Professional wrestling is an industry that strives for mainstream acceptance. The ratings remain strong, but the business (and its fans) can still be dismissed easily by the general public with a casual “Don't you know it's all fake?” As a fan, to log on to every mainstream media website and see your favorite WWE superstar splashed front and center across the homepage would seem to be a validation, or finally a sign of sought after acceptance. On June 25th, 2007, that is exactly what I found. Chris Benoit, former WWE champion, hung himself at his home in Fayetteville, Georgia. Police found Benoit's wife Nancy and seven year old son Daniel strangled at the scene.. and my favorite wrestler was the main suspect in a double murder-suicide.
Over the next few weeks I watched the hours media outlets devoted to the details of the case, fascinated by the assumptions that commentators made on Benoit's motives. The connection seemed too tempting to avoid.. It must have been roid rage. Professional wrestling had been linked with steroids for decades, and the litany of performers dying young was enough circumstantial evidence needed to explain the crime. As a fan, I cringed as the business of professional wrestling was purported to be at fault for creating a culture of accepted steroid use and emphasizing aggressive behavior.
Thanks greatly to the work of Christopher Nowinski (former WWE Superstar and founder of the Sports Legacy Institute), it was found that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy was the cause of Benoit's violent behavior. Repeated concussions compounded with a career of diving headbutts from the top rope left Benoit with the brain capacity of an 85 year old dementia patient. The media had followed the clues correctly and found the culture surrounding professional wrestling to blame.. but focused on steroids instead of CTE.
The cases were there prior to 2007 to be examined; Justin Strzelczyk, Andre Waters, Mike Webster.. the list goes on. Benoit was just one more in a line of athletes whose success came at the price of their health. However, Benoit's case came with a ready made cause for the mainstream media. Why was it so easy to indict Benoit's profession for his behavior.. but it took 3 more years and even more deaths for the media to finally start looking at football and CTE to explain extreme behavior?