Thursday, June 28, 2007

My Thoughts on the Benoit Tragedy

It would seem that a few people are interested in my take on what has unfolded over the past few days in reference to former professional wrestler Chris Benoit. In many circles, I am the "wrestling guy", so I will try to fufill that role and give as much perspective as I possibly can into this almost unbelievable series of events to ever occur in pro wrestling history.

On Monday Night, I signed online looking for my friend Tuna to be on. WWE had scheduled a three hour "Raw" to air, ironically with a theme of a funeral for Vince McMahon based on an angle they had shot two weeks prior. I assumed Tuna and I would watch together.

Immediately when I signed on, Pittsburgh independent wrestler, Kid Cupid instant messaged me to see if I had heard the news. I expected a joke about the girth of his genitals or something.

Simultaneously, I was hitting my standard rotation of wrestling websites to make sure that I was up to date on all that I needed to know in preparation for that night's "Raw". The IM window flashed...Chris Benoit is dead.

I made it to the first wrestling site immediately and it confirmed the news. I was shocked. I was numb. I went to a popular wrestling blog that I frequent and people were already mourning. To non-wrestling fans this may sound stupid, but I thought of Chris Benoit as an entertainer. Anyone can be a bit shaken when one of their
favorite entertainers is taken unexpectedly, especially if that person had been entertaining you for over a decade.

Not knowing any details, I composed the following message in response to someone who was chastizing Vince McMahon for his ficticious death angle:

"This is not about Vince or his angle. This is about the best wrestler that the WWE has ever seen being dead. Rest in Peace Chris...You were an incredible performer. I will miss seeing you do what you do best."

There was a part of me wanted to write a long memorial, but also a part of me felt it was too soon. I read that not only was Chris found dead, but also his wife Nancy and his son Daniel.

It's funny how wrestling fans get in a huff over a fake Vince McMahon death angle, but as soon as they hear about a real death, they pray for it to be a tasteless WWE storyline. We were all praying hard on Monday night that this was the case. If not a storyline, perhaps it was a gas leak. No one wanted to think there was foul play involved.

At the time, I figured it was most likely a domestic dispute, as I had read that Benoit called off a house show and knew he missed a pay-per-view for "personal reasons." I couldn't imagine what was really transpiring.

I received a text message before "Raw" that night from a good friend asking if I thought this was real or just the worst angle ever. I responded:

"Unfortunately real"

I saw groups and sites pop up in great numbers paying homage to a guy who had always been considered a class act in the world of pro wrestling. A traditionalist who gave his 100% every night in the ring. I read as people were ready to throw Nancy's body over the coals if she had done something to kill Chris Benoit. I decided not to comment until I had some details.

Some people suggested that Kevin Sullivan may be to blame. Sullivan, also a wrestler, used to write the storylines for World Championship Wrestling. He paired Nancy (his then wife) together with Benoit in a storyline, and they ended up sparking a true life romance. I was asked if I thought Sullivan was the culprit. I replied, it's been ten years, you'd think he'd be over it by now.

People wanted to believe anything other than that Chris Benoit could be responsible for the deaths. I sat in Tuna's house as we watched the tribute to the former World Champion. Vince McMahon broke character to announce that he was not dead, and it was just a storyline. They then showed some of Benoit's most incredible moments in the business, which admittedly he had no shortage of.

Fans listened as Benoit's peers talked about how much respect Benoit had, how he would always give 100%, and how he was a great family man. It made the events that would later unfold that much more unbelievable.

In hindsight, many people have been critical of WWE's decision to run the tribute show. Well, to all the Monday morning quarterbacks, or in this case Tuesday morning bodyslammers, you have to understand that at the time of the event, WWE had no idea of the details that would soon be unveiled. The live show was cancelled and the tribute emanated from an empty arena because the arena was decorated for McMahon's faux funeral.

It would obviously have been in poor taste to have fans cycle into the arena among those decorations and mention Benoit's real passing. The week before, former WWE valet Sensational Sherri had passed, and WWE received a lot of heat for not giving that enough attention while promoting the McMahon storyline. By all means, for what they knew at the time, they were handling it as best as they could.

By the time "Raw" was over, speculation was very heavy that Benoit was indeed a killer. Fans were making up their own scenarios as to what may have happened. The next morning I wrote:

"I feel as though I know nothing, yet I still know too much. As more details appear, I will force myself to read them, but it seems to be everything I dreaded upon hearing all three were dead is reality. It's just unfathomable to me. If the early reports are indeed confirmed by the investigation, it will be hard for us as wrestling fans to reconcile our feelings on the fantastic performer that Chris was. His in-ring abilities certainly do not go away, but how do you celebrate him? Do you even want to?

This is a PR nightmare for World Wrestling Entertainment, and another hard shot for wrestling fans as this event is likely to shape the mainstream opinion of professional wrestling for years to come. It is just too early, I feel, to really go into my comments or feelings on Chris Benoit.

