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My belief is that by now everybody has made there mind up about Chris Benoit. He's either a crazed stone cold killer, a victim of wrestling's gruelling culture or part of a massive conspiracy. The latter being an excuse for denial. Whatever your opinion, the case is pretty much closed and Benoit condemned, or is he?
Being a wrestling news reporter I've followed this story from start until what I thought was the finish and among the reports I circulated included one regarding former WWE and Tough Enough star Chris Nowinski. Nowinski is a Harvard graduate and president of the Sports Legacy Institute, dedicated to furthering sports related brain injury research and awareness, and improving the safety of contact and collision sports. The institute has worked extensively in analyzing the brains of American Pro Footballers and problems with concussions in many other sports.
Back to the point. Right about the time the mainstream media had jumped on the "roid rage" bandwagon I got word that Nowinski wanted to look at Benoit's brain for any possible abnormalities and if those problems were associated with concussions. I assumed the story never amounted to anything, but I was wrong. On the 5th of September 2007 news broke which should have changed the way we look at this tragedy forever, although so far it has only been mentioned briefly on websites and a couple of quick media appearances.
According to the Neurological studies undertaken, Chris Benoit had post concussion syndrome, a condition called Frontal Lobe Syndrome, a type of brain damage called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and the capacity of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient. That's shocking in itself, but Frontal Lobe Syndrome isn't a fancy name for nothing important. It affects the brain in multiple ways causing emotional and social withdrawal, outbursts of rage and violent behavior. CTE's most common symptoms include depression, cognitive impairment, dementia, Parkinson's disease and erratic behaviour. This isn't an excuse but scientific fact. It may not let Benoit off the hook but goes one step closer to the reasons why, and can educate us on preventing this in the future. These problems have been linked to early deaths, suicides and the high speed chase of Justin Strzelczyk who claimed the evil ones were talking to him!
This leads me on to the next point. Julian Bailes of the Sports Legacy Institute states that the damage was the result of lifetime chronic concussions and head trauma. Which if you haven't worked out means WRESTLING! Every time Chris Benoit hit that top rope and came down violently with the flying headbutt he came one point closer to destroying his brain.
I hate to sound repetitive but WWE's pro wrestlers work 260+ days a year, each night putting stress on their bodies and have very little time off for recovery. Pain pills, uppers and downers and steroids help to cope with this and are probably killing them off like flies (check my other column "wrestling's not fake it's painfully real" on the main site) but it seems something else might be adding to the deadly side effects of pro wrestling and that's concussions. They're getting punch drunk, but unlike boxers the bout doesn't stop when they're hurt, they don't have months to prepare for one fight and the pressure to look big is immense. You can argue that taking drugs is a personal choice, but you cannot be a wrestler without bumping your body and having these silent but deadly concussions.
The debate for mandatory time off has never been more relevant and with looming Congressional hearings coming WWE's way it's interesting to see if these findings add to the fight against old Vinny Mac. It seems in a round about way, everything links back to him and his company.
This is such a major story to me and I think because the last few months have just been filled with major story after story it's not being recognized for what it is. All I know is that the wrestling industry is changing for better or for worse and I'll be there to watch it unfold.
By Keelan Balderson (View/Submit feedback here)