In Retrospect: The Chris Benoit Murder-Suicide Five Years Later

06.26.12 5 years ago 46 Comments

After careful examination of all evidence collected by investigators, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office concludes that between Friday, June 22, 2007 and Sunday, June 24, 2007, Christopher Benoit took the lives of his wife, Nancy, and their son, Daniel, before ending his own life. — WSBTV

Finding pictures for this post was bizarre.

Five years ago today, Vince McMahon announced that the WWE would never mention Chris Benoit again. In that half a decade, I still haven’t been able to quite wrap my head around the circumstances surrounding the death of neither Benoit nor his family. Benoit was always somewhere in my top five favorite wrestlers ever from about 1995 until the day he died. Now, he exists in some weird phantom zone where I remember how great he was and love his matches but just can’t get over the fact I’m looking at a guy that killed his wife, his seven-year-old and himself.

The WWE figured out that they’ll just pretend he never existed, splicing him from all of their videos and mentions. Mainstream America never had to adore him, so he was just a ‘roided up monster. But for me? Benoit is a conundrum. WrestleMania 20 was the most inspirational moment in wrestling history for a few years. Benoit and Eddie Guerrero – two great wrestlers considered too small and uncharismatic – stood in the middle of Madison Square Garden as the two world champions. Six years later, both were dead. Guerrero from heart failure in 2005 and Benoit’s suicide made that night a symbol of the tragedies wrestling can bring. Who knows exactly how much steroids played a role in their deaths. The same goes for concussions and brain damage. While we can all lament over Guerrero’s life, legacy and career, Benoit’s legacy is more difficult to pinpoint.

Am I wrong for wanting to enjoy his matches from before he committed those murders? Would I feel comfortable if WWE started mentioning him again? It’s amazing that I still can’t figure out what to make of the tragedy even on its five-year anniversary.

I can, though, quantify the impact the Benoit murders had on the rest of sports. Everything you’re seeing now with concussions in major sports definitely had its origins in the research that emerged from the Benoit tragedy. While it’s easy to just dismiss the murders as another wrestler with uncontrollable ‘roid rage, the nuances changed the course of sports forever.

Chris Benoit’s signature move was the flying headbutt where he propelled himself off the top rope and landed head first either on the mat or his opponent’s shoulder. He hit his head on the mat in this fashion 300 nights a year for a decade. A week before Benoit’s death, Harvard graduate and former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski opened up his Sports Legacy Institute to research athletes’ brains and the effects of concussions. Ensuing test results on Benoit’s brain showed that he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a form of brain damage that include depression, cognitive impairment, dementia, Parkinsonism and erratic behavior. While nobody knows exactly what happened on the night of June 24th, it’s hard to ignore the notion that the significant damage most likely played a part in the gruesome murders.

Want to know why the NFL is panicking over billions of dollars in lawsuits, forcing athletes off the field for concussions and freaking out about head injuries? Look at the Benoit murders. Benoit’s cold actions on that June day showed the worst of what excessive brain damage could do. The research that came from the incident got the ball rolling for studies that determined just how serious concussions could be. The Benoit murders occurred in June and by August 2007, the NFL had released its first new policy on concussions.

Wrestling is a small fish comported to the NFL. And while the Benoit tragedy damn near crippled professional wrestling, something as vicious as that happening in the NFL would almost surely be the first nail in a coffin experts are already predicting on football’s horizon. If you look close enough, you can see a direct line drawn from the Bountygate suspensions all the way to Benoit’s acts of violence.

But all of that is secondary. At the heart of this tragedy is the fact that an innocent woman and her son got murdered in cold blood. R.I.P. to Nancy and Daniel Benoit.

As for Chris? He’ll just have to be remembered as one of the greatest wrestlers ever that I’m unsure if I will ever feel right remembering fondly again.

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