It was roughly 18 months ago that I wrote in this space of my intention to give up my professional wrestling habit. It was exactly one week ago that I was reminded why.
In November 2005, the wrestling world was saddened, though probably not stunned, by the death of championship performer Eddie Guerrero at the age of 38. At the time, Guerrero’s death was merely the latest in a long line of tragedies for young superstar wrestlers. Curt Hennig died at the age of 44. Davey Boy Smith at 39. Rick Rude, 40. Brian Pillman, 35. Every one of those stars was killed in the last decade by various combinations of steroids and painkillers, which became practically mandatory for anyone interested in earning a living in wrestling many years ago.
In truth, the list of current or former wrestlers dying under similar circumstances under the age of 50 is longer and more painful to view than a Vince McMahon necrophilia story line. (Look that one up.)
Now, for the first time, the question is whether or not World Wrestling Entertainment has the blood of non-wrestling victims on its hands as well.
Officials in Fayetteville, Ga., found anabolic steroids in the home of Chris Benoit, along with the bodies of Benoit, his wife and his 7-year-old son last week, prompting immediate speculation as to whether or not Benoit could have succumbed to a roid rage in killing his family.
Toxicology reports on which substances were coursing through Benoit’s veins over the weekend of murder and suicide won’t be available to authorities for several weeks, but WWE, in full self-defense mode, didn’t need any medical evidence to clear themselves.
“Steroids were not, and could not, be related” to the Benoit tragedy, WWE said in its official statement following the discovery of the bodies. This despite its own contradictory admission that the toxicology reports are needed to determine whether or not this was true.
The emphatic statement went on to detail a random steroid test that Benoit passed in early April, which would have been relevant … only if the murders occurred in April. Does WWE honestly expect people to believe that Benoit could not have begun a new steroid cycle in the nearly three full months since that test? Especially when scores of the drugs was found in the Benoit home at the time of the murders?
WWE went on to claim that, “the physical findings announced by authorities indicate deliberation, not rage.” Naturally, WWE neglected to mention the other two most prominent side effects of prolonged steroid abuse: Depression and paranoia. To recognize those, you see, would be to acknowledge the possibility that Benoit killed his wife a week ago in a fit of rage, followed by his son and himself on Saturday and Sunday out of depression, guilt and fear of prosecution.
None of this, of course, makes WWE guilty of anything. Benoit made his own choices,and any acts he may have carried out, under the influence of steroid side effects or not, are his responsibility alone.
But WWE is clearly suspect by association. Professional wrestlers have been destroying their bodies for fan entertainment for decades, and wrestling officials know that superhuman size and strength do not come naturally for the behemoths on their rosters.
They also know that dozens of steel-chair shots to the head and other high-risk behaviors in the ring lead to excruciating pain for their athletes, and that enormous amounts of prescription painkillers are the only things keeping these men in the ring and on the road up to 275 nights a year. The steroid-painkiller combination is a lethal cocktail, as evidenced by the roll call of dead wrestlers with heart problems, yet WWE continues to absolve itself of responsibility.
No one can say for certain if Chris, Nancy and Daniel Benoit would still be alive today if more definitive measures were taken to keep wrestlers away from potentially deadly drugs, and Chris Benoit ultimately made his own choices. But WWE encouraged steroids for years, then turned its head the other way and winked when it wasn’t allowed to actively encourage them anymore … and wrestlers died because of it. And they’re still dying. And now, so are their families.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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