April 25, 2008

I wrote the following for my ďStorm FrontĒ article for ďFighting SpiritĒ Magazine, back in October 2007, and it is being reproduced with permission from Uncooked Media Ltd.

I want to put Chris Benoit on the Storm Front again this month as I think there is finally some news about this case, that we can learn from, and perhaps even do some good with. Wednesday September 5th the Sports Legacy Institute announced that Chris Benoit was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in all regions of his brain at the time of his death. CTE, is brain damage caused by multiple traumatic head injuries, and its most common symptoms include, depression, cognitive impairment, dementia, emotional disorders, and erratic behavior.

In laymanís terms, Chris Benoit had severe brain damaged caused by all the head trauma and concussions he had suffered over his career. Of all the brains the Institute has examined Benoitís was by far the worst, and they described his brain as being similar to that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient.

There is a bit of a debate going on over what all of this really means. Does this completely explain Chris Benoitís actions that fateful weekend? Is this just another piece of a complex puzzle? Or is this a completely unrelated medical matter? I think the answer probably lies somewhere between the first two more than the third option, but regardless of that, this is still a very important and significant find that the wrestling industry as a whole needs to look at and deal with.

We will likely never fully understand what happened that weekend so it is paramount that we look forward more so than look backward. We canít change what happened, but perhaps we can learn from it and in turn do some good. Letís look at the undisputed facts. Regardless of the role brain damage played in Chris Benoitís actions that weekend, the fact remains that Chris Benoit had suffered severe brain damage. That brain damage was caused by numerous concussions and brain trauma through out his career. If we want to avoid damaged brains and the resulting effects (depression, dementia, emotional disorders, etc.) we need to start better protecting our heads in this industry and take concussions WAY more seriously.

I know countless people in this industry who have had more than 3 concussions, some with more than a dozen, Chris Benoit had told friends that he had had so many concussions he couldnít even keep track of how many he had suffered. This is obviously a very serious problem. How many more of us out there are walking around with CTE and how is this going to affect us later in life? I donít think there is a fear of other murder suicides taking place due to this problem but, depression, memory loss, and dementia are going to be a fact of life for a lot of us in this industry in the not to distant future, and something needs to be done.

This business has been short sighted for too many years. We have to start looking towards the future, and ensuring those of us in the Industry have one. We have continually looked the other way while others in the industry died from drug use, denying the long-term effects of steroids and pain pill addiction. Wrestlers have been far too willing to absorb punishment now and worry about the pain and disability later. We have all pushed that performance bar higher and higher, looking for short-term gain without thinking about the long-term consequences. This industry has gotten stiffer and stiffer over the last 10 years, and styles have become more reckless and unsafe. On almost every wrestling card you see there are hardcore matches, balcony/cage dives, and ladder matches. Guys getting thrown on their heads, and guys taking unprotected weapons shots to the head, are becoming the norm and a new means by which to get over, and this has to stop, and it has to stop now.

We in the industry need to become more proactive and learn from our past. Denying problems only make matters worse and eventually problems have to be dealt with. Drugs and steroids became a huge problem back in the 80ís, and nothing was done about it. People from that era are now dieing at an alarming rate, and the long-term effects of past drug use is just now being acknowledged and reluctantly dealt with by the generation that followed. Hardcore wrestling and strong style wrestling and the excessive bodily and head trauma associated with it, has only been a problem for maybe the last 10 years. Now that we have proof of what itís long-term effects can be, letís not ignore the facts and hope the problem goes away, because we know from experience problems like this donít go away. In another 10 years we are going to have a lot of stars from this generation dealing with depression, cognitive impairment, dementia, emotional disorders, and erratic behavior, caused by the concussions suffered during their careers. It may be too late to help those who have already done the damage, but itís not too late to make sure the next generation isnít following in our footsteps.

This industry needs to take action now and do whatever necessary to, reduce the risk of getting a concussion, better diagnose those who get concussions, and properly treat those who suffer from concussions. I think the first step should be banning unprotected head shoots. Do we really need to see vicious chair shots to the head? The risk is just not worth the reward. We also need to lower the bar on the outrageous bumps taken in gimmick matches. Ladder matches and Cage matches have become too dangerous, and guys need to be forced to slow down and protect themselves. The single pop received from getting power bombed off a ladder is not worth risking permanent brain damage.

Better awareness and treatment is also imperative. This will be very hard to enforce at the Indy level without State wide athletic commissions and regulation, but in WWE it would be simple. The doctor or trainer (who is at every show anyway) could briefly examine performers post match looking for signs of a concussion. The boys will have to cooperate with this, as being honest and admitting symptoms is going to be key. Doctors also need to able to enforce mandatory down time for those who suffer concussions to avoid compound concussions and the exponential damage they can cause.

The final step that I think might even do the most good would be ref stoppages in any match a concussion or strongly suspected concussion occurs. This industry has lived by the motto of always finishing the match but I fear that most serious concussion in wrestling occur during a match after the first head trauma occurs. Finishing a match while you are out on your feet or concussed is only going to make a bad situation even worse, and extend the time off required to recuperate. You cannot protect yourself properly when you are out on your feet and continuing a match will almost ensure a compound concussion. The occasional ref stoppage might even lend credibility to what we do.

Iíve often heard people jokingly saying, ďWow, that guy is either really tough of really stupidĒ, I think itís likely both and we need to stop acting tough and start playing smart. There is life after wrestling, or at least there should be, so letís be careful out there.

Lance Storm