Today I look back at one of the most surreal and revolting moments of 2007, and how it brought a very powerful man into a position of having to cope with it all.
On June 25 of this past year the unthinkable happened. Chris Benoit, respected wrestler, along with his wife and seven year old son, were found dead in their Atlanta home. What was concluded was even more shocking, the deaths were a murder-suicide committed by Chris Benoit.
The WWE was faced with an immediate problem when they discovered about the deaths. First off, they had an episode of RAW that night, and apparently did not know all of the facts at the time. So, sticking with the precedent that was set with the early deaths of Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero, they decided to turn the episode into a special "tribute" show, featuring past matches of Benoit's, and comments by current members of the roster. The next night when their episode of ECW was airing, the show opened with Vince McMahon saying that the WWE did not have all of their facts straight, and that they would never mention his name again on their shows.
I think that there are a few oddities in this story that stem from comments made by William Regal and Edge. Regal, one of the wrestlers who knew Benoit the best, only focused on Benoit's in-ring talents and made no mention to him as a person, quite an odd thing for one of his long time friends. Edge's comments, while heartfelt, raised a bit of suspicion when he said "...I don't understand things like this, and I never will" are very ominous considering the circumstance. It makes me think that he knew exactly what had happened at the time of his statement.
All sorts of speculation as to the causes of this sudden, and drastic action have taken place. Many people in the media immediately assumed that it was "Roid Rage" caused by a life of taking steroids, however, the toxicology reports disproved this theory. However, after his death his brain was examined, and it was found that the amount of damage done to his brain as a result of concussions had left his brain in a similar condition to an "85-year-old Alzheimer's patient", which could full well have led to a severe case of dementia and depression on Benoit's part.
No matter why the tragedies occurred, the WWE has been left in a very tough position. They have recalled Chris Benoit's DVD, and have slowly removed any references to him from their website and other public materials. This has also lead to the WWE delaying the release of some other DVDs, for example, they were going to release a Summerslam anthology box set, with every Summerslam on DVD for the first time ever. However, they were uncertain with what to do with Benoit's matches, especially his main event title defense against Randy Orton in 2004. Also, they were originally going to release a Steve Austin retrospective DVD in November, but it was set to feature one of Austin's excellent matches with Benoit from the spring of 2001. The WWE decided that it would not erase any of his matches on these box sets, but would not feature them on any other wrestlers DVDs.
I am not certain how I feel about the WWE attempting to re-write its own history like this. On one hand, Benoit did some terrible, inexcusable actions, but on the other hand, he has a certain place in the companies history and his actions in the past should not be ignored for his future sins. It would be akin to Germany re-writing their political history and omitting the years 1939-1945, sure it is six years that they would rather forget, but they still happened. I do commend the company for including the matches from Summerslam, as it would have been very awkward to get around some of them.
A few days after the event, I took a break from my summer sabbatical to write my thoughts on what was occurring. In preparing to write this post, I re-read it, and to be honest, I don't think that I have answered my questions on this event in the past six months. I still struggle with my memories of Benoit as a performer (which are good) with my thoughts of him as a person now (which are, obviously, not so good). I still don't know the right answer.
I still haven't watched my Chris Benoit DVD, but I feel that I will again someday, I'm not sure when, and I'm not sure how I'll feel when I watch it. But I know that I need to watch it, for closure if nothing else.
Until next time,