Linda McMahon's association with the WWE has again become a political issue for the Connecticut GOP Senate candidate: A former wrestler has accused the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO of reacting callously to the recent death of a 29-year-old wrestling star and said the company encourages steroid use.

Chris Nowinski, a former WWE wrestler who is now an expert on concussions, charged that WWE should be held partially responsible for the death of Lance Cade.


McMahon told reporters this week the company can no more be held accountable for Cade's death "than a studio could have prevented Heath Ledger's death," referring to the Australian actor who died of a drug overdose in early 2008.

Who knows what causes people to have addictions and do what they do?" McMahon said. Cade, whose real name is Lance McNaught, died of "apparent heart failure" last Thursday. Nowinski said steroid use is encouraged in the WWE.

"The WWE rewards the guys who use them," he told New England Cable News's Jim Braude.

Nowinski said Cade was a steroid user during his time in the WWE. The young performer's death was "part of a pattern," he noted. Five wrestlers have died while under contract with the company and several more, including Cade, died shortly after they left the WWE's employ.

McMahon told the Connecticut Post that the company in 2006 launched a wellness program that provides for annual physicals, cardiovascular testing, concussion management and random drug testing at least four times a year for illegal drugs such as steroids. But Nowinski said it isn't enough to ensure the safety of the performers."They have an environment where it's absolutely unsafe to work in that ring," said Nowinski, whose wrestling persona was a cocky Harvard graduate.

"They have no oversight into what actually happens in the ring. And they are encouraging steroid use," he said, citing the enormous physiques of recent champions such as Triple H and Batista. "It's garbage that they're not using stuff," he said. "They absolutely know what's going on."

Nowinski said wrestling has gotten more aggressive, which takes a greater toll on the performers' bodies. 

"They're taking pain killers because they're working 200 nights a year and getting hit unlike anyone in the history of the wrestling business — it wasn't like that in the '80s, it wasn't like that in the '70s" he said. "I used to go through tables for four days a week."

He said he retired from wrestling after five years because of concussions. "Only now understanding even how other sports treats [sic] their workers do I realize how bad it was," Nowinski said. 

Asked Tuesday by reporters if she knew Cade, McMahon said: "I might have met him once."

Nowinski said he was inspired to speak out because of those comments.

"That's complete garbage," he said. "Just kicking dirt on the guy's grave."

This isn't the first time McMahon has been criticized for the way the WWE treats its performers. In the past, her camp dismissed those making the claims against her and the WWE by saying they're disgruntled former employees.