Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring drummed up a lot of old feelings. Chris Benoit was one of my favorite wrestlers growing up. I still have a Benoit t-shirt that hasn’t seen the light of day since June 25, 2007. I will never wear it again because of the heinous murders committed by Benoit, but can’t bring myself to throw it away. I believe it represents how a lot of us feel about Chris Benoit, conflicted. Benoit deserved to get his legacy erased but wrestling fans didn’t deserve to lose our memories. His fellow wrestlers didn’t deserve to lose great matches. Nancy Benoit didn’t deserve to get her legacy wiped. So is there a moral middle ground? Is it ok to enjoy Chris Benoit matches?
Can we compartmentalize?
Can we separate man from his body of work? I think we can. We do it all the time in other aspects of life. Everyone has a favorite sports team, song, movie, or TV show that has involved some shady characters. The necessity to compartmentalize is almost part of the human condition because of the endless stream of bad news that surrounds us. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean we can lock our feelings away, never to be seen again. We will never enjoy Benoit matches to their fullest extent because of the eventual need to go back to address those feelings.
Can we forgive Chris Benoit?
It seems like there is a willingness by some to partially forgive Benoit because of our growing knowledge of CTE. It is believed that brain injuries may cause disinhibition and make individuals behave emotionally. Although that inconvenient truth may seem like a convenient excuse to most. All wrestlers probably have some degree of CTE and don’t kill anyone. I myself definitely feel terrible because of the unprotected chair shots I loved in the past. I think the Benoit situation has made many wrestling fans reevaluate what they cheer for. I found Nancy’s sister Sandra’s words on forgiveness very inspirational and I encourage you to check it out in the Vice piece. Chris Benoit might not deserve forgiveness, but we definitely deserve to stop carrying around resentment.
Can we enjoy others’ performances in Benoit Matches?
Bill Cosby did some messed-up stuff, but if you don’t watch the Cosby show you’ll miss Phylicia Rashād’s best work. Benoit is similar because missing his matches means missing some of the best of Triple-H, Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guerrero. Benoit’s wife has also been largely erased from history. I believe WWE did the best they could, but the erasing of wrestling history is still a shame. I believe the biggest argument for why we can enjoy these matches is the performances of the others involved. It just seems unfair because it’s not their fault.
In the end, there is no right answer. If you can separate the art from the artist that’s ok and if you’re too disgusted by the tragedy that’s fine too. I’m sure many can comprehend the duality of the situation. I believe it’s ok to enjoy Chris Benoit matches. You just enjoy them differently because your perspective has changed. We can marvel at the technical prowess while no longer glorifying Benoit as a pillar of discipline or glorifying him at all. We can also celebrate the careers of Benoit’s peers without glorifying Benoit. In the end, you’re not condoning murder by watching a wrestling match.
If you believe that you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.