Tonight, on World Wrestling Entertainment's ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) program, WWE chairman of the board Vince McMahon did something he rarely does. He apologized. Well, at least he more or less did. The words "I'm sorry" were never actually spoken. But the dead serious tone of McMahon's voice spoke volumes.
What he was referring to in his words which opened tonight's ECW show, was Monday night's nationally televised three hour tribute show to wrestler Chris Benoit, who was found dead along with his wife and son in Atlanta — also on Monday.
In a short, tersely worded statement, McMahon acknowledged the previous night's tribute, then said that in light of events that had become known "26 hours later" that "there will be no mention of Chris Benoit" on the show. It was a marked contrast to the emotional celebration of the wrestler's life that was broadcast on national television just one day prior.
McMahon added that "this evening marks the first step of the healing process."
When I first had the unfortunate instance of reporting the story on the deaths of Benoit and his family late yesterday evening for this website, none of us knew all the details yet. The truth is, we really still don't, and probably won't for days and weeks to come.
I also doubt very much that the WWE knew everything that has since come out today. Otherwise, I can't possibly see that they would have gone on with the three hour Benoit tribute show. If that wasn't clear prior to tonight's ECW broadcast, it certainly is so now.
For most of us who heard the initial story, before all of the gruesome details revealed today, our initial reaction was one of shock, and of sympathy for Benoit's family. Hence the piece eulogizing Benoit you read here. I would venture to say this is also what prompted the tribute show by WWE last night.
Listening to the more gruesome details of this story today driving around as part of my "day job" — as they unfolded in hourly reports on my car radio — my initial shock turned to a mostly dumbstruck sense of horror.
I can't possibly fathom what possesses a man to strangle his own wife and 7-year-old son over the course of a weekend, and then take his own life by hanging himself a day later — as Atlanta police believe Benoit did. Until today, Benoit was by all accounts known as a man devoted to both his family and his craft.
What now seems to be clear — at least on the surface — is that there were some unseen cracks in Benoit's image as a devoted family man. I am not going to go into those personal demons here. The respected professional wrestling newsletter Wrestling Observer has been updating this story all day, and you can find all of the latest details there.
One thing we do know, is that Atlanta police are reporting that there were prescription anabolic steroids found at the crime scene. This has led to speculation that Benoit may have killed his family and himself in a fit of what has been called "'roid rage." Whether this is true or not, (and as I said above, we really don't know everything yet), the tragic circumstances of this apparent double murder/suicide should serve as a final wake-up call to the professional wrestling community that steroids are still a very real problem for its athletes.
I use the word "still" because the abuse of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are not something new to this industry. In fact, "the juice" has been wrestling's dirtiest little secret for years now. The mortality rate amongst young wrestling performers who have suffered premature death under what are believed to be steroid related circumstances over the past 15 years or so is staggering.
The names of wrestlers whose deaths are believed to be related to the use of performance enhancing drugs reads almost like a second WWE Hall of Fame. It includes names like Brian Pillman, Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, Road Warrior Hawk, Davey Boy Smith a.k.a. The British Bulldog, Eddie Guerrero, and Bam Bam Bigelow. And now, possibly Chris Benoit and Nancy "Woman" Sullivan.
I hope that Vince McMahon was really as serious as he sounded tonight, when he spoke of the "first steps of a healing process."
If he was, I'd like to respectfully suggest that it start with two things. The first would be to drop the "Vince Is Dead" angle/storyline that was central to WWE television as recently as a week ago. This angle has to be considered beyond tasteless at this point.
And the second would be to mount a serious investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs among his athletes, and to then clean his house by adopting an absolute policy of zero tolerance.
If the tragic events of the last few days don't serve as a wake-up call, I honestly can't imagine what, if anything, ever will.
Rest in peace, Nancy, Daniel, and Chris.