Is WWE Cracking Down on Steroid Use? Or is the Roman Reigns Suspension Just Brilliant Marketing?

In a surprise move, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) suspended Roman Reigns (real name Leati Joseph “Joe” Anoai) for a period of 30 days for violating the WWE Talent Wellness Program. People weren’t shocked that Reigns may have been busted for using steroids. They were shocked that WWE actually did something about it.

“WWE has suspended Joe Anoa`i (Roman Reigns) for 30 days effective immediately for his first violation of the company’s talent wellness policy,” said WWE in a statement released on its website.

To be fair, the nature of Reign’s violation was not disclosed. Most people assume that the 6-foot 3-inch (1.91 meter) and 265 pound (120 kilogram) pro wrestler used steroids. For that matter, most people believe steroid use remains pervasive in WWE in spite of its independently-administered random drug testing program. In the absence of an admission by Reigns, we may never know the specific reasons for his suspension.

Reigns has only admitted to committing a violation in a post on Twitter but has not offered any details.

“I apologize to my family, friends and fans for my mistake in violating WWE’s wellness policy,” Reigns tweeted. “No excuses. I own it.”

So what does the Reigns suspension mean? Does it mean WWE has finally decided to crack down and enforce WWE’s Substance Abuse and Drug Testing policy? Or is the Roman Reigns suspension yet another example of the brilliant public relations and marketing of WWE and CEO Vince McMahon?

The suspension of a top athlete or celebrity performer usually spells bad news. But Reigns suspension serves WWE surprisingly well. It gives WWE the opportunity to promote its get-tough-on-steroids drug testing program at a time when it has come under fire in the mainstream sports media.

When WWE superstar Brock Lesnar announced he joined UFC for a one-time bout at UFC 200 on July 9, 2016, sportswriters suggested that it would represent the first time Lesnar was tested as part of a serious and legitimate drug-testing program.

After all, UFC had recently hired the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as the independent administrator of its brand new UFC Anti-Doping Policy. And it hire famed government anti-doping cop Jeff Novitzky as its Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance in charge of steroid testing.

This created the perception that UFC was serious about drug testing while WWE’s drug testing efforts remained a joke. Perhaps McMahon wanted to use the Reigns suspension as a way to counter the stubborn belief that little is done about drug use in WWE.

Secondly, WWE knew about Reign’s violation of the Talent Wellness Program well in advance of his fight at the “2016 Money in the Bank” PPV event. Yet, WWE still allowed him to perform on June 19, 2016. The main event witnessed Reigns lose the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to Seth Rollins.

WWE used the Reign suspension as a nice way to advance a story line. In fact, Stephanie McMachon confirmed this as a strategy in testimony given to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government reform in 2007.

“So I find out that a talent is suspended. And that talent will either be suspended right that day, or if they are a champion,” Stephanie McMahon indicated, “say, and we have to get the title off of them, we have to wait until the next TV, which is normally just a few days. It is never more than a week to get that title off of that person.”

The suspension of a top athlete or performer would seem to hurt the career prospects for an affected athlete or entertainer. This was not the case for Reigns. Even before his suspension was announced, WWE offered to set up a rematch for Reigns at the 2016 WWE Battleground PPV event on July 24, 2016.

WWE has made a significant investment in Reigns who is projected to be WWE’s next top entertainer. It seems the WWE storyline calls for Reigns to turn into the villainy bad guy known as a “heel”. What better way to do this than to suspend him for violating the WWE drug testing policy.

The Reigns suspension shows the UFC that WWE is tough on steroids and at the same time it advances the storyline of Reigns’ transformation into a “heel”.

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