World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasaChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

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A.J. Lee as Divas Champion.

After years of viewing the Divas (women’s wrestlers) matches as bathroom break time, it seems the time for women wrestlers to be cast in roles other than “eye-candy, crazy-person, or reality television shill” has finally come if recent social media campaigns are any indications.

Last week, the hashtag #GiveDivasaChance began trending, and some NXT (WWE’s developmental brand, with a weekly show airing on the online subscription service, the WWE Network) Divas were involved in a #LikeaGirl advertisement for the SuperBowl. This movement isn’t without its detractors, as NXT announcer Corey Graves took to Twitter to assert that the Divas don’t need a hashtag to make their own opportunities: yeah, ’cause that’s worked so well for them up to now.

This debate has emerged in the wake of WWE COO Triple H’s (real name: Paul Levesque) comments about the future of women’s wrestling on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s live podcast, broadcast on the WWE Network, a month ago. When asked about the trajectory of WWE moving forward, Levesque said, “I would like to see the women get more time and more dedication. We have a large fan base of women that watch and I think [the WWE Divas] are inspirational.” While it wasn’t until the last two minutes of the hour-long podcast that Levesque made reference to WWE’s female performers (instead calling the wrestlers “the guys” throughout the rest of the interview), it’s interesting that he thinks they should be given a higher priority in WWE when he’s arguably one of the only people who can make that happen.

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Chyna as Intercontinental Champion, the first and only woman to ever hold that title.

Austin also asked Levesque if he thought Chyna—a pioneer in the world of wrestling, both women’s and otherwise—would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. (Again, that’s a decision Levesque would have a lot of sway over.) Despite Chyna’s (real name: Joanie Laurer) status as Levesque’s ex-girlfriend, she’s also found a post-wrestling career in porn, which severely limits the likelihood of her induction. Levesque said:

“I’ve got an eight-year-old kid and my eight-year-old kid sees the Hall of Fame and my eight-year-old kid goes on the internet to look at, you know, ‘there’s Chyna, I’ve never heard of her. I’m eight years old, I’ve never heard of her, so I go put that in, and I punch it up,’ and what comes up? And I’m not criticising anybody, I’m not criticising lifestyle choices. Everybody has their reasons and I don’t know what they were and I don’t care to know. It’s not a morality thing or anything else. It’s just the fact of what it is. And that’s a difficult choice. The Hall of Fame is a funny thing in that it is not as simple as, this guy had a really good career, a legendary career, he should go in the Hall of Fame. Yeah… but we can’t because of this reason. We can’t because of this legal instance.”

Surely a nod to Chris Benoit’s double murder-suicide of 2007 there, but is porn really the equivalent of massacring your whole family? In addition to having abuse allegations made against him by Laurer, which Levesque denied, he is a also good friend of Laurer’s ex-partner and co-star in that porn video who also allegedly physically abused her, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman. While not a Hall of Fame inductee yet, he’s a member of the infamous Kliq, including Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall, the latter of which was inducted last year.

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All of these men—from left, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, Kevin Nash, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Scott Hall—have been accused of or arrested for domestic abuse.

Furthermore, while Benoit may never be inducted, and rightly so, it’s not like the WWE flat out prohibits the induction of violent criminals: Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka is under suspicion for the accidental death of a woman he beat unconscious in a hotel room in 1983. While never charged, that investigation was reopened last year. Other criminals in the WWE Hall of Fame include convicted rapist Mike Tyson in the celebrity wing, the aforementioned Scott Hall, who has been arrested numerous times for domestic violence as well as the 1983 murder of a man in a bar, and the host of the very podcast in which Levesque made the comments that inspired this article, Stone Cold Steve Austin, a serial domestic abuser.

Recently, the WWE added a domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault clause to their wellness policy, stating that “upon arrest for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately suspended. Upon conviction for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately terminated.” In the wake of other sporting codes’ embarrassingly lax attitude to domestic violence and crimes of a similar nature, this is a step in the right direction for WWE. The host of wrestlers who are or have been under contract to WWE with similar charges brought against them prior to this stipulation must be thankful for a time when they were swept under the rug.

