Friday, June 29, 2007

Crippled

What do you do when a person that you’ve looked up to for 12 years kills his family and then himself? I don’t know the answer to that question quite honestly. I’m trying to figure that out right now. Charles Barkley said a long time ago that professional athletes should not be role models to anyone. Barkley felt that role should be filled by parents. He had a point to a certain extent but that doesn’t stop virtually every breathing person on Earth from idolizing someone they’ve never met. For me, that person was Chris Benoit.

When I found out that Benoit was dead via a phone message from a friend on Monday night, I was stunned. At first report, the deaths were simply characterized as “murders.” I couldn’t figure out who would murder a 7-year old or Chris Benoit in his home so it all seemed very strange. Then, the “suicide” characterization started making the news outlets. Early on, it was not stated who committed the murder/suicide. I ignorantly assumed that it couldn’t have been Benoit. It didn’t strike me that a woman would be the likely culprit of a murder/suicide but I could not bring myself to believe that Benoit was capable of such a heinous crime. The first thing I did on Tuesday morning was check out the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Information from the mainstream sites had been stagnant for a while but I figured that Benoit’s hometown paper might have some more information. Strangely enough, the AJC’s article was the exact same as all of the rest with the exception of one sentence added on to the end that said, “Police believe that Benoit murdered his wife and son before killing himself.” First off, I’m not sure how that sentence gets slipped into the end of an article. Second, that sentence was when I finally came to the realization that Benoit was responsible for everything.

I’m pretty sure that most people don’t know what it’s like to have their idol commit a murder/suicide. I am guessing that some people had a similar experience with O.J. Simpson but this is on a whole different level. Someone stated in a Bill Simmons-chat on ESPN that Benoit doing this would be the equivalent of Derek Jeter doing the same thing. I agree with that assessment. Benoit was universally known as a tireless worker who devoted his life to his profession. We now know that he may have done that to a fault. Benoit was also widely regarded as an outstanding family man. He performed for troops in Baghdad over the Christmas Holiday. He was extremely popular in the locker room. No wrestler garnered more respect from wrestling fans than Benoit. Granted, you can only know so much about a person without actually meeting them but there were a lot of things about Benoit’s character that people found appealing. He was humble. He worked hard. When you follow someone’s career for as long as I followed Benoit’s, you start to incorporate certain characteristics into your life. I’ve used Benoit as motivation in the gym on numerous occasions. I have Benoit’s DVD and a few of his shirts. I used to watch wrestling every week for the first 20 years of my life. Recently, the only time I ever turned it on was to see if Benoit was wrestling. When I found out what Benoit did to his family, all of that stuff came crashing down. I couldn’t help but to feel like part of my life was a fraud. As irrational as that sounds, that is a feeling that I could not escape early on. Even now, as I type this, I am having a difficult time processing everything.

Once I get over the initial shock and confusion, I will inevitably come to the realization that the Chris Benoit that killed his family was not the Chris Benoit that I’ve spent almost half of my life idolizing—at least mentally he wasn’t. Something went awry in his mind. The police think it may have been steroids. Experts and doctors on TV think it may have been a combination of stress and steroids. I have no idea what went down and it’s possible that I’ll never know. Benoit’s life was a heck of a lot more complicated than anyone on the outside ever knew. His son was dwarfed, autistic, and mentally retarded. The difficulties that come from raising a son with those issues are simply unimaginable to me. It has been reported that his son’s care was a cause of major conflict between him and his wife. Once you start delving into the rationale of a man who has killed his family you are just “grasping at straws” but certain ideas come to the surface. My first inclination of what may have happened is that an argument with his wife and the accompanied stress of his life combined with depression and possible “roid rage” caused him to snap and lose control. It only takes seconds to kill somebody. My next thought is that Benoit realized that he would spend the rest of his life in jail and decided that he would rather kill himself instead. Before doing so, though, he probably thought about who would take care of his mentally retarded son and what kind of care he would receive. Benoit probably rationalized that nobody would care for his son the way he should be cared for so he would do him a favor and end it. A rational person would not think of or do any of the things that I just mentioned. I can’t put myself in Benoit’s shoes because I’ve never felt enough rage to kill someone. But, I can see where a man who is not thinking clearly might have a skewed vision of justice. Benoit left bibles by his wife and son. I doubt Benoit was concerned about “looking good” in the aftermath of killing his family. Sadly, the big domino to fall was killing his wife. This whole tragedy was likely predicated on Benoit losing control for 20 seconds. Once that happen, the scene was set for the last two deaths to occur. Killing her meant three people needed to die in Benoit’s mind. It’s amazing how quickly things can go wrong.

Knowing that Benoit was not of sound mind and hypothesizing the rationale that he may have been using helps ease the shock a little bit but it doesn’t help much. There will never be a time when I can say, “well sure, Benoit killed his family but he was under stress and just snapped. He was still the man.” There will never be a time where I can put on one of my Chris Benoit shirts without feeling sick to my stomach. His legacy has been changed entirely for me. I still find myself forgetting that this happened and thinking about next Monday and turning on RAW to watch Benoit. Seeing his face on TV and hearing commentators speak about him as a killer is still so strange for me. I think I am still in a state of denial. I like to consider myself a fairly rational/logical person. Part of me thinks that it is crazy to let the death of someone I’ve never met affect me. On the surface, it seems irrational. But, I cannot deny the influence that this has had on my psyche. It has been confusing.

As far as the ramifications that this travesty will have on the wrestling world, I think they are going to be huge. I am guessing that the toxicology tests will come back laced with performance-enhancing drugs. The media and lawmakers will take that information and run with it. The WWE will face an assault like it has never seen before. The scrutiny that baseball has gone under recently will finally reach the world of professional wrestling. I am not so certain that the WWE will survive this. It will take time for all of this to go down but I think it will eventually destroy the WWE. I never thought I would say this, but I’m not so sure that the WWE doesn’t deserve it either. The list of professional wrestlers that have died at an early age over the last 20 years has been shocking. If any other sport had undergone such a monumental amount of early deaths, the world would have been up in arms. Wrestling is like a traveling sideshow. To this point, it has been more convenient for everyone to just look away. The Benoit disaster puts it right in everyone’s face.

Here is a list of just some of the notable wrestlers that have died before the age of 50 (you can check out a more comprehensive list here):

Chris Von Erich - 21
Mike Von Erich - 23
Louie Spiccoli - 27
Crash Holly - 32
Kerry Von Erich - 33
Eddie Gilbert - 33
The Renegade - 33
Owen Hart - 33
Chris Candido - 33
Adrian Adonis - 34
Bobby Duncum Jr. - 34
Yokozuna - 34
Brian Pillman - 35
Eddie Guerrero - 38
Davey Boy Smith - 39
Johnny Grunge - 39
Terry Gordy - 40
Chris Benoit - 40
Rick Rude - 41
Bruiser Brody - 42
Miss Elizabeth - 42
Big Boss Man - 42
Earthquake - 42
Mike Awesome - 42
Nancy Benoit (Woman) - 43
Dino Bravo - 44
Curt Hennig - 44
Bam Bam Bigelow - 45
Junkyard Dog - 45
Hercules - 45
Andre the Giant - 46
Big John Studd - 46
Chris Adams - 46
Mike Davis - 46
Hawk - 46
Dick Murdoch - 49
Sherri Martel - 49

1 comment:

David said...

That was an awesome blog post. I can feel your sorrow and confusion. Thumbs up!

-David.

 

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