Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I have never been one to pull out the morality card, or at least try not to, but tragedy brings about questions that challenge our sense of right and wrong.

How do we explain the transgressions of others to children?

It always sounds hackneyed these days to hear "for the sake of the children", "to protect our youth" or "set an example for our young ones". It's politician-speak that has become sports-speak thanks to Major League Baseball's continued probe about performance-enhancers and the personal fouls of NFL players. While proof is limited at best, baseball players are no longer automatic role models because of this steroids cloud. It has been decades since football players have been viewed as model citizens, but with the recent conduct policy enacted by Commissioner Roger Goddell, the gladiators of the gridiron will have even more to prove before having guest spots on Sesame Street.

So what is happening now throughout the wrestling community is something all too familiar to the sports nation, though no one would care to admit it.

Whether you consider wrestling/'rasslin serious entertainment or mindless programming is irrelevant as there are many fans, including myself, who live in both worlds with the knowledge of what's sports and sports entertainment. Both worlds share the greatest common denominator; television brings these men and woman to our lives in a manner that the musical note nor the written word can. For decades, we have been able to watch with our own eyes the growth and decline of these athletes. Unlike music, which ideally reflects the human condition, televised sports bring about instant identification with its viewers based on the fact that body language speaks volumes. Unlike words, which can be erased to one's liking, televised sports (even with some scripting) shows how unpredictable the human body can truly be. We are amazed by what these athletes do and in hopes of determining who they are as people, we speculate on their off-field personas based on quotes, reports and heresay.

And so the murder-suicide of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife and young son, have struck the minds and hearts of the wrestling community more than any other passing in recent memory, let alone ever. He had called the company shortly before the Vengeance pay-per-view Sunday in Houston, citing a "family emergency" in his suburban Atlanta home. Just a couple of hours before what was to be a special three-hour edition of RAW, AP reports circulated about the deaths of the Benoits, scrapping all plans of the evening's show (and possibly its controversial storyline of "Mr. McMahon's" death). It wasn't until later in the evening in which it was announced that this would be a murder-suicide investigation.

Benoit was an admired performer by peers, fans and wrestling media alike, something that is rare in any form of entertainment. Even rarer than his wide cast of admirers was hearing the words "that match sucked!" The consumnate professional who worked up the ladder, it took the native Canadian nearly twenty years to attain headliner status, winning the World Heavyweight title at Wrestlemania 20 in 2004. It's been widely reflected that he was an extremely private individual, but even with this apparent "aloofness", he was well-liked and loved. If this story sounds familiar to the non-wrestling fans, it should.

Part of this story has a scent of the Kobe Bryant sexual assault allegations in 2003. Much of this may sound like Ray Lewis in 2000 when he was tried for double murder (technically obstruction of justice). With the exception of suicide, Rae Carruth's name could creep up in comparison. Maurice Clarrett, Carlton Dotson (below-top), Mike Danton (below-bottom), Adam "Pacman" Jones... These are a few the most extreme situations just since the turn of the century. A select few involve high-profile players who have won not only the respect of their fans, peers and media within their sport, but have won championships at the highest level. They became more than players, but ambassadors of the sport they play. Yet, at the second the darkest clouds hang over these athletes, their images are tarnished, if not destroyed. The same has now happened to this wrestler.

What makes this situation unique, even in the now-familiar 24-hour news cycle, is that wrestling is considered low-brow in the spectrum of athletics. The judgments, even prior to the conclusion that Benoit killed his wife and son before taking his own life, have ranged from the plausible to the confusing to the downright stupid. Because it's wrestling, this couldn't be a general case of athlete-gone-bad, where because of the celebrity and favor, the attacks go directly to the offender. Instead, the first words that have come out of people's mouths are "roid rage" and "who cares? It's wrestling!"

First and foremost, there is no way to condone or even sympathize what Benoit had done. It is beyond sickening and cowardly.

Secondly, while surprising to all concerned, something as this proves that there was much more at play than just the simple and ludicrous label as 'roid rage'. In general society, do we look to blame barbituates and empty bottles of Hennessey when we hear of a murder-suicide? Not immediately, if at all in many cases. The crime is beyond senseless, but why cannot it be as simple as Benoit being a bad guy? It was easy to cast aspersions on Bryant, even as his image was not helped by his bickering with Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers. It was easy to lay into Lewis when he was arrested, just as it has been the joke-of-the-day to speak about Adam Jones or Terry "Tank" Johnson. The men were held accountable, nothing else.

Finally, no matter how snobbish all of us become about something we love, it is unfair, irresponsible and pathetic to take pot-shots at the wrestling industry because of these events. If this was done to any other form of sport and/or entertainment, then sports would be the carnival show wrestling is, arguably worse. Just based on what we have learned about sports figures and industries in the last twenty years, none of the major sports would exist as they do today. We'd blame steroids, alcohol and industry politics for every time a player gets caught up in the law or 'baby momma drama' instead of him or her. Even worse is the perception that athletes are more likely to commit crimes than the rest of us. Here's some proof that view should be shattered.

All of this goes back to the opening question: how do you explain this to a child? Still forming the basics of right and wrong, children see what we see, but with little experience, understanding and pessimism that adults and teenagers have. How do we explain that there are many athletes, musicians, actors, writers (including journalists), etc. are flawed, even as they know right from wrong? When do we explain? Millions of children and adults watch wrestling and have those televised images of action imprinted. Their images are harder to forget than our own because wrongs are no more than don't hit, don't curse and don't put that there. Benoit's crime and the general reactions are not part of the grey area we discover as we age, but how we explain this to the admiring youth is not as black-and-white as we think.

Ask those who still respect some of these athletes.


David Lee said...

awesome post, you write well. I wrote something about the Benoit incident on my notes too, please read it and let me know what you think. However, I am not as gifted with a pen as you are :P.

-David Lee

David Lee said...

tried to comment before, but it didnt go through it looked like.

Anyways i was saying, great read, great writing. I wrote something on the Benoit incident too on my facebook notes. Please read it and tell me what you think :). However, I am not as gifted with a pen as you are.

-David Lee