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Triple H (Paul Levesque) with, from top, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Mike Tyson, who’ve both served time for assaulting women.

To Levesque’s point, it’s easy enough to find out any of this information with a Google search. In the wake of the podcast, the first page of Google results yields nothing about Laurer’s adults-only post-WWE career. (Granted, you’d have to prefix Tyson, Austin et al.’s names with their respective crimes for those results to appear first.) If Levesque is as close to Hall, Waltman, Austin, Tyson (he and Shawn Michaels, as D-Generation X, inducted him into the Hall of Fame) and even Floyd “Money” Mayweather, who is also a serial woman abuser who was recently denied entry to Australia because of this, surely his children have met them. Why, then, is it so hard to talk to your children about Laurer’s choice when you associate with convicted criminals? Presuming Levesque and his wife, WWE’s Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie McMahon Levesque, have told them about the substance abuse problems Hall’s had of recent, they can talk to them about the travails of what you can find online. In this day and age, it’s never too soon to start.

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Some of the cast of E! reality show, Total Divas.

It wasn’t so long ago that WWE unapologetically traded on the sexualities of its female performers such as Sable, Stacy Keibler and Laurer herself. Total Divas, the E! reality show charting the lives of eight WWE Divas, could arguably be said to be doing the same thing. And there’s nothing wrong with a woman using her body to her benefit if it’s consensual and she gains pleasure from it. What Levesque is saying, whether consciously or no, is that using women’s sexualities to sell a product is fine, as with the WWE’s mid-to-late 2000’s trend of Divas posing for Playboy, but getting pleasure (presuming porn was pleasurable for Laurer) from them is a no-no.

In addition, this promotion of legitimately dangerous and criminal men over women such as Laurer (it should also be noted that Laurer’s been charged with domestic violence against Waltman) indicates that despite Levesque’s lip service, the WWE prioritises bad men gone by over its current female roster. WWE may profit from the Divas’ physicality, but it’s dropped the ball when it comes to protecting them physically. For example, Debra Marshall (then Williams) was under contract to WWE when her partner Steve Austin, also under WWE contract, beat her. Debra was never again to be seen on WWE programming while Austin is still lauded as one of the greatest performers of all time.

So to #GiveDivasaChance may finally indicate a change in consciousness coming from wrestling fans but comments from within the company such as Graves’ and Levesque’s show that insider perceptions of women in wrestling still have a long way to go, baby.

Related: Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Pop Culture as a Feminist.

Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [Bitch Flicks] The Choice to be a Total Diva.

[Bitch Flicks] Body Image on Total Divas.

[The Work of Wrestling] The Women Warriors of NXT.

[Pyro & Ballyhoo] Full Joanie “Chyna” Laurer Shoot Interview.

[E! Online] WWE Star Kevin Nash & Son, 18, Arrested for Domestic Violence After Fight at Home.

[The Morning Caller] Grand Jury to Review Death of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Girlfriend.

[Fox Sports] Ramon Charged with Domestic Violence.

[The Smoking Gun] Stone Cold Steve Austin Roughs Up Girlfriend.

[WWE] Talent Programs & Policies.

[Deadspin] The Trouble with Floyd Mayweather.

[Herald Sun] Floyd Mayweather’s Visa Application Rejected by Australian Authorities.

Images via The Outhouses, Jobu’s Rum, Shitloads of Wrestling, Zimbio, Sabrina Brand, Pro Wrestling.

Wrestling with Obsession.

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This post originally appeared on Writers Bloc as part of their February series on obsession. Republished with permission.

Many women who watch wrestling are introduced to it by fathers, brothers and other male family members.

My initiation to the sport(’s entertainment) came at 13 when a high school friend invited me over one night after school to watch VHS tapes of World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation) her neighbour had made for her, and I thought, “Why not?” As I continued to receive the tapes from her weeks after the episodes had aired I realised Foxtel could sate my increasing appetite for in-ring action merely a day after the WWE’s flagship shows, Raw and SmackDown!, played in the US. As my friend’s interest in wrestling waned and mine continued to grow, I soon became known as my class’s biggest wrestling fan.

