It’s hard to believe ten years have passed since the horrific events of the weekend of June 22 to June 24, 2007, during which Chris Benoit murdered his wife, Nancy, 43, and his seven-year-old son, Daniel, both by strangulation, then killed himself via hanging. The world of professional wrestling was sent into a tailspin, with friends, colleagues and fans of Benoit struggling to make sense of why he would do such a thing.
Many a book, tabloid magazine article and cable news expose tried to pin Benoit’s atrocities on a variety of factors, from ’roid rage, an inability to come to terms with son Daniel’s purported Fragile X syndrome (a growth abnormality that he apparently did not actually suffer from), and long term drug abuse and mental health issues, all of which probably had varying degrees of truth to them. Ultimately, Benoit had grown increasingly erratic during his final years in World Wrestling Entertainment, reeling from the death of his best friend Eddie Guerrero in late 2005, and perpetrating violence towards Nancy, who had filed for divorce and and apprehended violence orders in the past (which were later withdrawn), but we will likely never know what drove him to kill his family and himself.
WWE scrambled to distance themselves from Benoit’s misdeeds in the immediate aftermath and into today. After screwing up royally with a tribute to Benoit in place of regular Raw festivities on June 25, 2007, Vince McMahon infamously opened the following night’s episode of ECW by saying that Benoit’s name would never be mentioned again on WWE programming. And they’ve largely stayed true to that. “Chris Benoit” is not a searchable option on the WWE Network, and as recently as two years ago I remember watching a 1999 pay-per-view on the Network where Benoit’s main event match was omitted and his image blurred on the promo banners hanging next to the TitanTron.
Also damaging was the Signature Pharmacy scandal in August of that year, in which no less than 20 then-current or former WWE wrestlers were implicated in an investigation into the drug company which was busted for prescribing steroids to athletes without proper medical examination. This flew in the face of the WWE’s Wellness Policy, which had been implemented after Guerrero’s death a year and a half earlier, and called to mind the similar steroid scandal of the early 1990s, in which Vince McMahon was implicated. If the big boss is accused of distributing steroids to his employees, how seriously is a policy banning the use of them supposed to be taken?
While many gains have been made in WWE since the shitshow that was 2007—awareness around chronic traumatic encephalopathy and acquired brain injuries (studies after Benoit’s death revealed he had the brain of an 85-year-old with dementia); less emphasis on big bodies; a road schedule that involves videogames as opposed to hard partying—it’s still far from perfect. Steroid questions linger around a number of current WWE stars, while the Wellness Policy doesn’t apply to part-time workers such as Triple H, John Cena and Brock Lesnar, who was involved in his own doping scandal and banned from MMA competition this time last year. And though the Wellness Policy includes suspension upon domestic violence charges, which Benoit is alleged to have had a history of, WWE enjoys a cosy relationship with many known intimate partner abusers. For example, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was treated to a rousing tribute upon his death in January, despite being deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for the 1983 murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, earlier that month.
Though I don’t have the exact numbers, I would hazard a guess that the life expectancy of the average wrestler is rising since the results of damning studies such as this one. But wellness in wrestling shouldn’t just be about longevity, it should be about quality of life in and out of the business for wrestlers and their families. It’s hard to believe it took something as unthinkable as the Benoit tragedy to help the industry start to realize that.
Scarlett Harris is an Australian writer. You can read her previously published work at her website The Scarlett Woman, and follow her on Twitter at @ScarlettEHarris.