Chris Nowinski on the WWE: “I Feel Like It’s Something the Feds Should Look Into Because That’s Not A Safe Work Environment”September 17, 2009 – 10:45 am by Jimmy Shapiro
SRI continues to work in new writers. This post is courtesy of Chris Fedor of WKNR in Cleveland. You may not know exactly who Chris Nowinski is, but he has an amazing story. Nowinski went to Harvard, where he starred on the football team and then went on to the WWE to become a wrestler. Because of his time playing football at Harvard and his time wrestling in the WWE, Nowinski suffered a number of concussions. His wrestling career ended in 2003 because of a concussion. He was diagnosed with a disorder known as post-concussion syndrome. Following his retirement from wrestling, Nowinski went on to write a book titled Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis, which details his career-ending injury and also talks about the effects and dangers of concussions in football as well as other sports. Nowinski is also a co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, an organization dedicated to furthering awareness of sports-related head injuries.
He has spearheaded investigations into the deaths of notable athletes such as Chris Benoit and Andre Waters and continues to do everything he can to raise awareness of the effects concussions can have on former athletes that played in contact sports. Some of his findings have led the WWE and the NFL to change how the athletes are medically treated. Recently 16 former athletes, including six former NFL players have agreed to donate their brains to the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy following their death to continue the study about concussions in contact sports. In addition, it was announced on Monday of this week that current players Matt Birk, Lofa Tatupu, and Sean morey have agreed to donate their brains upon death.
Chris Nowinski, The former WWE star an co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institue joins Fan 590 in Toronto with Bob McCown and Stephen Brunt to talk about the continued research of concussions in sports in the wake of NFL players donating their brains to his institute for medical research as well as the dangers of wrestling in the WWE.
On how the research mitigates these kinds of injuries down the road:
“That’s a great question. What you’re dealing with in terms of brain trauma in general is two major issues. One is acute treatment of a concussion. Science thinks that managing a concussion properly through rest, you actually minimize the long-term damage. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is this long-term disease that we’re seeing in so many brains of ex-athletes. The more we learn about this disease and the more we learn how common it is, in fact we looked at over 10 NFL players and almost all of them had this disease, it will lead to changes with the way the game is played in terms of reducing overall trauma; hits to the head and even reducing full-contact practices in a sport like football, those changes can be made now to protect athletes. In the long run, we understand the disease is caused by an abnormal protein and it can lead to treatments while you’re alive.”
On the effect that brain damage had on Chris Benoit:
“I wrestled with Chris for five years and I worked with his father so that we could study his brain. I would say that was 99 percent a brain injury story. He had the most damaged brain of any of the athletes that we looked at to that point. It was showing critical symptoms that people weren’t quite catching that could be brain injury related. I see a lot of wrestlers now who worked with him or traveled with him on the road in those last couple of months and he was acting bizarrely. He was crying in inappropriate situations and he was refusing to call matches because he was having trouble remembering what to do in the ring. Whether the steroids contributed to the rage factor and while a lot of these guys have killed themselves, he was the only one that we studied that killed other people. Maybe the combination is a more deadly combination when you’re losing your mind to have such high testosterone levels, but I don’t think any of it would’ve ever happened without the brain injuries.”
On who is looking out for the health of the wrestlers in the WWE:
“Nobody. I think what happens in the WWE is a real shame. I think those guys are pretty badly exploited. I was not too happy about what was in place when I had my concussions in terms of there were no proper management protocols in place, there wasn’t education in place and people didn’t know what to do with me, but also the way they handled the Benoit situation. I was still working for them when we got Benoit’s brain and somehow I wasn’t working with them afterwards. They were not happy about us exploring the possibility that there was brain damage from his work in the ring. There are two major issues with wrestling. The one that is really frustrating about the poor management of concussions is because wrestling is performance and is essentially fake; you can work around an athlete and not take away from the show. You get a guy that has had a concussion and they can’t do physical things, but they can get on a microphone, they can have the type of match that exposes them to no risk, but still be out there doing something. On the flip-side, I think the risk of having a guy who has been concussed in the ring too fast is greater than it is in other sports. I would not dare get in the ring right now with someone who I know has been concussed considering your life is in their hands and they can drop you on your head or jump from the top rope and be off by two feet and put their knew through your skull. There are plenty of stories about guys getting hit in the head during a match, everybody knowing they’re blacked out on their feet, yet they don’t have a protocol in place to stop the match. It’s absurd. I feel it’s something the feds should look into because that’s not a safe work environment.”
On the effects he’s feeling following his concussions
“I would say my memory is not as sharp as it used to be. I have an impossible time remembering faces in any situation, worse than anybody I know. My big problem was with the headaches for five years. My head throbbed nearly all the time. That’s finally done so I actually am happy to wake up in the mornings now, which is a new thing for me. It was the headaches, the memory problems and the depression that would come with that. Then for four years I slept-walked and I had to be medicated so I wouldn’t hurt myself every night, but that’s gone too.”