Chyna’s brain could hold the key to WWE head injuries
It will be several weeks before the Los Angeles County coroner’s office can confirm exactly how WWE star Joanie ‘Chyna’ Laurer died.
While an overdose of pills is the main thrust of the investigation, there is now a call for the coroner to release her brain to a concussion expert for analysis.
Her manager and close friend, Anthony Anzaldo, is in no doubt that the 46-year-old took an accidental overdose of legally prescribed drugs.
But talk of possible effects of concussion from her days as “the Ninth Wonder of the World” has come at a sensitive time for the ruling body of the world’s most popular sports entertainment.
This week the WWE returned to the courts in its long running legal battle with a number of former stars who are seeking compensation for health issues relating to head trauma suffered in the ring (Russ McCullough et al v World Wrestling Entertainment Inc).
Anzaldo confirmed that Chyna had been approached last year to see if she wanted to become part of the brain injury lawsuit, but she had declined.
However, he is now keen for her brain to be examined by Dr Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist and expert on CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
“I’m in the process of getting the permission to speak on behalf of family to tell the coroner it’s okay to release [her brain],” said Anzaldo, adding that this wasn’t for litigation purposes, it was to find out “what made Chyna tick”.
Three days before her body was discovered, Chyna posted a 13-minute video on You Tube, filmed in the Redondo Beach apartment where she would later be found.
It is early morning and a large part of the footage is her making a smoothie while talking about life in general, but much of what she says is slurred or incoherent
When news of her death broke, several of the WWE community took to twitter to express their shock and sadness. WWE Hall of Famer Kevin Nash wrote:
“May the peace you were seeking put you at rest my friend. So sorry for not seeing the pain @Mania. We’ve shared so much.”
Nash is one of several high profile stars who feels that head injuries suffered while wrestling have had an adverse effect on his health.
Scans have shown some abnormalities on his brain and he has also complained of short-term memory loss. In March he revealed that on his death his brain and spinal cord will go to the CTE Center at Boston University, where former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski runs the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Nash said that during his career the number of concussions he suffered was “easy, easy double figures”. He is not part of the group who are presently locking legal horns with the WWE.
Rob Van Dam is another superstar to have agreed to donate his brain and spinal cord to Nowinski and his study, though he has an interesting theory as to why he hasn’t had any serious side effects after suffering “hundreds and hundreds of concussions”.
RVD, a three-time world champion, claims smoking marijuana has helped his brain avoid any lasting damage.
Mick Foley, aka Cactus Jack and Mankind, took to twitter to confirm that he too has promised his brain to Nowinski while Jeff Hardy, who has won 23 titles in his time with WWE and TNA, said he’d been inspired to promise the same after hearing about Kevin Nash’s involvement.
“It’s a huge serious issue in wrestling,” said Hardy. “I’ve rung my bells so many times especially back in the day when chair shots to the head were legal. My goodness, I took so many of those.”
In 2007 the WWE Universe was rocked by the news that popular star Chris Benoit had committed suicide after murdering his wife and seven-year-old son over a weekend in June.
A toxicology report led to claims that steroid abuse was responsible for Benoit’s extreme violence but his father remained unconvinced.
He suggested it was more likely that a 22-year career which included many blows to the head by props such as steel chairs had caused the complete character change.
Mike Benoit gave his 40-year-old son’s brain to Dr Julian Bailes, whose research had included studying the brains of dead American Footballers for signs of impact injury.
Dr Bailes confirmed: “Chris’s damage was extensive. It was replete across multiple areas of the brain. It remains one the worst we have seen.”
The WWE was quick to refute the findings and released a statement which read: “It is natural that a father would try to come up with a reason why his son would tragically murder his wife and child, and then commit suicide.
Based on the study by the Sports Legacy Institute that claimed Chris Benoit had the brain of an 85-year-old with dementia, Mr. Benoit asserts that head trauma was the cause of his son’s aberrant, criminal behaviour.
However, common sense would dictate that this is impossible.
Someone with the brain of an 85-year-old with dementia would be unable to keep a travelling work schedule, drive himself to arenas, and perform intricate manoeuvers in the ring much less commit a methodical murder-suicide over a 48 hour period.”
The WWE runs its own Talent Wellness Program and in December 2008 introduced mandatory tests relating to concussions and head trauma for all performers. But after CM Punk’s acrimonious departure from the franchise in 2014 he declared the test was effectively worthless.
In a controversial episode of Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast in November of that year, CM Punk said:
“I got a concussion in the Royal Rumble, it’s pretty goddamn obvious. I knew I had a concussion. Everybody knew I had a concussion. They were like ‘we want you to take this test.’ And I was like ‘your test is bullshit.’ I took the test while texting you and listening to my headphones and I ‘passed’ with flying colours.”
Recent evidence suggests that the WWE isn’t afraid to clamp down on any star, no matter how big their reputation. In February, four-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan admitted that he was being forced to retire from wrestling as he regularly suffered post-concussion seizures.
The 34-year-old had hidden his problem from medical staff but confessed after doctors discovered a “chronic lesion” on his brain as he struggled to regain fitness.
In a warning to others, he said: “What I’ve learned is if you get a concussion, you need to report it. That’s because one of the worst things you can do is get a concussion and then go back to doing a contact sport before your brain is fully healed.
“You have a responsibility to yourself, to your family, to your friends to report it just to protect yourself.”
Report by Jim Munro/Yahoo! Sport
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