June 26, 2007
Benoit Family Tragedy

I wanted to write a quick note in followup to the previous post, considering the news that has come to light regarding the Chris Benoit tragedy, as the WWE performer killed his wife and son and then committed suicide over the course of two days, while telling the company that his family was sick and no-showing his scheduled events, including a live pay-per-view wrestling event he was scheduled to perform on.

I have gotten an Associated Press request for an interview related to these stories, since I had taught the class on pro wrestling here at MIT.

I told the reporter that she could e-mail questions to me instead, and that I would skip over any questions that I had no expertise on (such as questions about steroids or Benoit's actions; I am not a physician/chemist/pharmacist, nor a criminologist). So far, I have not received any questions. But I did want to share my thoughts, so I thought I would do so here instead.

WWE made the right decision in cancelling the storyline focusing on the death of Mr. McMahon (WWE's Chairman) in relation to the legitimate death of one of the company's top stars. Instead, the WWE put together a three-hour tribute to Benoit's career in a short time span, with announcers and co-workers expressing their grief, and WWE sent fans home from the arena.

Since some media outlets have focused on the Monday night show, it should be noted that WWE did not comandeer special time to do a three-hour impromptu tribute to Chris Benoit, but rather that they were only a short time away from doing a three-hour show when the news came out. Under the circumstances, they felt they couldn't have a live show and cancelled the event.

Instead, they pulled content from Chris Benoit's DVD a few years ago and aired it instead. Now, several--including the report I just saw on MSNBC's Scarborough Report--act as if WWE put together a three-hour special event out of the blue to praise Benoit without learning the facts before, leaving out the fact that this show was going on the air as a three-hour special in the first place, and this was their quick response after hearing that Benoit was found dead.

The decision was praised at the time, until details came out about Benoit's actions. Now, some are criticizing WWE for having aired a tribute to him. At the time, the company did not know about Benoit's actions, and the co-workers' sentiments about a highly respectful and warm but stern man seemed quite genuine.

Had the WWE known what had actually happened, I have no doubt they would not have aired a three-hour tribute to his career. Perhaps everyone involved should have considered that this was a probable murder-suicide from the beginning, but I can understand why that would not be the first thought that would come to mind for people who knew and worked with Chris.

When details were released about what happened, WWE pulled down their tributes to Benoit, as well as Chris Benoit merchandise and bio pages on their Web site. They chose to open up tonight's ECW show on Sci-Fi by acknowledging that the tribute last night aired before all the facts came through and that, in light of those facts, they were not going to mention Chris Benoit's name on the show, other than Vince McMahon's opening address, but rather dedicate the show to all those affected by this tragedy. See more here and here.

Since my focus here on the blog is often on fan communities, I have been following the outpouring of mixed emotion from wrestling fans regarding this tragedy.

Like the wrestlers and management of WWE, fans are both incredibly sad and angry. It's hard for Chris Benoit fans to know how to react, because he truly was one of the greatest athletic performers in this business, and he was highly respected by fans and fellow performers alike. But what he did was horrendous. How do you mourn a performer you loved, when he did such a horrible thing? The WWE community--both fans and performers--are facing these questions.

I am facing these questions. I have watched and admired Chris Benoit's work for many years. I am completely disgusted by what he did, and I mourn for the families of his victims, as well as poor Nancy and Daniel, his wife and son. And, on another level, I feel for his co-workers and family and friends, those who did not want to remember a man they loved for this. And I feel for the WWE fans.

I hope more will come to light about how or why this happened, but the truth is that we will never be able to fully undersatnd what caused this tragedy, with no word left from Benoit as to what caused his actions. The sad truth is that we will never be able to completely understand what happened in the Benoit home this past weekend, and fans have gone through and will continue to go through the grieving and coping process together.