but it would be entirely plausible to discover someone was. To repeat ourselves, though, this isn’t totally WWE’s fault.
The flaw, then, is acting like the Program IS perfect, which WWE does at every opportunity it gets, in strong spite of lists like this one. The Wellness Program was enacted in part as a response to the early death of Eddie Guerrero, who was definitive proof that a person can remain an incredibly high level performer while deeply within the throes of addiction. Eddie was also proof that even once those addictions seem beaten, the human heart can only handle so much, and eventually years of abuse will catch up with every addict. This, too, is something the Wellness Program can’t really do anything about.
8. The Signature Pharmacy Scandal
The WWE Talent Wellness Program was instated in February of 2006, and the biggest scandal it faced happened barely over one and a half years later, in September of 2007. A countrywide investigation into a drug distribution company called Signature Pharmacy lead to 10 WWE superstars getting suspended in one single instant. Signature Pharmacy was an online company that distributed steroids and HGH on prescriptions that were later discovered as having been falsified. Shortly after the policy was created in response to his uncle’s death, Chavo Guerrero was one of the 10, and top superstars like Randy Orton joined him. Eddie himself was a former Signature Pharmacy client, and so was Chris Benoit, who also died shortly before the investigation. Former WWE superstar Crush/Brian Adams had also passed away only a few months prior to being implemented with the scandal.
WWE wasn’t the only company affected by this scandal, as athletes within the MLB and NFL were also implicated as Signature Pharmacy clients. Industry experts were immediately calling the scandal proof the Wellness Program was a failure, and it was a sign that drug abusers would always find some way to keep getting their drugs. It’s been almost another 10 years of the policy, and it seems like it’s at least gotten a little bit better, but this early scandal made it clear there were holes in the so-called drug abuse prevention plan from the start.
7. Violators Can Easily Keep Doing Drugs Elsewhere
The first violation of the Wellness Program gives a superstar an immediate 30-day suspension from television and live events. The second violation nabs them with a 60-day suspension, and in most cases, company mandated rehab. Once it’s three strikes, you’re out, and the superstar is released from the company. At least a few wrestlers have looked at that second strike and took the Amy Winehouse example, letting themselves get fired instead of going to rehab. Some might argue this is the only thing WWE could do, but it’s worth pointing out most wrestlers who take this path clearly did so in order to go do drugs elsewhere without company intervention.
Only family members and law officials can force people into rehab, and even those statutes depend on where in the world you live. If a wrestler says no to WWE’s offer of rehab and leaves to go do drugs, there’s not really anything they can do about it, but once again this is the flaw of saying the Wellness Program is the best it could possibly be. Maybe it is, but there’s still so many ways for the workers to continue to hurt themselves that pretending it’s perfect makes the whole thing look suspect. And that’s only when the workers somehow keep winning the battles with their demons…
6. …Or Simply Succumb To Their Demons
When a wrestler is fired from WWE for drug related reasons and ends up in the independent scene continuing their habit, or just continues said habit on their own while not working, that’s pretty bad. When a wrestler is fired from WWE for drug related reasons and dies a few months later, that’s a tragedy that you’d think could have been prevented. In June of 2009, Umaga, former WWE wrestler and the uncle of The Usos, was caught with his second violation of the Wellness Program. Umaga denied the company’s mandate he should attend rehab and was fired, and less than six months later he died from an overdose of the same drugs he was caught abusing.
Once Umaga was fired from WWE, he didn’t have any health insurance, and therefore he couldn’t exactly do anything about his problems on his own, either. It’s an addict’s own choice to keep doing drugs to the point of an overdose, but there are certain resources that can make things much easier for former addicts to potentially recover. Money is one of those resources that WWE could provide to former wrestlers, but there’s a point when WWE won’t reach back and help their past employees. That was the point Umaga had reached before his unfortunate passing.
5. Wrestlers Have Called BS
Maybe it’s expecting too much to think every wrestler who violates the Wellness Program would immediately step forward and admit their wrongs, apologizing for their mistakes, and learning from them in the future. Still, fans want to know what happened when their favorite wrestlers get nabbed with a violation, and some of those wrestlers have stepped forward to say they didn’t do anything wrong, specifically denied what they were accused of, and dared the company to call them out on it. Booker T did exactly that in 2007 when he was implicated in the Signature Pharmacy scandal, which he steadfastly denied he had any involvement with. When WWE refused to believe Booker and suspended him anyway, he left the company for the over three years.
