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Chris Nowinski's WWE ties come under attack

Chris Nowinski is upset at the accusations that he has turned his back on professional wrestlers due to his close ties with WWE and failing to actively recruit brain donations from the families of recently deceased wrestlers.

Chris Nowinski: Been silent for too long re: conflict of interest with WWE.
Chris Nowinski: Been silent for too long re: conflict of interest with WWE.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

In an interesting development, Chris Nowinski yesterday released an official statement on the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF)'s website (formerly known as the Sports Legacy Institute) about the charity's outreach efforts within the professional wrestling community, which was a pre-emptive move due to "a reporter writing an article attempting to create controversy where there is none."

One wonders what took him so long. The decision by the CLF to accept an initial $1.2 million gift from WWE in May 2013 (WWE's donations to the CLF now total $2.7 million) was so obviously a potential conflict of interest that it would have been wise for Nowinski to dispel such cynicism from the very beginning. Instead, he kept quiet, even as the CLF arguably was tainted by their association with the wrestling company when CM Punk alleged that a WWE ringside physician, believed to be Dr. Christopher Amann, pressured him into going on an overseas tour of Europe whilst suffering from a concussion in November 2013. It should be noted that Amann is currently suing Punk for defamation.

Last month, Nowinski was deposed in the Vito LoGrasso and Evan Singleton concussion lawsuit. Earlier this week, Judge Vanessa L. Bryant denied the deposition.

It seems that the lawyer representing LoGrasso and Singleton, Konstantine Kyros, was prepared for such an outcome, as today the Boston Globe published an article entitled "Ex-wrestlers say one of their own sells them short", which critcises Nowinski for his close ties with WWE. The article notes how Nowinski's foundation since being funded by WWE hasn't reached out to the families of deceased wrestlers to investigate whether they had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of their deaths, although they have done this for 12 other recently deceased athletes.

Nowinski explained this apparent anomaly to the Boston Globe by informing them that he has largely scaled back actively pursuing brains of people who have died since he established a donor registry in 2008. He also stressed that he had never rejected offers from families of dead wrestlers to donate their brains for research:

"I want to make clear how inaccurate it would be to claim or insinuate that if there were no donations from the families of professional wrestlers since 2013, it would imply unprofessional activity..."

Nowinski said his nonprofit, which solicits public funding, "has reviewed the possibility of an appearance of a conflict and taken steps to ensure that no conflict exists.’’

His foundation is affiliated with the Boston University CTE Center as well as a brain bank jointly operated by his foundation, BU, and the US Veterans Administration (known as the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank). Nowinski said WWE has never improperly influenced any research protocols.

WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt confirmed that the company doesn't interfere with Nowinski's work:

WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt said the company’s grant to the Concussion Legacy Foundation is unrestricted, no strings attached. He praised the foundation for trying to find a way to diagnose CTE in the living and lauded Nowinski for educating WWE performers about concussions...

"We don’t in any way try to control their affairs,’’ McDevitt said of Nowinski, his foundation, and its related organizations.

The article also includes quotes by former WWE performers René Goguen (aka René Duprée), who not so coincidentally filed a class action complaint against WWE for what he claimed was contractually owed Network royalty payments two months ago that was quickly dropped, Rodney Begnaud (aka Rodney Mack) and Chavo Guerrero Sr., all critical of Nowinski for selling out:

"A lot of us are hurting, and Chris knows that,’’ Goguen said from his home in New Brunswick. "It makes me mad that he took WWE’s money and now seems to be working for them.’’

However, the biggest revelation is that Kyros is now representing the families of the late Joanie Laurer (Chyna), Jonathan Rechner (Balls Mahoney) and Brian Knighton (Axl Rotten), all of whom died earlier this year, and he ensured that their brains were donated to a rival research group.

As for Laurer, Rechner, and Knighton, their brains were donated by a representative of their families, Hingham-based lawyer Konstantine Kyros, for [Dr. Bennet] Omalu to examine. Omalu said in an interview that research on pro wrestlers is vital because so few cases have been studied for possible CTE.

"It’s extremely important to continue the research,’’ Omalu said. "We can never have all the answers to CTE.’’

I'm guessing Chyna is out of the running for the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame class then, despite Triple H saying it was "certainly warranted" shortly after she died.

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