To What Extent, if Any, Had WWE Distanced Itself From Chris Benoit? How Had In-Ring Performances Been Affected?
Chris Benoit, before his tragic death, was a world renowned, top card professional wrestler for mainstream professional wrestling company, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE); formerly World Wrestling Federation (WWF). As WWE were broadcasting a tribute show in Benoit’s memory, news which addressed why the wrestler had passed began circulating. “The answer to that question was indeed chilling and has led WWE to disassociating itself with their former icon and Benoit’s reputation hitting an all time low” (Ring Surf, 2009). Reports to this day reveal that, over a period of days, Benoit had choked his wife and smothered his son both to death, before taking his own life on June 2007.
Previous to these events, WWE had always been under scrutiny. From the most respectable organizations, their content was deemed violent and sexist (Consoli and Torpey-Kemph, 1999). Also, since Chairman, Vince McMahon jr, publicly stated that professional wrestling matches are booked with predetermined outcomes, a butterfly effect-like chain of other various emerging news stories slowly began to unravel. More of which attempted to reveal further secrets behind the wrestling industry; namely depicting the neglectful treatment of performers. When journalists found Benoit’s story they had plenty of choice on what to blame; drugs, roid rage, etc. However, everyone knew that the WWE must be at fault.
Lachlan, et al. (2009) states that; “the popularity attained by professional wrestling makes its presence impossible to ignore and concerns about its potential influence difficult to avoid”. For these reasons the WWE is always under high risk surveillance by press and critics. On February 2006, in response to another high profile wrestler’s untimely death, the company put a wellness policy in place, which tests for banned substances and performs annual cardiac evaluations. The policy gained a positive reception and WWE looked to slowly disassociate itself from the reports that claimed to expose the wrestling industry. After Benoit’s death, most were looking to the wellness policy for an explanation; the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested that WWE hand in any material regarding the wellness policy, which had always been dealt with privately. Ashamedly, WWE had shortly after, suspended 11 wrestlers for violation of the policy and from then on have taken more stern measures when dealing with violations.
It was ultimately found, by the Sports Legacy Institute, that Benoit had a severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy; “his brain showed an advanced form of dementia” (ABC News, 2007). ABC News (2007) quotes the neurosurgeon in question as saying that “while he can’t be certain that the brain damage caused Benoit’s actions, he believes it is the leading cause”. Contrastingly and rather unsurprisingly, WWE have said in a later statement; “Today’s attempt to explain that Chris Benoit’s murder of his family was possibly caused by some form of dementia as a result of alleged concussions is speculative” (USA Today, 2007). Representing his WWE; Vince McMahon, in an interview with CNN (2009), further claims that these findings “haven’t even been critiqued by other members of the scientific community”. Regardless of the validity of the Sports Legacy Institute’s study; quick to dismiss the possibility of concussion, mental deterioration and any slight mistake or misconduct on the part of WWE, McMahon’s product falls under much more pressure.
Continuing his interview, Vince McMahon defends that Benoit’s performances takes no responsibility for his actions. As a company constantly in the public eye, the WWE have banned chair shots to the head, but believe they have nothing more to answer for; “it’s what it is in the ring” he says.
Upon learning of the tragedy, Vince had immediately recorded a public follow up...
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