September 10, 2007
Mike Abitabile

The Devilís Advocate:
Itís All Someone Elseís Fault

Last week, the results of tests conducted on Chris Benoitís brain by the Sports Legacy Institute (which is headed by Chris ďHarvardĒ Nowinksi) were released. In my opinion, the Sports Legacy Institute is doing an outstanding job so far, as they have conducted tests on many athletes from many sports and the findings are unbelievable and I personally feel that years from now, when changes are made to many sports, it will all be traced back to the work of them. If you donít know the story of Chris Nowinksi, Iíll give you the condensed version.

Nowinksi, a Harvard graduate was a contestant on the first edition of Tough Enough. Although he was a finalist but did not win, WWE gave him a contract regardless. Nowinski suffered a concussion at a house show match in Hartford, Connecticut and, in June of 2003, he started feeling the affects of post-concussion syndrome which were so bad that he was forced to retire from active wrestling. So, Nowinski, knowing all too well about the effects of brain damage, decided to go to Benoitís father, Michael, after the tragedy and ask permission to study Chrisís brain. Michael agreed. The results were rather alarming. According to the Sports Legacy Institute, Chris Benoitís brain was so severely damaged that is could easily have been compared to the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimerís patient (here). And of course, as mentioned in the article I just linked to, the first thought that goes through everyoneís head when they hear that, is the top rope diving headbutt Benoit was famous for. According to the above linked article, that headbutt put pressure on Chrisís brain every time he used it (although I am not sure if that is just plain common sense at work, or if the Sports Legacy Institute determined it because I canít find it in their official press release (here), but nonetheless, it is quite obvious).

Whatís odd is, I personally remember that when Benoit returned from spinal fusion surgery in, ironically enough, June 2003, Chris stopped performing the top rope headbutt. It was speculated online that he was retiring the move due to, rightfully so, his neck surgery. But then, the move eventually returned and I donít think I remember anyone making a big deal out of it, including myself. Itís not out of the ordinary for a wrestler to alter his move list following an injury and/or surgery. For example, ďStone ColdĒ Steve Austin couldnít take many (if not any) moves that took him too far off his feet (such as a piledriver or a power bomb) after his injury at Summerslam 1997 and Kurt Angle altered the way he landed after throwing a release German suplex once he returned from his fusion surgery. But, as we know, Benoit was a work horse and wasnít about to take the easy way out in any way, shape or form.

So where am I getting at with all this? Apparently, according to these findings, Benoitís actions had nothing to do with drug use, which the mainstream media has continued to try and hold on to (even after the District Attorney confirmed there wasnít any steroids in Chrisís body other than elevated, but not suspicious, levels of testosterone days after the tragedy) and held WWE accountable for. So now that more evidence has come to light pointing away from drug use, the media has turned their attention from blaming WWE for the drug use to blaming WWE for not monitoring Chrisís head injuries. While I agree that brain testing would be beneficial and indeed should be part of the Wellness Policy, the practice of blaming WWE for everything is getting old at this point. I am starting to think that if evidence was found saying Chris drowned his wife in the backyard pool, the media would blame the WWE for allowing Benoit to purchase a pool.

Not to get all philosophical here, but, in my opinion, ďitís all someone elseís faultĒ is a societal issue where itís easier to blame someone else for actions than take personal responsibility. Just ask Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Unfortunately, Chris Benoit isnít around anymore to be held accountable, so blame must be placed somewhere, which is on the WWEís shoulders. Letís get a few things straight.

Fact: WWE has a Wellness Policy in place that has caught offenders in the past and has tried to get them help (see: Joey Mercury).

Fact: The policy not only tests for illegal drug use, but attempts to circumvent problems by testing for cardiovascular issues (see: MVP).

Fact: The WWE has shown they will disrupt storylines when an offender must be suspended in the past and not just because they ďhadĒ to, like last week. (See: Kurt Angle, Randy Orton and the 2006 Great American Bash).

Fiction: The policy is a faÁade to trick the media and government into thinking WWE cares about its talent.

Fact: The Wellness Policy could be made better by being stricter and adding brain scan tests to its scope.

I am not trying to defend WWE, because, as I stated above, the policy is not perfect and could use some work, but you canít deny some of the facts either.

I think Bill Apter summed it up best at when he was asked his thoughts on the Benoit situation (here):

All the doctors and evidence in the universe cannot tell us what went on behind closed doors at the Benoit home in the months, weeks, or days before the brutality. For someone to do what Chris Benoit is said to have done, and over a period of three days -- which means there was a method to his madness -- cannot in my opinon [sic] be pinned only on the concussion or the drug theory.

As Iíve said all along, Chris Benoit is, first and foremost, responsible for his actions. Chris had to have known that performing the headbutt was dangerous and I am fairly confident in saying that no one forced him to perform it. I base that claim on the fact that he didnít have to use it to get over or keep management happy. He was a linchpin for the WWE and well respected. Yes, WWE needs to make some changes, but in the end, they are not solely responsible for the actions of a mentally disturbed individual.

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