The Performer Vs The Man: An Ongoing Match That Has No Clear Winner
June 25th, 2007. Perhaps one of the darkest days in the history of professional wrestling. A family was destroyed, a sport was nearly crippled, and a legacy was instantly shattered. Now ten years after the crimes of wrestling star Chris Benoit hurt remains and the feeling of senselessness persists.
Over that fateful weekend in June, Chris Benoit (arguably one of the most gifted in-ring performers of all time), murdered his wife, young son and then committed suicide. The shock was instant and the sadness profound. How could a seemingly wonderful family man commit such acts, and furthermore to those who worked with him, how could this consummate professional be attached in any way to this horror? Theories abounded about possible motives; was it a steroid induced anger or “roid rage”, or something even more sinister at play? What seemed to baffle most people was that the actions carried out by Chris Benoit in that three day period, could in no way be compatible with the Chris Benoit known to friends, family, and the world. Something totally unnatural had to have occurred to make Benoit a monster.
But what has been evident in the ten years this tragedy occurred, is that the victims are more than what was initially apparent. Certainly first and foremost, are Nancy and Daniel Benoit, without question. Their lives were cut short, and for young Daniel, the prospect of tomorrow would be permanently darkened. But beyond the human casualties of this crime, perhaps the most prominent and tragic is surely the legacy of Chris Benoit.
In the context of modern day professional wrestling, Chris Benoit was without a doubt one of the finest athletes to ever lace up his boots. He brought an intensity, an unmatched passion for the sport, and an incredible athleticism to an industry often ignorantly labeled as ‘fake’. No matter what he was doing in the ring or what storyline he was a part of, what drove Chris Benoit was a desire to be excellent. And he proved to the world that he was indeed excellent, one of the true greats in every sense of that word. From his days in the famed “Dungeon’ of Stu Hart in Calgary to his glorious wins in Japan as the Pegasus Kid, and to the pinnacle of the WWE, Benoit’s work had all of the makings of a Hall of Fame career. A discussion of the great wrestlers would not be complete without his name, and he deserves many accolades in the echelons of wrestling history. But then that weekend happened….
In a total instant everything that Chris Benoit had built and earned, was erased. Forget the championship wins, the main event headlining, and the respected athlete, Chris Benoit would now forever be a cold blooded murderer. The WWE (to whom he was under contract at the time of his death) has since expunged any mention or record of Benoit’s existence from their programming. DVD’s pulled, images removed, and any reference to the Canadian Crippler is completely gone.
Is it totally right? This is a tough question. There can be no doubt of the horrific nature of what happened to the Benoit family, and out of respect for the victims, it is more than just and understandable that the wrestling world and the WWE have distanced themselves. There can be no sympathy shown for the crimes of Chris Benoit and his acts deserve absolute condemnation. But here is the tragedy: the Chris Benoit who murdered deserves this treatment, but what about the Chris Benoit who entertained fans for over two decades? Does he deserve to be forgotten? Is it possible to separate the two?
Imagine if you will that a figure like Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan, would suddenly be tied to a devastating crime, does that erase their previous accomplishments? Is Gretzky still not the “The Great One” no matter what happens in the future? Similarly, with Benoit, his in-ring accomplishments can’t be disputed, but because of a few inexplicable moments, they are now thrown away. Again his crimes cannot be condoned in any way, but to think that his legacy would also be similarly murdered is purely tragic. But that’s why the crime is unfair; the unfairness of having Nancy and Daniel’s lives extinguished remains supreme, but the unfairness spills onto the rightfully acclaimed professional life of an amazing performer.
We know that Chris Benoit’s brain was heavily damaged from years of concussions and injuries, and we know his mental state at the time of the crime was impaired. But still, these medical explanations cannot fully explain why these awful events occurred, besides telling us that Benoit had a deep sickness. And we may never know. What we do know however is that despite the fact Benoit committed these crimes, he also committed great acts in the ring. Like these despicable murders, his in ring abilities cannot be denied.
So to professional wrestling fans around the world and to his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the scars left behind by Chris Benoit’s demise remain bitter and truly tragic in every sense. Remembering the greatness of Chris Benoit does not mean one is exalting a murderer, but rather attempting to separate what is good (his wrestling career) from what is evil (his crimes). While the WWE is rightfully acting to protect its brand, true wrestling fans can never really be angry with the man, but just profoundly saddened. We can choose to forget Chris Benoit as that sick man who killed his family, but we should hope that good trumps evil.
Though his crimes remain part of his life narrative, we can say that the goodness he provided in the ring is more than worthy enough of our admiration. Ultimately we can say this of the man who was Chris Benoit: an in-ring giant who fought the biggest foes but could not battle the ones inside him. To watch his matches is bittersweet now, and the ability to separate the two Benoits will perhaps be the only way his legacy can be redeemed.