Click Here North Star Writers Group
Syndicated Content.
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Page
David J. Pollay - The Happiness Answer
Cindy Droog - The Working Mom
The Laughing Chef
Mike Ball - What I've Learned So Far
Bob Batz - Senior Moments
D.F. Krause - Business Ridiculous
Stephen Silver
  Stephen's Column Archive

July 2, 2007

Will Chris Benoit’s Death Lead to Wrestling Changes? Don’t Bet On It


The year's most shocking sports story is about something that isn't actually a sport. That's the most natural reaction to the events surrounding the death of Chris Benoit on Monday.


The "Canadian Crippler," one of the biggest stars in the bizarre circus that is professional wrestling, was reported dead on Monday afternoon, along with his wife and seven-year-old son, and in the ensuing days, the unspeakable truth emerged that Benoit had actually murdered his own wife and son before taking his own life.


In World Wrestling Entertainment and in several other organizations previously, Benoit was a majestic performer in the ring, one loved by wrestling fans the world over for his skill at "scientific wrestling," the sort of technical-based style that came into favor with the advent of Internet wrestling fandom in the 1990s. And even more strangely, he had a reputation as a class act, respected and looked up to by his peers.


What made Benoit snap? We don't know, and we may never know. The news media seemed to come to the conclusion that it was "roid rage" that did it, but that diagnosis is both simplistic and likely wrong. Yes, Benoit, like most pro wrestlers, used steroids, and yes, the drugs were found in his home. But just about everything about the crime made it appear premeditated, which made it quite unlikely that a singular drug spell caused him to kill two people over two days.


WWE head Vince McMahon was eager to distance his organization from Benoit himself. WWE had broadcast a three-hour tribute to Benoit on Monday night, but once it became clear he was a murderer the special was pulled from re-runs, and is virtually certain to never see the light of day ever again. The WWE also poo-pooed the steroids angle from the start. McMahon was indicted (and acquitted) in 1993 on federal steroid distribution charges, and with the noose tightening around every sports league, such government scrutiny is likely to someday ensnare the WWE again.


Is the WWE, or wrestling itself, to blame for what happened in that Georgia house? Not directly, no. But at the same time, it has been pretty clearly established by now that participation in the professional wrestling profession is not conducive to one's continued health, or even their continued life.


News about retired football players suffering concussions, brain damage and early death has begun to make the news often in recent months. It's been going on in wrestling for years, and one of the researchers, Chris Nowinski, is himself a onetime WWE competitor.


Wrestlers are on the road more than 200 days a year, sometimes fighting in the ring as many as five days a week, compared to once a week for football players and two or three times yearly for boxers (yes, wrestling is "fake," but the performers do get hurt and do suffer frequent injuries.) Steroid use is common, while painkiller abuse is likely just as necessary. And on top of that, wrestlers on the road live much like rock stars, with alcoholism and recreational drug abuse going on all over the place.


As a result of all this, on top of other factors (lack of decent health insurance, etc.), news of the deaths of pro wrestling stars of the '80s and '90s is practically a weekly event. This made the recent hoax reports of the "death" of Vince McMahon, abandoned after Benoit's death, especially ill-considered. Did they not consider that maybe someone would die in real life within a week or two?


Is Vince McMahon to blame for all of this? Again, not directly. But it's clear that a pattern is emerging, of people in that particular profession dying in their 30s and 40s of the same handful of things (heart attack, drug overdose, suicide.)


When asked about this, McMahon has usually answered that the majority of deaths have been people no longer employed by WWE. But that's beside the point. As the "czar" of professional wrestling, McMahon may not be able to save everyone's life, but he should be pursuing more measures, and expressing a whole lot more concern, than he has. The WWE's "wellness" program, which makes baseball's famously loose drug testing program look draconian by comparison, is hardly an effective first step.


I have been a fan of pro wrestling since I was about eight years old, and while I don't watch as much as I used to, I continue to follow the "sport" with great interest. When pro wrestling makes the news most often for the news of deaths that seem to come every other week, someone associated with the business needs to stand up and say "enough is enough," and apply pressure to change the way wrestling does business. Will Chris Benoit's death do that? If history is any guide, probably not.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # SS049. Request permission to publish here.