Story by Chris Graham
The murder-suicide involving WWE star Chris Benoit wasn’t just the biggest story in professional wrestling this year.
The fallout from the tragedy is being felt not only in the industry, but also on Capitol Hill, where Congress is readying itself for hearings on the use and abuse of steroids in the mat sport.
But steroid use is just one element among many that contributed to the Benoit story – which had the former world champion killing his wife and son before hanging himself in his suburban Atlanta home.
“Was Benoit upset about going to ECW? I don’t think that’s probably true. Was he thinking that he had probably already hit his career peak winning the World Championship and that he was heading into the downside of his career? That might have factored into this,” said Steve Johnson, one of the coauthors of an upcoming book on Benoit, titled Benoit, that is due out in bookstores next month.
“We know how tough it is for wrestlers or anybody who’s involved in entertainment or sports to realize that their championship days are probably behind them,” said Johnson, a Northern Virginia-based writer and journalist.
Johnson calls the Benoit story “probably the biggest wrestling story in the history of North American wrestling” – if only because of the impact that it has had on the business from the pending hearings on The Hill to the dramatic drop in TV ratings for the WWE that one has to assume is at least in part due to the bad taste left in the mouths of fans by the murder-suicide and how it was handled by WWE, which ran a tribute to Benoit the night after the murders even as it was becoming publicly known that Benoit had been the perpetrator of the crimes.
Johnson’s contribution to Benoit comes in the area of examining the coverage that the news media gave to the story. The findings there are of the mixed-bag variety.
“The responsible newsgathering media, which is largely print-based, in this case, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is the home paper of the Benoit tragedy, by and large did a pretty good job,” Johnson said.
“The second element is what I call the commentary media – Nancy Grace, Hannity and Colmes, the Internet gossip columnists, people who aren’t responsible for breaking news, but rather sit back and ruminate and speculate – that’s the group of media that grabbed the steroid ball and ran down the tracks with it,” Johnson said.
“That happened for a couple of reasons. Number one, steroids are hot right now in sports. We know that with Barry Bonds and the doping scandals in the Tour de France. Just the word steroid is guaranteed to create a buzz. And then number two, these media outlets really don’t know pro wrestling at all. It’s just a story that they’re dropping in on. They don’t cover it on a regular basis. So to expect anything more than superficial treatment of this sport is probably pie in the sky,” Johnson said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.