My spirit went through a range of emotions (as I’m sure they did most wrestling fans today), as far as my thoughts about the events surrounding the death of Chris Benoit, his wife and his poor son. My job is pretty demanding, so it doesn’t really afford me the opportunity to peek my head up and take a look at what’s going on in the world until about mid day. My boss is a wrestling fan (or at least he was part of the period of time between the mid 80s – late 90s when everybody was a wrestling fan.) In making conversation with him, I asked, “Hey, I know you don’t really watch anymore, but do you know who Benoit is?” His response kinda threw me a bit. “Man, I don’t really believe he did what they said he did.” What they said he did?? (At this point I was still living under the assumption that the family died of carbon monoxide ingestion or something else — no less tragic, but certainly more digestable.) At his response to my question, I was immediately prompted to check out the wrestling sheets — but clearly I didn’t even need to go that far. When my homepage went to cnn.com, there it was: “Wrestler Chris Benoit kills wife, son and then, self.” I just sat and stared for a few minutes. But one thing I certainly didn’t do was let my emotions turn to hate.
I’ve always been a proponent of keeping a respectable distance between those who we call our “heroes” and subsequently have never even met, least of all had the opportunity to share a relationship with. If God taught me anything by allowing me to meet Bob Backlund after a childhood of idolizing him (no disrespect, Mr. Backlund) it’s that you can rely on someone for inspiration, but don’t cross the line of believing that you actually know the person. I would have never thought that someone who I cheered as much as the Ultimate Warrior could have been such a judgmental spirit in the form of his real self, Jim Helwig. It all basically goes back to the thing that I said about Michael Richards — you can be dissapointed by what he said and how he reacted, but certainly that doesn’t change the fact that what he did entertained you. Same wth Elvis. Same with Isaiah Washington. Who knows how anybody truly carries themselves when nobody’s looking? The answer is simple — we don’t.
And I say all that to say that as mortified as I am that any man (wrestler or guy who works down at the local Wal-Mart) may have killed his wife — and then after seeing the lifeless body of his wife gone, moved next to kill his….son? It’s just the kind of image that makes you shudder to wonder what it would be like to even be a fly on the wall. It’s just incredibly mindblowing. Not in the sense that I think I knew the man who was Christopher Benoit. I didn’t. Even if he lived to be 87 and died of natural causes, I still didn’t know him. I knew the character on TV who threw knife-edge chops. So while I sit and just am befuddled by the revelations of the past few hours and while I will admit that I’ll never be able to look at a match that he’s in quite the same again, I’m not ready to create a bonfire with all of my New Japan Pro Wrestling tapes, either. Some may think me morbid. Some may call me inconsiderate or selfish. For me, it’s a horrible tragedy simply to know that he’s dead — much more to know the way that his life on this planet ended. But does that change the exhileration that I felt when he did a perfect flying headbutt off the top of the WCW Nitro cage (which was a bit higher than the standard WWE cage, if I remember properly…)? Certainly not. We need to really get better at separating what we think we know about people from what we actually do know.
None of the people in my circle actually knew John Kennedy or Martin King, but we certainly admire how we lived based on the way that they lived through our spirits in old video footage. And I’m sure that I’m not alone. But let’s just suppose that we came across evidence one day linking Martin King to evidence that proved that he had been regularly violating his marraige and that he, uhhh, gee, I don’t know….. let’s say, punched his kids in the chest every Friday just to teach them to be brave. (I know it sounds dumb, but follow me.) And what if John Kennedy turned out to be a collector of Nazi memorabilia or something? Perhaps a collector of 1700s slave memorabilia. Does this change how we remember them? Certainly it will change the image that comes to mind when their name is mentioned. But despite all of the footage of these men that we’ve seen over their lives prior to their deaths, does this change the fact that, being human, they may have been capable of something that was somewhat peculiar and socially unacceptable.
Perhaps the difference between collecting Nazi boots and punching your children and doing what the evidence suggests that Chris Benoit did is very different indeed. But my point is that it’s stupid to go from standing on your chair yelling until your voice is gone for someone — only to try to erase those emotions because something along the way conflicts with what you like.
Please don’t mistake my sentiment. I love children. I just do. And they tend to respond well to me (so well that it’s tough to get them to look at me as an adult sometimes.) And even the worst behaved child I might be willing to lay my life down for. I can’t imagine what it would be like to kill a child and I’m saddened to tears to think of any child’s death. I don’t care that it was someone I admired who did it. But there’s a certain point where you have to admit that you just don’t know people and you need to separate fact from assumption. It’s been alleged that Pete Townsend had some sort of child pornography, I believe. Does this mean that I go and erase all of my copies of “Let Me Love Open the Door”? And Gary Glitter was found with child pornography on his computer. Is it time to erase all of the mp3s of “Rock and Roll Pt. 2”??
If Vince is made to apologize for the show, so be it. He’s doing what he has to do to keep people satisfied. But the show is the least of what people need to be focusing on now. Our thoughts and prayers need to go to the family of Chris and Nancy, who, as much as we think our minds are riddled with questions, will have a dark cloud of confusion, shame, hurt, disillusionment and bewilderment that will probably last them the duration of their lives.