Q&A Friday #68: What About Chris Benoit?

Question: “John, if someone had asked me to lay money on a professional wrestler committing murder, current or former, I could name a few and none of them, until this past Sunday, would be Chris Benoit. Even with the facts still coming out, are you like me just as shocked?” — Corperate_Cabana

“I would like to add to Cabana’s question on pro-wrestling.

Given the recent very sad story, should pro-wrestling be regulated as other prize fights are? What needs to happen to clean up wrestling once and for all, or is that impossible? Do you see this as something that’s an aberration or something systemic?” — D-Vega

Answer: I’ve been a pro-wrestling fan for a long time, have read a lot of books on it, and I even used to have a small time syndicated pro-wrestling column. So, I know a little something about this issue.

As to Benoit, he was rich, famous, extremely popular, and extremely good at what he did — I mean we’re not talking about some marginal figure in pro-wrestling here, Benoit was one of the best in the world at his chosen profession. That’s why it was so shocking and creepy that he was involved in a murder-suicide, especially one with so many bizarre details (He strangled his wife to death, called in to work, stayed in the house with the dead body all day, smothered his son to death, stuck Bibles beside of the bodies, and then got drunk, sent out some text messages, and hung himself to death).

As always in these situations, everyone is searching for a “why.” Was it roid rage? Was he crazy? Was he on drugs? How could this have happened? That, I don’t know.

What I can tell you, however, is that pro-wrestlers, despite the fact that they usually look to be in incredible physical shape, live an amazingly unhealthy lifestyle.

Even though wrestling is fake, these guys take an incredible beating every time they step in the ring — and they’re constantly in the ring. They’re not just on television, they’re going from town to town doing house shows. Raven, a wrestler I used to be a big fan of, once said in an article that I read that he did 300 shows a year — and this isn’t like pro-football, baseball, basketball, etc. There is no off season and if you miss a few weeks with an injury, you can’t necessarily come back and pick up where you left off. That “hot push” that was going to make you into a star may be gone and you may be stuck as a jobber for who knows how long. Because of that, these guys go into the ring and wrestle, night after night, with injuries so painful that the average person would use them as an excuse not to even get out of bed.

With that kind of lifestyle, is it any wonder that so many wrestlers use steroids to help their body recover or get addicted to pain killers? Is it really a big surprise that so many of them turn to drugs when they’re getting beaten to a pulp every night, are wrestling in pain, and are away from their familes traveling week in and week out throughout the whole year?

Do you want to know what these wrestlers really need? They really need a union. They’re such a niche industry, so much money is being made, and so many of them are dying before 50, that they desperately need to make some changes for their own sake — and a union would be the best way to do it.

PS: Let me emphasize that I don’t much care for unions and think, for example, that unions are ruining the airline and automaker industries, but I think pro-wrestling is the exception to the rule where a union would actually be a good idea.

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