Questions We’re Not Prepared to Have Answered: The Benoit Family Tragedy
The possibility we didn’t want to admit has become a chilling reality.
According to WAGA in Atlanta, investigators now believe that Chris Benoit may have murdered his wife and son sometime over the weekend, then committed suicide on Monday morning. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Fayette County D.A. Scott Ballard as saying “the details, when they come out, are going to prove a little bizarre.”
Read into that statement what you will. I know I don’t want to, but considering the pedestal I put this man on for so many years, I firmly believe that I have to at least make an attempt to piece this all together. Chris Benoit loved his kids. He loved his wife. He’d bring his children to shows, and young Daniel in particular would often imitate his father’s warm-up exercises whenever he brought his young son with him to shows. He adored his father, and the father adored his son.
The more important question than how this happened is why. There are always going to be tragedies that baffle us; those for which we’ll never have an answer. The possibility does exist, however, that there were some very real factors that led to this surreal discovery in the suburbs of Atlanta.
The answers could lie in two more recent premature wrestling deaths – the sudden passing of Eddy Guerrero and the suicide of former ECW Champion Mike “Mike Awesome” Alfonso.
Benoit was always widely respected in the industry and also known to not necessarily be reclusive, but also not a man who shared his feelings with people on a regular basis. He had some very close friends in the industry, but by his own admission, the one man who meant more to him than anybody else he ever came into contact with was Eddy Guerrero.
When Eddy passed, Benoit lost the one guy that he truly confided everything in. We could postulate that had Eddy not passed due to the demons that he eventually overcame but had ultimately caught up with him physically, Benoit may have at least confided that he was under severe mental duress and precautionary measures could have been taken. There’s only so far we can get with that, however, before we drive ourselves crazy with all those dreaded “ifs”.
What DOES warrant further investigation is the fall-out of Eddy’s death. Days after Guerrero’s death, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon announced to the locker room that effectively immediately, the company was instituting a drug policy. At the time, it was more than a PR stunt. As much as one could say about Vince McMahon and his practices, the last thing he wants tarnishing his mind and potentially his legacy is that he allowed all these deaths to happen and didn’t do anything to prevent them.
Even the most casual fans noticed some changes after the policy was implemented. Guys that were on television every week were suddenly gone for months at a time, a result of suspensions served for failing the first and second rounds of drug testing. Guys like Chris Masters, hired and pushed for their chemically-enhanced physiques, started noticeably deflating in terms of their physical size. Kurt Angle, considered one of the cornerstones of the company for several years, was told in no uncertain terms that his repeated refusals to clean up and get his act together was putting him on a “death watch,” and that if he didn’t want to make the changes necessary to improve his physical and mental well-being, then they would have to sever their relationship. They did so, and while Angle is now working a lighter schedule with TNA, there are some that still consider him a physical and emotional powder keg.
A scant few months later, the cynics that voiced their disbelief when WWE’s new drug policy was announced were apparently proven to be correct in their assessments. Chris Masters was suddenly back to the same size he was before Guerrero’s death. Guys were no longer taken off the road or television for failing drug tests, but docked pay (and not fully). Individuals such as Joey Matthews and Sabu were still canned for their drug use, but only when they showed up in such a state that they were in absolutely no condition to perform. It was clear that while awareness was raised concerning drug abuse in the company, the important lessons of Guerrero’s death were not learned.
Those of us who are wrestling fans have grappled with the issue of drug abuse in the industry for years. Some of us have, at points, admitted to it as a necessary evil in this industry and – while hoping for change – weren’t nearly as vigilant as we probably should have been in demanding sweeping changes be made. In a somewhat related manner, there are individuals such as Chris Benoit whose body of work is such that we do not want to believe that he would be in the same group as the Kurt Angles, Jimmy Snukas, Joey Matthews, and others whom we know to be very obvious drug users and abusers.
The glaring truth, however, is that Chris Benoit was a man creeping past middle-age who still had the body of a juiced 22-year-old. The fact of the matter is that realistically, no amount of commitment to healthy living and rigorous exercise routines can produce the results that Benoit achieved. As much as it pains even me to admit it, Chris Benoit HAD to be using anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancers to achieve his physique at his age combined with his travel schedule. Additionally, years of working a high-impact style at the very top level of the industry takes a harsh physical toll on a person. His history of problems with his neck in particular are well documented and indicate that there must have been prolonged usage (and potential severe abuse) of prescription painkillers just to be able to function as a performer. Even guys like Edge, who are perceived to be younger folks with their best days ahead of them, experience an amount of pain every morning when they get out of bed that many of us will not experience in our entire lifetime.
