WWE Hall of Famer Kevin Nash has pledged to leave his brain to science when he dies, to help further research in to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that’s caused by concussions and is believed to be one of the contributing factors in the Benoit family tragedy and the suicide of Andrew “Test” Martin.
The former champion’s brain will go to the CTE Center at Boston University where doctors will use protein stains to determine the level of damage Nash took during his career. The program is overseen by the Concussion Legacy Foundation (formerly Sports Legacy Institute) which is run by former WWE star Chris Nowinski, who retired of his own accord in 2003 due to post-concussion syndrome.
Nowinski was instrumental in spreading the findings about Chris Benoit’s brain and helped pressure WWE to implement a concussion testing policy. His organization has also worked extensively to raise the issue within the NFL, where many former players have committed suicide and suffered from dementia-like symptoms after retirement.
Nash tells ESPN that he’s “already had short-term memory problems,” and the number of concussions he’s sustained in the ring is “easy, easy double figures.”
His first concussion occurred during his basketball career, before he ever stepped inside a ring, but he recalls multiple times waking up on the mat and not knowing where he was. As Daniel Bryan explained during his retirement promo on RAW, concussion damage is accumulative and once you’ve had one and not given yourself time to heal, it’s much easier for more to occur.
The most high profile case of CTE in wrestling is Chris Benoit, who had comparative amounts of brain damage to an 85 year old Alzheimer’s patient when doctors studied his diseased brain.
In the latter years of his life he had severe memory problems, would pass out randomly a bit like a narcoleptic, showed depressive and erratic behaviour, and was so obsessive and paranoid that every time he went to the gym or airport he’d take a different route so nobody could follow him. He just so happened to brutally murder his wife and son and commit suicide. There’s clearly a link there.
With WWE now carefully screening their talent for concussions and all sorts of other medical issues it’s unlikely anyone will ever degenerate to the state of Benoit, but experts still have a lot to learn about the disease, and how to prevent and treat it. “I decided to go ahead. The only way you can diagnose this is after you’re dead,” explains 56 year old Nash.
“It’s so powerful when icons like Kevin Nash are willing to pledge their brain for research and talk about it publicly,” Nowinski told ESPN. “Brain donation is really driving our growing knowledge of CTE and the long-term effects of brain trauma. And so I’m hoping that we solve this problem before Kevin’s time comes, but Kevin announcing this means that other families are aware that this research is important and that if they lose somebody, they may think of the concussion legacy foundation.”