Booker was eventually welcomed back to the company and inducted into the Hall of Fame, which seems like an act of contrition on their part. Booker’s story gets more damning the further you look into it, as the former WWE World Champion claims he repeatedly tried to contact the doctor in charge of the Wellness Program to find out what he was being accused of, but his calls were never returned. Adam Rose would get fired for other reasons shortly afterwards, but he responded to his second Wellness Program violation the same way as Booker, denying any wrongdoing and claiming he didn’t knowingly do any wrong. Rose had another issue with his suspension, too…
4. The Wrong Drugs Are Targeted
Far too many wrestlers have died young due to steroid abuse and recreational drug problems, and the point of the Wellness Program is to stop that from happening in the future. However, some drugs are worse than others, and some drugs actually aren’t bad at all. Certain completely legal substances are included in the Wellness Program as banned substances by WWE, including both sleep aids and stimulants, and synthetic marijuana like Spice and K2. These things can be dangerous, but there are no laws against the safe usage of them, and it doesn’t make sense for WWE to punish workers for doing so. Matt Bourne has admitted synthetic marijuana caused his second violation, and there’s no way it affected his performance.
Worse than the problems with legal but questionable drugs are WWE’s Program preventing wrestlers from using medicine prescribed to them by actual doctors. Adam Rose left WWE shortly after his second violation of the Wellness Program due to a domestic incident, which got the violation itself lost in the shuffle, but if he’s telling the truth, it should have been one of the most controversial stories of the year. Rose had a prescription for ADHD medication Adderall, a drug that contains trace amounts of certain substances banned by WWE. Rose posted his doctor’s prescription to Twitter, and WWE doctors never responded, presumably due to his unrelated decision to leave the company so soon thereafter.
3. “Random” Testing
According to the bylaws of the Wellness Program, all wrestlers will be tested for drug use four times a year at completely random intervals. Testing only four times per year gives talent a large amount of leeway to use drugs on the down low, but nonstop testing can easily get invasive and expensive, so it’s not fair to demand WWE test their workers each and every day. However, the word “random” is always problematic, and it means that top superstars can easily find themselves just as randomly off the list if a higher up realizes it might not be the best timeframe to test them for potential drug use.
Part of the reason wrestlers like John Cena and Triple H are under scrutiny for potential steroid use is their decision to only follow WWE’s testing schedule instead of submitting to testing from outside sources. Even if everything is on the up and up with WWE mandated tests, the lack of an outside source confirming it on a truly random basis without the superstar having any knowledge of it means they could still be using and getting around it somehow. Critics assume the Program has loopholes to protect the top stars in the first place, and using a word like random makes it far too easy to see exactly what that loophole could be.
2. The Punishment Varies Based On Friendships And Power
As this list has proven, a violation of the Wellness Program can mean the end of a wrestler’s chance at success, and in extreme cases, it can even cost them their career. Rob Van Dam and William Regal never recovered from their high profile violations, and smaller scale wrestlers never even got the chance to hit the midcard before a second violation made them a pariah. And then there are people like Randy Orton, who had two violations to his name and seemed not to get punished in the slightest beyond the initial 60-day suspension. There’s also Roman Reigns, who as we mentioned at the top of the list, it has been rumored will be rewarded for his violation with a redemption story.
If the Talent Wellness Program is to be accepted as a serious attempt at ensuring the health and safety of WWE superstars, there needs to be equally serious consistency in the way the wrestlers are punished for their crimes. Randy Orton has been said to be receiving preferential treatment virtually since he entered the company, and Reigns isn’t far behind him if this rumor turns out to be true. By continuing to keep the golden boys golden despite their mistakes, WWE is sending a clear message that the Wellness Program doesn’t quite apply to everybody. And there’s an even clearer message about that permeating their programming in a major way…
1. Part-Timers Are Exempt
The WWE Talent Wellness Program only applies to active WWE superstars. This means wrestlers who only show up for a few appearances per year are exempt, as are wrestlers who make even fewer appearances than that, only wrestling on extremely part-time bases. This makes perfect sense, and there was a time in wrestling history where it wouldn’t have been much of a problem, but these days, part-time wrestlers can be some of the biggest and most important parts of the shows. Triple H in particular is no longer a full-time wrestler, but he already took up a major focus of storylines for the first few months of 2016, and wrestlers like The Rock and The Undertaker did the same, sharing his part-time status.
The reality is these wrestlers in particular probably aren’t abusing any drugs, and with their long time status as company men prior to achieving the part-time schedule, they wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt WWE’s image. However, the fact there’s a level where workers are exempt from testing at all kind of ruin’s the entire point. Maybe calling this an exemption is even going a little too far, but the fact remains not every WWE wrestler needs to answer to the Wellness Program, and that’s obviously a sign that the company wouldn’t notice if those superstars had a problem.