These are the facts that those of us as wrestling fans don’t want to admit, but they’re all too real. Professional wrestling is comprised of men doing very unnatural things to their bodies while taking unnatural measures to remedy the subsequent problems that arise. And as we’ve learned over the past twenty years, those unnatural measures have some strange and tragic consequences; physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Then there’s the suicide of Mike Alfonso.
Mike Alfonso, who made a name for himself as “The Gladiator” with the FMW promotion in Japan and later became a star in ECW, WCW, and for a brief time WWE as Mike Awesome, was found dead several months ago. We very quickly learned that his sudden death was the result of a suicide by hanging.
Before I continue, I need to note that depression’s a tricky thing. There are individuals who can go their entire lives without exhibiting any traits that would indicate that it’s a severe problem until one day something terrible happens and it all comes out. At the time of his suicide, there were many theories and discussion points raised concerning his suicide. I listened to them, but with depression still being such a mystery at times to even the most highly trained professionals in the field of psychiatry, I basically wrote them off.
However, research conducted over the past several years and recent events have given me pause.
There is evidence – not concrete but getting stronger as time passes – that the long-term physical and psychological effects of concussions are far worse than anyone had previously thought. It’s a story that’s gained more steam over the past year due to the efforts of a small group of very committed individuals, even though it’s been largely swept under the rug by a society that doesn’t want to face the reality that there are very real consequences stemming from their most beloved forms of physical sport and entertainment (including the NFL).
Mike Awesome’s career in particular was plagued with one severe concussion after another. In many ways, his is the prototypical case for the new awareness being raised for the long-term effects of repeated (and oft times untreated) concussions. He tried to work through them, but it got to the point where his career was cut short as a result.
Benoit himself suffered numerous concussions throughout his career. What’s worse is that beyond the concussions that are diagnosed, there are those that an individual such as Benoit may have received and either thought were minor enough that they didn’t warrant attention and/or were ignored because his pride might got in the way of taking the recovery time – or perhaps even early retirement – that was so sorely needed for his own physical and mental well-being.
Not too long ago, after years of working on a neck that while surgically repaired with a new “miracle procedure” developed by Dr. James Andrews was far from 100%, Benoit admitted that he needed to take time off to recharge his batteries. It was seen as a good move at the time by many. There were a few who recognized that perhaps this meant it was time for Benoit to retire outright, considering not only that he had achieved all he could achieve in the industry but that at his age it wasn’t worth ending up in a wheelchair or worse just to work mid-card matches for the next however many years.
I was not one of those that held that viewpoint. As was the case several hours ago when I first read that investigators had concluded that this man I held in such high regard had murdered his wife and seven-year-old son, I didn’t want to believe.
It’s far too easy for us to look back at the events of the past several years, notice trends and warning signs, and conclude that this or that might have been the primary cause for the tragic events that have occurred over the course of the past 72 hours. What’s not so easy is asking ourselves the questions that are now raised in the wake of this and other tragedies. Specifically, can we continue to enjoy and support a product that not only allowed this to happen, but may have created the situation that led directly to such a horrible turn of events?
I’m not going to put on any airs and say right here and now that I will never again watch professional wrestling. It’s crazy, I know, because all the evidence tells me (and other wrestling fans) that we shouldn’t. We have an epidemic of men and women dying far too young and in many cases under far too suspect circumstances for us to ignore the fact that this industry quite literally kills. But there is something that will always draw us to it; something that we can’t quite pinpoint ourselves (though we will never stop trying). There’s a fairly common saying that applies – “for those that get it, no explanation is needed; for those that don’t, no explanation will do.” That being said, please believe me when I say that now more than ever, I am asking more questions and wondering more than ever if any of it is worth it.
I write this not to trivialize the situation or to absolve a man I admired of responsibility for a truly reprehensible act. Ultimately, whatever the circumstances were that may have led to this tragedy don’t change the bottom line. A seemingly loving father killed his wife and his seven-year-old boy. This darling, seven-year-old boy who adored his father and wanted nothing but to emulate him ultimately met an unnecessary and horrific end at the hands of the man who he trusted most. In situations such as those, there aren’t always clear-cut answers or specific things you can point to that will fully explain why it happened, absolve anyone of responsibility, or relieve the grief felt by the victims’ loved ones.
The inherent questions and mysteries raised by a tragedy such as this may be unsolvable. It may be as simple as “a man just one day snapped and killed his family.”
But that doesn’t rule out the possibility that it was wholly preventable.