At first, my parents would try to wean me off the product, convinced it was a phase along with the nu/rap metal of Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit I had started to blast in my bedroom with the door slammed shut (it was 2001, okay?). My mum made me change the channel when anything involving “foreign objects” (chairs, ring bells, sledgehammers etc) and intergender matches (women wrestling men) came on but those stipulations soon fell by the wayside like a formal dress from the shoulders of a Diva in an evening gown match. Hey, no one ever accused pro wrestling of being a bastion of gender equality. (On the other hand, the most recent live wrestling event I attended combined the two aspects of wrestling my parents feared the most: hardcore and women, with local women’s wrestler Vixsin coming away bloodied from being battered with barbed wire and thumbtacks, proving that women can wrestle just as hard as men.)

A year later my parents submitted to being dragged to Melbourne from country Victoria for the WWE’s first Australian tour in 20 years, 2002’s Global Warning. It was at that tour’s fan convention that I met my first wrestlers—Brock Lesnar (the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion), Randy Orton (boy, do I have a story to tell about that one!), and Batista, who wrestling laypeople might also know as Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy.

I would go on to meet many more, waste copious amounts of money on now-useless VHS tapes to record every episode of Raw and SmackDown! for about six years, and become a walking contradiction of wrestling fandom meets feminism, which I’ve written more about here.

When I moved to Melbourne five years ago, I couldn’t afford cable TV as a single girl trying to make it in the big wide world, so I fell out of touch with the machinations of the wrestling one. It wasn’t until I reconnected with a family friend at a wedding in 2013 that wrestling became a part of my life again.

I was first introduced to this friend years before when my 92-year-old grandmother was in hospital convalescing after a hip injury and we bonded over wrestling. He brought along his new baby and his American wife, who happened to be the cousin of a guy named Nick Nemeth better known to wrestling fans as former World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler.

At the wedding, my friend informed me that he was bringing out a slew of my favourite wrestlers that week for a mockumentary he was making and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. While as a young girl I entertained notions of movie stardom, I was reluctant to appear on camera. In the end, I figured it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

That’s how I became involved with my friend’s other brainchild, Outback Championship Wrestling, Australia’s premiere sports entertainment company based in Melbourne and airing its second season locally on Channel 31 from March. Again, being on camera is still not something I’m comfortable with, but somehow I agreed to be the host of the show.

As a teenager obsessed with wrestling I dreamed of working in the WWE. Not as a wrestler, or even an on-screen personality—though I wouldn’t mind Renee Young’s job—but in more of a backstage capacity. Writing storylines, perhaps, or as a reporter for their website or magazines. Fast-forward to 13 years later and it’s still inconceivable to me that I actually get to do these things as a part of OCW.

When most people find out about my dirty little (not-so-)secret, they find it hard to wrap their head around the apparent contradiction of a stereotypically feminine woman and a feminist (not to mention the cognitive dissonance of that pairing if popular opinion is any indication) having a passion for wrestling. Then they ask me why I love it. Is it the violence? The “body guys“? The soap operatics? Disappointingly, I myself can’t even pinpoint the source of this obsession. It may be about holding on to coming-of-age nostalgia. Or a love of the game I imagine fans of other sports have (wrestling is the only “competition” in which I indulge). It could be an utter ’Mania only paralleled by Star Wars and Doctor Who cosplayers.

They also ask me if I know wrestling is “fake” which is like asking a Breaking Bad fan whether Walter White’s just a character.

Being a part of the inner workings of Outback Championship Wrestling is probably similar to working on any other scripted production. A good analogy is that wrestling is like theatre with fighting. It also gives me a newfound respect for the men and women who put their bodies on the line every week in a capacity that’s anything but fake.

Related: My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [TheVine] Can a Feminist Love Pro Wrestling?

