PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – They sell out arenas everywhere they go. Hundreds of thousands of fans watch in person every year. Millions shell out millions of dollars on pay per view television to watch the men and women of WWE.
It is one of the hottest tickets in entertainment thanks to the lure of their cast of characters.
“They have to have a personality. They have to have charisma. They have to have to have style. But, they also have to work 52 weeks a year,” Dr. Joseph Maroon, a Pittsburgh-based neurosurgeon who also acts as the Medical Director of the WWE, said. “And these guys are really great athletes and great people.”
The WWE doesn’t call its wrestlers professional athletes. They are talent or entertainers. Yet, when the WWE established its Wellness Policy in 2006, they approached Dr. Maroon who has gained a national reputation through his work as a team physician with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“They came to me and said look, ‘We are interested in doing everything we can to protect our talent. It’s the lifeblood of our industry. We want to do the very best that we can and the best medicine that we can to protect them.,’” Dr. Maroon said.
What resulted from that conversation is a comprehensive medical program led by Maroon.
“We do cardiovascular screening,” says Stephanie McMahon of the WWE. “We do ImPACT testing. We do blood work. There is a drug testing component.”
McMahon knows a thing or two about WWE. She grew up surrounded by the company.
Her father, Vince McMahon, is the Chairman of the Board and CEO of WWE. Now, the younger McMahon is the Chief Brand Officer for the corporation.
“It’s really with the idea of having our athletes and our superstars have the best health possible,” McMahon said.
Drug testing is conducted randomly four times each year for every wrestler. If they are found to have a banned or prohibited substance in their body, they are tested seven times a year, also randomly.
The drug testing is done by an independent third party Aegis.
One of the big concerns for the WWE wrestlers was the number of head and neck injuries and the number of concussions they were suffering. One of the people Dr. Maroon added to the medical team is Dr. Mark Lovell, president of ImPACT, a Pittsburgh company that studies and monitors athletes’ reaction times and memory before and after head injuries and concussions.
Lovell has been very impressed with what he has seen of the WWE and the wellness plan they put together for their wrestlers.
“I have worked with the NFL, the NHL, auto racing, the Olympic team, the ski team,” says Lovell. “The care level for the WWE is as good, if not better, as any of those.”
Lovell and Maroon are among five Pittsburgh physicians and medical professionals who make up the medical team for the WWE. Maroon says it is not a coincidence that so many live and practice here in the Steel City.
“It’s not a ripple effect. It’s a tsunami effect,” says Maroon. “We have recruited individuals here in cardiology, in sports medicine, in orthopedics, in ImPACT testing so we literally have put the whole program together here at the University of Pittsburgh.”
Lovell says the sheer size of wrestlers contributes to the possibility of head and neck injuries — especially concussions.
“They do exciting moves. They do moves where they jump, do a lot of jumping and you know if you miscalculate, you can get hurt,” says Dr. Maroon.
Since joining forces with the WWE in 2006, Maroon’s medical team has implemented numerous changes.
“We have eliminated chairs to the head. We have added protective padding to the rings. We have added helmets in practice to reduce head impacts,” says Maroon
ImPACT testing conducted by Lovell’s firm is also changing the way WWE wrestlers, pro athletes and high school athletes are being treated.
“Used to be people would give a test or just ask the athletes ‘how they felt’ and that was it. We have gone way beyond that in terms of our management,” says Maroon.
Wrestlers are not cleared to return to the ring until their ImPACT test scores return to pre-injury levels.
McMahon knows the wellness plan of the WWE has been a critical part of their growth.
“That monitoring is incredibly important, because again without our superstars, we don’t have a product,” McMahon said.
And to think one of the nation’s top entertainment outlets relies on medical care provided here in the City of Pittsburgh.