June 26, 2007

It's odd how it hurts

Most who know me know that I am a fan of wrestling. While I don't watch as regularly anymore, I do still have a love of the soap opera inside the "squared circle." The beauty of two human beings working together to put together a complex morality play on the fly continues to enrapture me. The butterflies in the pit of my stomach that I feel during a great wrestling match have rarely been matched. I have an immense amount of respect for the people who perform and put their bodies on the line every night to entertain, especially those who are true students of the "game." That's why this hurts.

I woke up today and saw that CNN.com had a link to a story about a bizarre murder involving a pro-wrestler and his family. Curious, I clicked through and read with disbelief the details that many others have read. Chris Benoit over the weekend killed his wife Nancy and 7-year old son Daniel before taking his own life. Both Nancy and Daniel were asphyxiated. Nancy's legs and feet were bound with blood around her head. Chris hung himself using one of his weight machines. Over the day these and other details came out including what could be an important point: anabolic steroids were found inside the house.

Today I have been in shock and my thoughts naturally go to the question of why this tragedy happened but I have to comment on other parts of our society's reaction to this tragedy as well. While only knowing that Benoit and his family had been found dead, the WWE canceled their live Raw show last night and instead aired a tribute show to showcase Benoit's accomplishments and love for his business. Other tributes were featured on the WWE's web site. After more information came out including that Benoit had been the instigator of a double-murder suicide, the WWE subsequently apologized for airing the tribute show, removed all tributes and said that Benoit's name will not be mentioned on programming in the future as a way to begin the healing process. I find this fascinating and saddening.

A tremendous performer is still dead. His family is still dead. Co-workers have said that Benoit was in a paranoid and unstable mental state in the past weeks. Why may we not mourn the passing of a great superstar because an apparent mental illness led him to kill? I feel no better knowing that Chris Benoit will not longer be mentioned. I feel worse as not only does the WWE have little respect for those who have passed too early but they have absolutely no understanding of mental illness or compassion for those afflicted by it.

There have been claims by the WWE that the media sensationalized the Benoit tragedy and jumped to conclusions regarding a connection to steroids. No doubt, the media loves any murder that involves a wife and kids and will report it endlessly. Add in the fact that it involved a celebrity and it's a veritable circle-jerk of media frenzy. They also mention that we need to wait for the toxicology reports to know whether Benoit had any drugs in his system. Even though their has been sensationalism, the WWE's claims in other ways are weak and in many ways sickening.

The WWE states steroids were not the cause of death; that asphyxiation and hanging were the causes of death. What a simplification of the steroid question that is. Not one person has claimed that steroids DIRECTLY caused the death of anyone in this case. The concern is that steroids may have played a role in Benoit's actions. They also claim that because Benoit's actions were deliberate and spread out over a long period that steroids couldn't have been involved. Steroids mental and emotional side-effects are not limited to "'roid rage." Depression and paranoia are two other side-effects of steroid use. When you consider that Benoit was reported as so paranoid by his co-workers in the past few weeks that he claimed that someone was following him and that he ordered his wife not to leave their house for her own safety, the possibility of steroid abuse being a factor in this case seems more likely.

I am tired of the WWE's excuses on wrestler's dying too young as a result of steroid and painkiller abuse. The WWE claims Benoit's last drug test in April was clean. I say bullshit. No one believes that the WWE has legit drug tests and we have one more reason to feel that way. The WWE is killing human beings by encouraging them to gain muscle mass, with little concern for how they do it, pushing them to perform when injured and giving them so many painkillers that addiction can only be expected. In return for giving so much of their lives to the WWE, wrestlers receive no disability benefits, no health insurance and no retirement benefits. To think that a billion dollar company would treat its most valuable assets with such disregard is surprising, to think that these assets are human beings is sickening.

Government needs to step in and regulate a company that for too long has ignored the safety of their workers in order to make a buck. Wrestling will always be dangerous and painful; that can't be avoided. What can be avoided is the continued sacrifice of talented human beings at altar of the dollar.

I will miss Chris Benoit. I can only hope his death will finally be the wake-up call the wrestling industry has needed for far too long.

Galatians 5:16-17: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."

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