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Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport

by Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy, Irvin Muchnick, and Greg Oliver

In Benoit, four wrestling journalists pen essays about the Alberta-born grappler Chris Benoit, who – in a possible fit of steroid-induced rage – murdered his wife and child before killing himself in Atlanta in June 2007. His autopsy showed his testosterone level at 10 times the norm.

Torontonian Greg Oliver, in two separate essays, provides fawning overviews of the careers of Benoit and his wife Nancy, concluding that Benoit’s crimes tarnished his wrestling legacy but  lamenting the fact that wrestling bodies such as World Wrestling Entertainment are erasing Benoit’s records. In “Stampede Days: A Crippler on the Rise,” Calgarian Heath McCoy delivers the minutiae of Benoit’s early wrestling career in Alberta, then gives a cursory summary of Benoit’s crimes and the issue of ’roid rage.

American Steven Johnson’s piece “’Roids, Reporters, and Rasslin’: Anatomy of a Feeding Frenzy” is a stats-laden critique of the post-Benoit media circus. Johnson does an admirable job of dissecting media (mis)behaviour, although he sheds no real light on the Benoit case itself. He gives special attention to how the crimes drew U.S. government attention to steroid abuse in wrestling, as well as denials from the sport’s organizers.

Thankfully, Irvin Muchnick closes the book with a gem. In “Day of the Dead” he assembles the facts and lets us connect the dots. Sixty-two pro wrestlers under 50 have died in the last decade, seven in 2007 alone from suicide, heart attack, or overdose, not including Benoit. Benoit passed his WWE drug test in April 2007 despite going through a 10-month supply of steroids each and every month.

Benoit paints a picture of a sport that has inverted itself. Where wrestling once scrupulously faked violence in public, while secretly working to ensure no one got injured, there now exists little pretense of reality in the public spectacle, as offstage, participants and organizers bend over backward to conceal the damage being done by steroid abuse.