Michael Benoit on CNN (Plus My Thoughts)

If you missed Chris Benoit’s father on CNN Thursday night, track down a video of the segment, as it was very powerful (and quite sad). Michael Benoit talked about his feelings when finding out about the tragedy, reading Chris’ diary (“…we found the diary after the fact. It was actually a neighbor of theirs that retrieved it from the trash. And this is a diary that he wrote over a period of about 10 days back in 2005, shortly after the death of his best friend in the wrestling business, Eddie Guerrero…”) and gave some feelings on the wrestling business. A transcript has been posted on CNN’s Web site, including this interesting exchange between Larry King, Michael Benoit and Dr. Robert Cantu of the Sports Legacy Institute and the Neurosurgery Chief at Emerson Hospital:

KING: Does this at all [the findings of the Sports Legacy Institute’s study on Chris’ brain] satisfy you, Michael?

BENOIT: Well, we now have an understanding of why, because the Chris Benoit that we knew was incapable of doing this. The man that we loved, the man that was our son, would never do this. I mean he talked of his love for his wife and his children. How could this possibly happen?

KING: Did you ever buy the stories about steroids?

BENOIT: Well, steroids themselves are pretty rampant in sports today — pro-football, baseball, track and field, the Tour de France. We’re hearing it all the time. The difference that — between professional wrestling and these sporting events is that in professional wrestling, the outcome is — it’s scripted.

KING: Right.

BENOIT: So, in other words, they script who’s going to win. So the wrestlers aren’t cheating. And I’ll give you an example of — my description of steroids is that his mom had read an article about tanning booths one time, phoned Chris up and said they’re very dangerous, why are you doing this? And he said mom, I can’t go in the ring looking like a plucked chicken. So steroids were being taken for the look.

KING: Can steroids, doctor, cause someone to do like what Chris did?

CANTU: I think there’s significant debate within the medical community about that, whether steroid rage really exists. And I realize here we’re dealing with actions over a three-day period that clearly were not just rage reactions. There was deliberation that went on, at least for part of it. There — most importantly, Larry, there is no evidence in the medical literature or science to suggest that the steroids lead to the traumatic encephalopathy brain damage changes that were present in Chris’s brain.

KING: So severe brain damage as could occur from constant concussions in wrestling can cause someone to do something horrific?

CANTU: Yes. Four out of — three out of the other four cases committed suicide.

While I’m sure some will criticize Mr. Benoit for talking about how using steroids isn’t “cheating” in wrestling because the sport is predetermined, I think we should understand that this is a man who is going through a lot, isn’t part of the wrestling business, and is talking to another “outsider” in Larry King, whose audience is likely not 100% aware of the ins and outs of the business. In fact, I’ve been shocked at the number of reporters who still ask questions of wrestlers or their relatives about whether or not the sport is “real,” and let’s face it, it’s not a point to be glossed over. For all of the potential harm steroids and growth hormone can have on a wrestler’s body — and yes you can argue that since Vince McMahon more often than not will give the bigger push to the physically bigger men, and therefore it could be considered “cheating” in the competition for airtime, greater pushes and therefore greater pay — there IS a difference between using steroids to get ahead in wrestling and doing so in, say, pro baseball. That being said, the most powerful part of Michael’s reaction to the study on Chris’ brain is the first part of his quote: after all of the reports, after all of the speculation, after all of the sadness, the man just wants something to help him understand why his son did something so seemingly out of character. Whatever happens next, at least he can have a little bit of peace.

Later in the interview, Michael Benoit said: “That was my son’s passion. He loved to wrestle. What bothered me about the wrestling industry was the extremes that they went to. Wrestling is a work and a work means that it’s an illusion. What you see in the ring is really not happening. People aren’t killing themselves in the ring. But once they introduce the chairs, the ladders, the tables, this is real. I once asked my son, I said, ‘When you get hit with a chair, does it hurt?’ He said, ‘You’re damn right it hurts, dad.'”

Hopefully WWE’s defensive front is just that — the company’s public stance — and it is behind-the-scenes looking for ways to better the working environment of the… independent contractors that put their bodies through so much as part of their daily grind.

Some related items:

– Chris Nowinski was interviewed by KLAC-AM Los Angeles’ Joe McDonnell (click here for the MP3 of the interview), discussing the findings of the Benoit brain study by his Sports Legacy Institute. It’s worth a listen, just like McDonnell’s great interview earlier in the week with RVD, but one highlight was Nowinski talking about what WWE needs to do in light of the study’s findings. The former Tough Enough finalist says that WWE needs to seriously look into concussions, make sure that wrestlesr are taken off the road for at least a week after suffering one, and that wrestlers need to stop taking unprotected chairshots to the head.

– Kanyon’s blog has been updated, with the former US Champion saying fans should boycott WWE.

USA Today and The Buffalo News discuss the recent WWE suspensions.

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