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

The Dolly model search is back and seeking 13-year-old girls for their looks. Oh, and, like, a great personality and stuff. [MamaMia]

We need more men like THIS, who speak out about the blatant turning of blind eyes to violent and entitled footballers. [MamaMia]

Gloria Steinem urges voters to re-elect Obama, as he’s the only candidate who really cares about actual women’s rights. [Jezebel]

Rick Santorum used to work for the WWE?! Yikes! [Mother Jones]

Bristol Palin writes about President Obama and Sandra Fluke. I hate to say this about a Palin, but she makes a good point… [Bristol’s Blog]

Forced pre-abortion transvaginal ultrasounds, from a doctor’s perspective. [Jezebel, via Whatever]

Following on from last week’s article by Gala Darling on feminism and high heels, Jenna Sauers voices her own concerns on our sartorial choices dictating our political stances. [Jezebel]

On lady writers profiling “tall, brooding famous men with lots of money” for men’s magazines. [Gawker]

Jess McGuire on Jackie O’s Sunday Life profile. [The Vine]

The beauty politics of Snog, Marry, Avoid. [MamaMia]

What it’s like to be an executioner. [MamaMia]

Image via Perth Now.

September 11, 10 Years On.

 

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 YEARS since two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre, the enduring image of the Twin Towers collapsing burned into our memories. Not to forget the additional two planes which crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

I was 13 at the time of the attacks. I’ve grown up in the “age of terror”, where conspiracy theories, airport security, racism and top-television-moments countdowns are influenced by the event.

At the time, I couldn’t really care less. I was a teenager, consumed with adolescent angst and lost interest about five minutes after I first saw the shocking footage on TV. A testament to the desensitivity and limited attention span of my generation, I suppose.

We weren’t allowed morning television in our house at the time, so I’m pretty sure my parents were none the wiser as to the attacks the following day. My mum was telling me something about some environmental issue in California (a Google search for news results around that time produced little enlightenment).

I got on the school bus and someone said, “Did you hear what happened in America?” I was like, “yeah, totes, something environmental in California”, or something to that effect (and yes, I know “totes” wasn’t a word then. Some would say it isn’t even a word now.). I was received by puzzled looks.

That’s really all I remember from that time. Oh, that and the thing that consumed my life at that time, World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation), was the first live televised event after the attacks. WWE SmackDown! was originally scheduled to be taped the night of September 11, however was postponed til the 13th, and was seen as somewhat of a patriotic (ST)FU to the terrorists. Below is a tear jerking clip from the opening scene of the show.

The following year, however, I was fully immersed in my love for the USA, and considered donning full Uncle Sam garb to school that day! Since September 11, I’d been known to bust out an American flag item of clothing here and there, and even had one made for my birthday that year.

Again, it’s just so hard to believe it’s been 10 years since then. In some ways, we’ve come so far, but in others (the fact that 20% of Americans believe, wrongfully, that Barack Obama is a Muslim, the violent disapproval of a mosque being built near the Ground Zero monument, the niggling feeling we get when we see Muslims at airports)… not so much.

Where were you on September 11, 2001, and what do you think has changed since then?

Below, some links published in tribute to the almost 3,000 people who died on that fateful day 10 years ago.

Elsewhere: [Washington Post] Poll Shows More Americans Think Obama is a Muslim.

[New York Magazine] The Encyclopedia of 9/11.

[New York Magazine] Day’s End.

[Time Magazine] Timeline.

[The New Yorkers] Video: The Skyline Redrawn.

Image via Yahoo News.

Movie Review: Green Lantern*.

 

When I met my brand new roommate Eddie about a year ago, we bonded over Green Lantern, amongst other things.

I’m not a huge fan of the comic book series, other than the fact that Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively are in the big screen adaptation, released last Thursday in Australia to the similar lacklustre reviews it received in the States. My only exposure to the superhero before I met Eddie was that he was professional wrestler Gregory “The Hurricane” Helms’ favourite superhero, revealed by his Green Lantern symbol tattoo and the t-shirt he gave Stone Cold Steve Austin during his “appreciation night” storyline back in 2001.