We are so conditioned now to get our news and information so rapidly and immediately make a statement upon it. However, I think some of us really need to take a step back and wait for some real details to come out before we form our opinions on Chris or Nancy.

I think out of respect for the victims and respect for ourselves, it's best if we stop worrying about immediately pointing fingers, wait for authorities to sort the situation out, and then digest the facts as they come."

The next day I followed the news closely. It wasn't hard as all mainstream media outlets had picked up the story. I was notified that WWE had made a decision to quietly take down all references to Benoit. This was all but confirmation of a wrestling fan's worst nightmare. I wrote:

"I went and visited and the site is certainly backing down from the tribute it had up last evening and early this morning. The main article is still obviously in regards to Benoit, as many WWE fans would likely be pissed if they went looking for an update this afternoon and found nothing. The link inside that would have clicked to Benoit's bio now loops you back to the same article. However, if you go through to the ECW section, Benoit's bio is still listed on the Roster page and his tribute stuff can still be found there for now..."

In a matter of four minutes, his superstar page and bio had been removed. I wrote:

"They have taken all his stuff off of WWEshop, and went so far as to take his name out of the description of the WrestleMania 23 winners plaque, despite the fact that he is clearly pictured.

Also, this is a direct quote from the description of the WrestleMania XX DVD, from which Benoit won the title:

'The entire event is here. Seven championships are on the line, featuring Eddie Guerrero VS. Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship & Triple H defends his World Heavyweight Championship against Shawn Michaels.'

If was your source for all things wrestling, it is almost as if Benoit never existed."

I sat on google refreshing the news about Benoit, knowing that something big was about to break. The distance that WWE put between themselves and one of their most celebrated performers was a clear signal that it was going to be bad.

Before the AP broke the story, I had already read the details on I was floored. The whole thing was just terrible.

Some wrestling fans focus shifted to if Benoit really did this, does he deserve to get into the WWE Hall of Fame. I wrote:

"Benoit was arguably the greatest wrestler ever. Still, that doesn't mean he should be unconditionally honored. With more of these reports coming out, it shows that he truly had no honor".

One fan said he didn't know if we should pray for Chris or damn him to hell. I replied:

"I pray for Nancy, Daniel, and the two children left behind.

I also pray for Chris, but it's very different.

I am through celebrating him, but I don't think it's our place to damn anyone. That's just my belief."

I got home just in time for the beginning of the press conference. By dinner time I knew that Benoit had bound his wife, driven her into the floor, and choked her to death with wire. He had waited a number of hours, and smothered his son with a bag. He waited a number of hours again before hanging himself from a weight machine in his basement. He left no suicide note. All the communication he made were text messages suggesting that his dogs were in an enclosed space, his door was open, and his address.

The whole thing was sickening. WWE released a statement saying they were stunned by the details. Anyone who was a fan of professional wrestling can tell you the same. WWE was also "concerned" about the sensational reporting.

I must admit, I was too. Shepard Smith immediately began blaming the encounter on steroids. WWE has gone on record to say that Benoit passed a drug test in April. Plus, the fact that Benoit did this act over the course of three days, bounding his wife, and placing bibles with the victims doesn't support this at all.

Shepard Smith said that 60 well known professional wrestlers under the age of 45 have had steroid related deaths in the past ten years. This is simply not true at all. Owen Hart died from a fall at a pay-per-view when making a superhero like entrance to the ring. Earthquake died from cancer. Mr. Perfect died of acute cocaine intoxication. Miss Elizabeth died from a combination of alcohol and pain killers. Some deaths referenced happened over ten years ago, and still weren't steroid related. Dino Bravo was murdered. Kerry Von Erich shot himself.

Yes, there is an overabundance of dead professional wrestlers: (The British Bulldog, Brian Pillman, Bam Bam Bigelow, The Big Bossman, Ravishing Rick Rude, Chris Candido, Yokozuna, Andre the Giant, Eddie Guerrero, Johnny Grunge, Rocco Rock, Gino Hernandez, Chris Adams, Louie Spicolli, Terry Gordy, Eddie Gilbert, Road Warrior Hawk, Hercules, The Wall, Crash Holly, Pitbull #2, The Renagade, Bad News Brown) But they all died of various causes.

Reporting Benoit's act as though it comes with the territory in the life of a professional wrestler is irresponsible journalism.

Nancy Grace chastized WWE for running a tribute show to a murderer. Well Nancy, that would make sense had WWE known at the time of the tribute he was murderer. Instead, Vince was dealing with a lockeroom who felt as though they had lost a brother, 20 million people who tune into "Raw" on Mondays who would have been outraged if the show went on as normal, and three hours to figure out what to do while being tremendously distraught himself. Get off your high horse. Better hope Anderson Cooper never pulls something like this and lands you in the same position.

