Prior to June 2007, Chris Benoit would have been remembered as one of the best wrestlers the business has ever seen and a dead cert in WWE’s illustrious (and dubious – some would argue) Hall of Fame.
But his horrific actions over a three-day period in June 24-27 2007, means it will never happen. Furthermore, it wiped out his vital contribution to professional wrestling, becoming a persona non grata in the process.
And with good reason, as the orchestrator in the double-murder of his wife Nancy and their seven-year-old son Daniel – before taking his own life – Benoit’s legacy is forever tainted. However, while the WWE is right to no longer acknowledge the man who was once known as ‘The Rabid Wolverine’, could the events leading up to this horrific and tragic sequence of events have been prevented? Or at the very least, something the company could learn from.
When the toxicology reports were delivered a month after the double murder and suicide, Benoit was found to have a cocktail of substances in his system. This included Xanax, hydrocodone and elevated levels of testosterone caused by a manufactured form of the hormone.
The chief medical examiner believed the elevated testosterone levels were a result of Benoit possibly seeking treatment for a deficiency brought on by previous steroid abuse, or testicular insufficiency. The report also stated there was no evidence linking substances in Benoit’s body to the murders of Nancy and Daniel, before taking his own life. The report concluded ‘roid-rage’ could not have been a contributing factor in Benoit’s horrific actions.
Julian Bailes, the head of neurosurgery at West Virginia University, conducted tests on the Canadian wrestler’s brain. He discovered it had been ‘so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient’. Further tests on his brain tissue revealed severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and injuries to all four lobes of the brain and brain stem.
One of Benoit’s signature moves in the ring was the flying headbutt, where he would climb the top turnbuckle and lead head first into his opponent. It was a marquee manoeuvre which won over the live audiences, but it has become clear since June 2007 it came at a cost. Furthermore, former WWE colleague Christopher Nowinski claimed he ‘was one of the only guys who would take a chair shot to the back of the head… which is stupid’.
A statement released by WWE dismissed these ideas as ‘speculative’. This was backed up by former employee, Eric Bischoff, who said:
It’s clear that the media wants to blame steroids, professional wrestling, Vince McMahon, or anyone or anything else that further sensationalizes this family tragedy. I refuse to join the choir. I don’t have enough information. I wasn’t there. I am not a psychiatrist. I just can’t imagine how or why this could have happened.
While CTE and steroids can be argued as ‘speculative’, it seems WWE wants to bury the tragedy of the Benoit family and not fully address the situation even after 11 years. There is still an air of mystery and genuine public interest to find out what led Benoit to carry out such a heinous act.
While they may not have been the cause, it would be naive to think it didn’t have an effect on his mental state and health. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states the effects of anabolic steroids ‘work differently from other drugs of abuse’. It does not have the same type of short-term effect on the brain. One key factor separating it from other drugs is steroids do not ‘trigger’ a sudden increase in dopamine, the brain chemical which causes the ‘high’ which drives a user to continually abuse a substance.
Instead, it is the long-term abuse which:
… can act on some of the same brain pathways and chemicals—including dopamine, serotonin, and opioid systems—that are affected by other drugs. This may result in a significant effect on mood and behavior.
Abuse of anabolic steroids can potentially lead to mental issues, such as; paranoia, jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions/false beliefs or ideas and impaired judgment. The individual can also be subjected to extreme mood swings, including ‘roid rage’ — bouts of anger and behaviour which could lead to violence.
Various research in CTE, particularly concerning former athletes who competed in contact sports such as American football and combat sports (i.e. boxing and MMA), have found it has severe effects on an individual’s mental health.
The Gooden Center, a treatment centre in California, claims there is a strong link between CTE and issues of confusion, impaired judgement, aggression, depression and suicide. Similar to the reported effects of anabolic steroids.
According to The Gooden Centre’s website:
Recently researchers have discovered that concussions and brain trauma which are common in the game can actually lead to severe mental health issues as players age.
They point to two examples, Junior Seau and Andre Waters, both former NFL players who took their own lives – Waters in 2006 and Seau six years later. They determine they are not isolated incidents. In fact, you can draw parallels between Waters and Benoit, as an autopsy showed his brain had sustained so much damage over his 11-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals’ it resembled an 85-year old man with Alzheimer’s disease.
While the long-term effects of CTE are devastating, catching the symptoms early on can be hard to spot, often going under the radar. One man who was lucky to discover a problem early on was Ian McCall. Before having to retire last month (May 21) he had a promising career in the UFC.
However, as his career was taking off his life began to ‘spiral out of control’, which he explains on an episode of The MMA Hour podcast. He described how he would suffer from ’bouts of rage, bi-polar symptoms, and out-of-nowhere crying’.
He says he saw:
… bad signs, still seeing a lot of bad signs just with CTE-type stuff, TBI stuff, so it scared me. I went down there [to San Diego] and I’m trying to fix it. Fix the depression and all the stuff that comes with that, we’ll see.
He cited Chris Benoit’s story as an example for him to get checked up and ultimately make a decision about his career, and thankfully it appears he made the right choice.
McCall went on to explain:
My whole career is a regret … I don’t hold any ill will toward the sport, it’s a weird place that people at the end of their career kind of go over. And no one talks about it, people fight it. I’m not gonna fight it. People make Chris Benoit out to be – I always thought he was a f***ing monster for what he did. And then being with (my wife) Alicia and being around wrestlers and the stories you hear about Chris and how good of a person he was and how amazing of a father he was, all of this stuff, and it’s the TBI or drugs – I’m not saying he was on drugs – or steroids or whatever.
That stuff drives people crazy and for me to think that through hurting my brain I could hurt someone else, like the people I love? Sorry. Not gonna happen. I’m not going to ever, ever let that happen. So I’m at least going to hop on it now and try and fix it before it gets worse and if I can fight again then cool. If I don’t fight again then sure, my whole career is a regret, but whatever, I had a lot of fun.
As stated throughout this article, we may never get a definitive answer into the cause or motive surrounding the tragedy of Chris, Nancy and Daniel Benoit. But one fact which cannot be ignored is that the combination of steroids and brain damage during his career had an effect on Chris’ mental health. Enough to be a factor on that fateful three-day period.
If you or someone you know are showing signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) you can seek medical advice from you’re local GP, or your nearest NHS walk-in centre. If you are unsure you can call the NHS on 111.
For information on anabolic steroids (and other types of addictive PEDs) visit the WDP website.
If you have a story to tell, contact UNILAD via [email protected]