Dr. Julian Bailes of the Sports Legacy Institute speaks during a news conference while explaining the damage to the brain of former pro wrestler Chris Benoit. The image to the right shows abnormal protein deposits caused by trauma to Benoit's brain. A healthy brain is shown to the left.
The Associated Press
Professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who routinely slammed opponents with diving head-butts and also weathered strikes to the head with chairs during his World Wrestling Entertainment performances, suffered head trauma that doctors who studied his brain said could have contributed to his suicide and the killings of his wife and young son in June.
In analysis released Wednesday by the Sports Legacy Institute that studies the effects of concussions, one doctor who studied Benoit's brain tissue said the number of dead or damaged brain cells "was extensive, shocking in its extent."
The damage was "something you should never see in a 40-year-old," Julian Bailes, chairman of neurosurgery at West Virginia University's School of Medicine, said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "We have great anatomical damage here from previous trauma. We think that's the leading cause" of Benoit's violence.
Benoit's father, Michael, approved the study of his son's brain.
"We needed an understanding," the elder Benoit said on television. "The person who did this is not the man we know and loved."
Questions of possible " 'roid rage" also persist.
Law enforcement authorities in suburban Atlanta continue to investigate Benoit's case. Steroids were found inside the home of the attack, and large amounts of testosterone were found in the wrestler's system at the time of his death. Benoit's personal doctor has been charged with federal prescription drug distribution crimes, and the WWE recently suspended 10 wrestlers connected to a performance-enhancing drug distribution ring being investigated by Albany, N.Y., prosecutors.
On Wednesday, WWE officials responded to the Benoit brain report with a prepared statement:
"Today's attempt to explain that Chris Benoit's murder of his family was possibly caused by some form of dementia as a result of alleged concussions is speculative. WWE can certainly understand the anguish of a father having to deal with the fact that his son allegedly murdered his wife and young son, as Chris Benoit is alleged to have done. We respect the desire of that father to do whatever he can to find some explanation as to why his son might commit such horrible acts."
Bailes said his research has shown as few as three major concussions can cause "serious, major consequences."
Although Michael Benoit said his son suffered "quite a number" of concussions while wrestling, WWE spokeswoman Jennifer McIntosh said officials "dug around" and found "no medical records of [Benoit] suffering a concussion.
"We don't have any answers as to why Chris did what he did. We're still awaiting the law enforcement investigation to be concluded," McIntosh said
Another doctor who studied Benoit's brain acknowledged, "Whether it is the sole factor, I believe, is speculation, and I will not go there." But, Dr. Robert Cantu, a member of the Waltham, Mass.-based institute, which researches the long-term effects of concussions, said the level of Benoit's brain damage could have caused depression and irrational behavior.
Michael Benoit, who lives near Edmonton, Canada, said that after the killings, he discovered a diary written by his son that he thought "was written by someone who was extremely disturbed."
Benoit, a former WWE champion, was known as one of the organization's most skilled wrestlers.
"I think it's the extreme that is in the wrestling industry today," Michael Benoit told reporters. "The human skull is not built to get hit by a chair or something."
The father said he had not discussed with his attorney whether to take any legal action against WWE or anyone else in the case. An attorney for Benoit's wife, Nancy, said a history of concussions or steroid use "wouldn't excuse his conduct."
Meanwhile, Michael Benoit said on television that he tells the late wrestler's two surviving children that "what happened wasn't [Benoit's] fault.
"We have an understanding [now] of what could have contributed to the tragedy of that [weekend]."