I've noticed a lot of fans having trouble with Benoit's actions. It's hard for them to watch their hero being villainized. Many people have no frame of reference for Chris Benoit outside of this incident, and it's almost as if fans want to defend that he wasn't really like this.

Unfortunately, he proved otherwise. Fans want to show the world that they are shocked and never believed anything like this could happen, thus distancing themselves from the fact that they spent years cheering for a would-be murderer. It's similar to when a murder happens in a small town and the mayor consistently wants to reiterate that he never thought anything like that could happen there. You want to defend some semblance of yourself from the judgement of others.

As a child, I was a huge fan of He-Man cartoons. Then one night flipping through the channels, I found Hulk Hogan, who for my four year-old brain was a real live-action He-Man. I was immediately hooked. These were real life superheroes. As I got older, I became more intrigued with the business side of wrestling, and how decisions were made. Being older I learned many things that were dissapointing about my childhood heroes, probably first feeling that impact when I heard Jake "The Snake" Roberts talk about his life on the road.

Someone asked if Jimmy Snuka hadn't also killed his wife. I explained the story of how Jimmy Snuka had been travelling in the very early 80's (before I was born) with a ring rat (wrestling groupie) and they had gotten into an argument on the side of the highway. Snuka shoved her and she had cracked her skull. She died hours later in what was ruled an accidental death, and Vince McMahon did a great deal to help cover up the incident and make sure Snuka never had to serve time.

Telling the story made me exclaim:

"Unfortunately, pro wrestling is full of drug abusers and woman beaters."

The funny thing is, I have known this for at least ten years, but it's probably the first time I have ever said it outloud. I guess I just didn't want to let myself believe it. Professional wrestling was an escape from the real world to me.

So I guess this is my final stance on what happened this weekend:

"I am done celebrating Benoit. I would much rather celebrate his wife Nancy, who portrayed the character 'Woman.' I knew Woman many years before I ever knew of Benoit. Nancy Daus debuted as Robin Greene, the love interest of Rick Steiner. She later turned on Rick and his brother Scott and aligned herself with Butch Reed and Ron Simmons, who were known as Doom.

She was a beautiful woman, and a fantastic wrestling valet in the late 80's early 90's. I was not really familiar with her work in Florida as the Fallen Angel, and I think she was less intriguiging in her later roles in WCW, but she was fantastic in the Steiners/Doom storyline. Wrestling fans seem to be missing the fact that the wrestling world has lost two personalities, not just one.

Now onto Chris Benoit. As I have said, this incident doesn't take away the fact that he is perhaps the best in-ring performer EVER, but to read wrestling fans everywhere defending him makes wrestling fans everywhere look retarded. Just because you drop a few thousand perfect diving headbutts doesn't excuse his actions.

Think of the most vile gangsta rapper you can think of, and Benoit is way worse. They sing about rape and murder. Benoit smothered his 7 year-old son.

It's hard to reconcile as a fan, because all you ever heard was good about Benoit. There are other guys where it would seemingly be more fathomable. Unfortunately though, facts are facts. Benoit murdered Nancy "Woman" Daus Benoit and his son Daniel, and no matter what influenced him, the act was sensless and horrible.

I don't agree that we should condemn him to hell, because it's not our place. I pray for Nancy, Daniel, the two remaining children, and his extended family and friends.

I also pray for Chris, but I do so in a different way.

It's funny because I usually go to wrestling to escape life. Now I am looking to life to escape wrestling. Chris Benoit, the guy who was so passionate about tradition and respect has raped professional wrestling of its innocence and fun. In time, I think things will return to a sense of normalcy, but this is a black eye that professional wrestling will wear for a very long time.

If the reports are true, there is no one to blame but Chris Benoit. He did just about the most reprehensible thing a person can do, and I refuse to make excuses for him just because of his workrate. The thing that pisses me off the most is how ready people were to damn Nancy initially when they assumed it was her doing, but now that she's the victim, people are still looking at Benoit as some type of martyr. If I were not a fan of professional wrestling I would look at these fansites and tributes and barf in their general direction.

Chris Benoit does not deserve to be honored, as he was a man who had no honor. Chris Benoit is not a hero. Period!"

I just read a report on a website in which the author says, "So in spite of all that has happened, I am not afraid to say this: Chris Benoit, you where (sic) my hero and I shall remember you for every good match, for every chop, for every flying headbutt, for every crippler crossface and more importantly, for every tear I dropped at the end of that Wrestlemania. Because for those lasting minutes, wrestling was real."

Well I got news for you Armando, wrestling is not real. The deaths of a lovely 43 year old woman and an innocent 7 year old boy are.


Jedd Johnson, CSCS said...

I enjoyed reading your assessment of this situation.

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