ATLANTA — Pro wrestler Chris Benoit suffered brain damage from his years in the ring that could help explain why he killed his wife, son and himself in their suburban Atlanta home in June, a doctor who studied Benoit’s brain said Wednesday.
The Sports Legacy Institute, an organization that advances health and wellness of athletes, coordinated the testing using samples of Benoit’s brain tissue provided by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation with the permission of Benoit’s father.
Despite the results of the testing, Dr. Robert Cantu, a member of the institute and chief of neurosurgery service at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., said there was no way to know for sure if the concussions Benoit suffered caused the murder-suicide.
“Whether it is the sole factor I believe is speculation and I will not go there,” Cantu said in a telephone interview.
Cantu did say that the brain injury Benoit suffered can cause depression and irrational behavior.
Benoit’s brain showed the same degenerative processes that doctors working for the institute found in the brains of three National Football League players who committed suicide, Cantu said. There were abnormal protein deposits caused by trauma to Benoit’s brain, Cantu said.
Since the killings at Benoit’s Fayetteville home, the question of whether steroid use contributed to the deaths has lingered. Anabolic steroids were found in Benoit’s home, and tests conducted by authorities showed Benoit had roughly 10 times the normal level of testosterone in his system when he died.
Cantu said “there’s no evidence so far” whether steroid use causes the protein deposits found in Benoit’s brain, though he noted the issue has not been exhaustively studied.
Benoit’s family has been looking for answers since the tragedy.
Days after the killings, Benoit’s father, Michael Benoit, who lives near Edmonton in Ardrossan, Alberta, said his son seemed fine when they spoke on Father’s Day, and had even said he regretted having to work instead of spending the day with his family.
“That really wouldn’t give you an indication of someone who would do what he did a week later,” the father said at the time.
In an interview Wednesday on ABC’s Good Morning America, Michael Benoit said, “It was important for us to investigate, to see if there was a possibility that something went terribly wrong.”
The father was expected to speak at a news conference later Wednesday in New York to discuss the brain test results.
Christopher Nowinski, a former pro wrestler who now is president of the Sports Legacy Institute, said concussions can happen in the World Wrestling Entertainment league even though many of the moves are staged.
“I got four concussions in three years as a professional wrestler,” said Nowinski, who works as an independent contractor for the WWE. “A lot of concussions happen from mistakes.”
The district attorney overseeing the death investigation has said Benoit strangled his wife with a cord, used a choke hold to strangle his 7-year-old son, then placed Bibles next to the bodies and hanged himself on a piece of exercise equipment in his home the weekend of June 22.
Authorities have said that Chris Benoit’s personal doctor, Phil Astin, prescribed a 10-month supply of anabolic steroids to Benoit every three to four weeks between May 2006 and May 2007.
Testosterone can be used as part of hormone replacement therapy. Some athletes also have been known to use steroids to enhance their performance.
Astin has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of improperly prescribing painkillers and other drugs to two patients other than Benoit. Federal prosecutors plan a superseding indictment with new charges, but haven’t said when they will act.
The GBI conducted an autopsy and toxicology tests on the bodies, but analyzing Benoit’s brain was not part of the examination, spokesman John Bankhead said Wednesday.