December 2, 2008
The unbearable ambiguity of Benoit
By IRVIN MUCHNICK - For SLAM! Wrestling
Wrestling fans prefer "blowoffs" of their "angles." In the case of the deaths of Chris, Nancy, and Daniel Benoit, the instinct to move on is supported by the clear evidence that Chris himself -- not Kevin Sullivan, not Vince McMahon, not the proverbial one-armed man from The Fugitive -- committed the infamous June 2007 double murder/suicide in Fayette County, Georgia.
But the Benoit family tragedy is no angle; it is chilling, real-life detail on the demise of the sport’s greatest bell-to-bell performer of the last 20 years. The reason that detail merits closer scrutiny, even in the absence of some sensational conspiracy theory, is the insight it provides into the larger pathologies of pro wrestling. Over a period roughly tracking Benoit’s career, this is an industry that made a Faustian bargain, reaching new heights of popularity and profitability in return for eating its young. If we all reflected seriously on what’s ambiguous in the whole troubling scenario, as well as on what’s certain, life-saving reforms might result.
Not all the reflection requires an advance degree in endocrinology, the better to call out the charlatans behind World Wrestling Entertainment’s so-called wellness policy -- a program that didn’t know, or bother to do anything about, the fact that Chris Benoit was ingesting enough steroids and growth hormone to muscle up a moose. Some of the reforms in wrestling would be strictly from the neck up: figuring out how to end the regime of total control of talent by management. That control is behind, for example, the utterly unbelievable story that Chavo Guerrero and Scott Armstrong waited a full day before informing WWE officials of Benoit’s final text messages, which were sent in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 24.
Let’s review. We already know that WWE staged the Monday Night Raw tribute to Benoit despite knowledge by company executives that the deaths were not some random crime but, rather, murder-suicide by their beloved superstar. We know that security consultant Dennis Fagan’s Monday afternoon call to 911 was off by a cool 24 hours in its report of the time of Benoit’s text messages. (Neither of Guerrero’s two conflicting explanations of why he purportedly didn’t tell higher-ups about Benoit’s early Sunday texts until midday Monday makes any sense, either, in light of Chris’s no-show at the Sunday evening pay-per-view in Houston, on top of his excused absence from the Saturday evening house show in Beaumont.)
Finally, we know that the Fayette County sheriff’s report airbrushed several aspects of the Benoit telephonic record. And we know that Georgia and Connecticut law enforcement authorities, collectively, bobbed and weaved like a heel tag team trying to run out the time limit, before the latter finally obeyed the law and released to me the Stamford police videotaped interrogation of Matthew Greenberg, the "Benoit Wikipedia hacker."
That video, which is now downloadable at my blog and live at YouTube, ratchets up the intrigue without resolving the ambiguities. This geeky University of Connecticut student, who posted on Wikipedia that Nancy was dead, 14 hours before the bodies were discovered, obviously didn’t have anything to do with the core events of the Benoit crime.
But as I explained in this space in August ("Strange case of the ‘Benoit Wikipedia hacker’"), a distinct possibility remains that Greenberg was sitting on Sunday night discussion board rumors that turned out to be more solid than he realized. This suspicion is reinforced by knowledge that serial online prankster Greenberg also, counter-intuitively, had cleaned up Guerrero’s Wiki page -- a subject the Stamford detective did not even ask about.
Nor did the police conduct a thorough and credible forensic examination of Greenberg’s computer.
Nor did they investigate at all a second early Monday morning Wikipedia edit, originating from Australia, which somewhat more responsibly had cited "wrestling websites" as the sources of early word of Nancy’ death.
So, again, the "angle" here is not whether Chris Benoit did it. He did. But the content and goals of the PR and spin after Chris did it? That’s an angle whose resolution could help prevent future Benoits.
Fans with hard information on premature references to the Benoit family deaths on online forums can email me at email@example.com.
Irvin Muchnick is author of Wrestling Babylon, co-author (with Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy and SLAM! producer Greg Oliver) of Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport and at work on the forthcoming Chris and Nancy: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death (all ECW Press). He blogs at muchnick.net/babylon.