June 27, 2007
Column: Wrestling with cowardice
By MINDELLE JACOBS - Edmonton Sun
There is something profoundly disturbing about the cult of celebrity that seemingly protects revered sports figures from scorn when they commit heinous acts.
"Rest in peace," writer and wrestling guru T.J. Madigan wrote of Chris Benoit, who strangled his wife, suffocated their seven-year-old son and, with perverse logic, placed a Bible beside their bodies before hanging himself on a weightlifting machine.
Rest in peace? How about burn in hell? Scads of reader e-mail poured into the Edmonton Sun yesterday honouring Benoit - as if the deaths had been a freak accident instead of the cold-blooded handiwork of yet another angry man who murdered his family because things weren't going his way.
What a bad call it was to put on a three-hour tribute to Benoit on WWE's Monday Night Raw, with footage from the wrestler's matches over the years and accolades from his peers. It would have been far more appropriate to cancel the broadcast altogether.
It could have been replaced, perhaps, with a documentary on the scourge of domestic abuse with a follow-up panel of experts discussing the warning signs of potential batterers.
One of the big red flags is when one spouse (typically the woman) makes a move to leave the other. Controlling, vindictive men don't take kindly to being dumped by their wives or girlfriends. And Benoit's wife, Nancy, reportedly filed for divorce in 2003, alleging domestic abuse.
In her court papers, she claimed Benoit "lost his temper and threatened to strike the petitioner and cause extensive damage to the home and personal belongings of the parties."
She also expressed fear for her safety and that of their son, Daniel, and asked for custody of Daniel as well as child support. Obviously, Nancy should never have gone back to her husband. But, like many women who believe their abusive husbands will change, she reconciled with him after a short separation.
She subsequently filed to have the divorce papers and a restraining order dismissed.
Possibly, in recent weeks, Nancy had concluded that the man beloved by wrestling fans everywhere wasn't going to change his stripes and it was time to get out. But immature, angry men don't always let their wives walk away.
Benoit, the "Canadian Crippler," may have been a consummate professional and a winner in the ring but he was a pathetic coward in real life. Rippling muscles, exaggerated emotion and high drama are great for wrestling. A flying headbutt doesn't work on the home front.
Marriages break up all the time and most separated couples, thankfully, move on without a lot of sturm and drang. It seems Benoit was a member of that stubborn minority of petty, dysfunctional men who would rather kill their families than lose them.
U.S. authorities are apparently investigating whether steroid use triggered the murder-suicide. I don't buy that suggested explanation for a minute. Benoit was a murderer, plain and simple.
The only difference between Benoit and all the other men who've killed their wives - and sometimes other family members - is that Benoit was in the spotlight before he became a savage.
Wade Keller expressed mixed emotions on his blog on the Pro Wrestling Torch website. "It is really sad for those of us who admired Chris Benoit's work over the years that his body of work is now permanently soiled," he wrote.
Meanwhile, the WWE site limited its remarks about Benoit yesterday to a brief statement. "(Benoit) always took great pride in his performance and always showed respect for the business he loved, for his peers and towards his fans," the WWE said.
Tragically, that respect didn't extend to his family.
E-mail Mindy Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to the editor should be sent to email@example.com.