It's Okay Not to Be Able to Reconcile Chris Benoit's Wrestling Career with His LifeFive years ago today, Chris Benoit killed his wife, the start of a chain of events that would see him murder his innocent son before taking his own life in the following days. In one fell swoop, he went from being known as maybe the greatest technical wrestler ever to a base murderer at best and the man who could have killed pro wrestling as we've known on top of that at worst. The worst part was that among our ilk, he was many of ours favorite wrestler. I always preferred Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero, but I would be lying if I said that I didn't say Benoit was always one of the guys I looked forward to watching in the ring.
That fandom we all had for him when he was alive has made it very hard for some to let go of the fact that his life ended the way it did. A lot of questions were asked as to whether it would ever be okay to think of him in a positive light again, when it would be okay to separate his art from his personal life. Judging by the reaction that I get any time I write about Benoit, I feel like a lot of people are already over what he did and are back to pledging devotion to the man as a wrestler. I'm not even talking about people who still believe crazy conspiracy theories that would exonerate the man (IT WAS KEVIN SULLIVAN! HE WAS BEHIND IT ALL!!!!!). I'm just talking the people who can either brush Benoit's acts off and watch him like nothing ever happened or those who are sick to themselves over what he did but can separate the art from the man.
Before I write what I'm about to write, there's nothing wrong with being able to separate a man's art from his personal life. If you can do that, hey, good for you. You are certainly not a better person than I (I don't think that's a qualifier for whether anyone is better than anyone else, actually), but you certainly have a different way of looking at life, and I'm not sure that it's basis for me to judge you or vice versa. That being said, it can be hard for people who are still unsure whether or not they should "forgive" Benoit so to speak, especially when in pockets of the Internet where the torches still burn brightly for him because of the blinders put on by some people.
Well, I'm here to say that no one ever has to be able to reconcile the way Benoit's life ended if they don't have to.
Let's face it, the man was a murderer, plain and simple. He didn't stand trial for his crimes because he killed himself after his acts. Give me any good reason why that man deserves any quarter what he did. I guarantee you that it won't be good enough. Sure, you can blame wrestling or the drugs or whatever it is that you want as a justification, but the fact of the matter is that guys like Dave Duerson, Junior Seau and Andre Waters all suffered from the same CTE that Benoit did, all of them committed suicide and none of them murdered anyone on the way out. It sucks that he had his brain injuries, but at some point, don't you have to pin some of the blame for his actions on him?
It's also not like we couldn't see this coming either. While it seems that all wrestlers seem to need to have a depraved mindset to enter the business, the stories of the way Benoit hazed and "ribbed" people backstage were legendary for their brutality. Before his brain injuries steeped in too deeply, he was still allegedly a borderline sociopath (again, alleged because I'm not sure how many of those stories are true or are just exaggerated gossip). So again, maybe he already had this all in him, which makes that blame all the more stark.
And if that blame makes it hard for me or anyone else to watch him in the ring, that's okay. People still have problems with the way WWE features Mike Tyson, and he not only served his time for his crimes, but he has seemingly rehabilitated. That being said, rape is a pretty fucked up crime, and honestly, even though I accept Tyson's rehab, I will never begrudge anyone for not. So, what makes Benoit, whose crimes he has skirted on repenting for because he killed himself, any more special?
So, if you are still uncomfortable with Benoit's career, you're not alone, and you shouldn't feel pressure to try and BE comfortable with it. The man was a monster and he skirted all responsibility involved with his crimes by offing himself. If that doesn't set well with you, congratulations, you have a conscience. That doesn't mean people that can reconcile it don't have one; theirs just works differently.
But for those who can put aside the awful way Benoit's life ended, do me a favor give me the same quarter I give you. And if you really believe that someone else murdered Nancy and Daniel Benoit and then murdered Chris, please check yourself into a mental institution. I can stomach a lot when it comes to what to accept and what not to accept in wrestling. Double murder and suicide as a combination isn't one of them.
And quite frankly, I'd be utterly shocked if I were the only person that felt this way.
Thomas Holzerman is a member of Fair to Flair and writes his own blog called the Wrestling Blog about all aspects of professional wrestling in North America. He hosts two podcasts the Wrestling Podcast and Outside the Squared Circle, which you can find on iTunes. He is from Philadelphia and is an avid sports fan.