Before I begin, let’s make one point clear: what Chris Benoit did 10 years ago today is one of the worst things a human can do. The murder/suicide committed by Benoit on June 24, 2007 is sickening, and should not be condoned by anyone. Period.
But the fallout of that horrid day cannot go without notice. And that’s what I want to focus on in this blog. Whether we want to admit it or not, the events on June 24, 2007 changed the way we talk, watch, and think about wrestling.
For starters, the Benoit death was a kick starter for the concussion discussion not just in pro wrestling, but sports overall. Upon his death, it was determined Benoit suffered from CTE-like symptoms and had the brain of “an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient,” according to neurosurgeon Julian Bailes. Countless head-butts and dives off the top rope built up a lot of trauma in Benoit’s head, leading to multiple concussions throughout his career. Benoit’s death gave us a peak into what exactly happens to someone’s brain when they suffer that much trauma, opening the eyes of a lot of people. Before Benoit’s death, concussions were mostly swept under the rug. After, though, it became a front and center issue in all of professional sports.
Benoit’s death also opened people up to the drug problems that exist in professional wrestling. The toll wrestlers take throughout their careers is inhuman. They put their bodies on the line 300+ days a year, sometimes wrestling twice in a day just to pay the bills. This leads to a lot of nicks and bruises building up. However, guys can’t afford to miss shows because they can’t afford to miss the pay day, thus they take painkillers to help deal with the pain.
This is what happened with Benoit. Instead of taking care of his body properly, Benoit relied on pills to help him get through the days, weeks, months, and years. All of these pills in his system damaged his brain even further, leading to mental instability. Xanax and hydrocodone were found in Benoit’s system at the time of his death, as well as an elevated level of an anabolic steroid. These drugs were also found in the blood of his wife and son that fateful afternoon.
Through Benoit’s actions, the debate over steroids in wrestling was re-opened. WWE instituted a stricter drug policy, harshening its policies for people who fail a wellness test. They haven’t been afraid to punish its top guys, too, as people like Roman Reigns and Alberto Del Rio have been suspended under the new wellness policy. This can be traced back to Benoit’s death and the outcry for better drug policies in WWE.
Benoit’s death also affected the way we talk about WWE history. Yes, this is small potatoes compared to what Benoit did, but the wrestling world has had to adjust the way they talk about Chris Benoit. WWE has erased him completely from the record books, although you can still watch all his matches on the WWE Network. One of the iconic moments in WrestleMania history, Benoit winning the world heavyweight championship at WrestleMania 20, cannot be replayed at all. Randy Orton then beat Benoit to become the youngest world champion ever, but we can’t discuss that match anymore either. The entire year of 2004 essentially can’t be talked about because of what Benoit did. It’s a smaller consequence of his actions ten years ago, but it’s a consequence nonetheless.
We’ll never fully understand what was going on in the mind of Chris Benoit on June 24, 2007. It’s one of the saddest days in professional wrestling history, leaving us with more questions than answers. But the after effects of this horrendous incident cannot go unnoticed. It’s important to talk about Benoit’s murder/suicide, as it helps us learn what went wrong and how we can avoid the same mistakes Chris made. We can never take back what Chris Benoit did, but we can sure as hell learn from it.