Even though I wasn’t super keen on the latest version, especially after seeing the previews (why must every movie be about aliens?! Super 8, Thor, Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens… Perhaps some fodder for a potential blog post…?), we’d bonded over it.

Going into films with low expectations usually winds up with me enjoying it much more than I thought I would, and this was true with Green Lantern.

As the comic book nerd to rule all comic book nerds, Eddie pointed out some holes in the plotline and amalgamations made especially for the movie that don’t exist in the comics, like Reynolds’ Hal Jordan’s nemesis Hector Hammond being able to read minds by physical contact after contracting the powers of Paralax.

As a non-comic book nerd, I thought some parts of the movie weren’t resolved, like Jordan getting beat up in a parking lot behind a bar he was having drinks with Lively’s Carol Ferris at, but nothing coming of it (Carol coming to his rescue, the cops arriving, any arrests being made) apart from being the catalyst for Hal to use his willpower, the energy that the Green Lantern Corps use to fight space crime and whatnot.

I was initially excited about Lively’s role in the film, but she’s as boringly saccharine in this as she is in Gossip Girl. The only part of the movie where I see a glimmer of potential in her acting abilities is when she is approached by Hal, in his Green Lantern costume, and exclaims, “You think I wouldn’t recognise you because I can’t see your cheekbones?!” It was both funny (perhaps the funniest part of the movie, which isn’t saying much) and the closest Lively’s ever going to get to an Oscar nomination any time soon.

Considering Green Lantern was one of the most anticipated premieres of the year, it failed to live up to the hype. Not only was its release date almost two months behind the U.S., which is unheard of these days, Reynolds was supposed to attend the Melbourne and Sydney premieres, but pulled out at the last minute. (We were going to stalk him at Jam Factory!)

A sequel has been greenlit (get it?), which is promising, as the Green Lantern saga has a lot more to offer. Three more human Lanterns, a black Superhero, a heel turn (sorry, wrestling speak; good guy turns into a bad guy) from one of the main characters, the scene that sparked the Women in Refrigerators feminist movement. Let’s hope the second instalment brings some of this to the table.

*It has come to my attention that I give away too much in my movie reviews, so the asterisk will now serve as a blanket *spoiler alert* from now on.

Related: Super 8 Review.

Thor Review.

The Problem with Serena van der Woodsen.

Elsewhere: [Women in Refrigerators] Homepage.

Image via IMDb.

Chris Benoit Double Murder–Suicide: Four Years On.

A few months ago, I blogged about the disgrace of Charlie Sheen and John Galliano, and how Two & a Half Men  and Christian Dior were right to fire the men and disassociate their brands from them.

In that post, I also wrote about professional wrestler Chris Benoit who, four years ago today, committed a double murder–suicide, strangling his wife, Nancy, and their 7-year-old son using chokeholds, then killing himself using a weight machine.

At the time, the mainstream media had a field day with the tragedy, especially when it was speculated that steroids and their side-effects—specifically ’roid rage—played a role. Outspoken, right-winged commentators like Nancy Grace and Bill O’Reilly had no shortage of perspectives on the case, and used “expert” witnesses (some credible, like fellow World Wrestling Entertainment stars John Cena, Chris Jericho, and Bret Hart, and some not-so-credible, like former WWE wrestlers Marc Mero and Steve Blackman, who both had axes to grind with the company) and opinions to bolster their arguments that pro-wrestling is nothing but a homoerotic display of extreme violence and degradation of all that is good and right in American culture by a bunch of ’roided-up, “fake” performers.

Books such as Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family & Crippled a Sport  by Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy, Irv Muchnick and Greg Oliver and Matthew Randazzo V’s Ring of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit & the Fall of the Pro Wrestling Industry have examined that case and divided fans on the topic.

When I originally wrote the article below for a university paper, then subsequently re-edited it for a wrestling website, I struggled to reconcile the “family man” and 20-year pro wrestling veteran that fans and co-workers loved, with the monster who orchestrated a horror weekend involving domestic violence and obvious mental illness on Benoit’s part.

I have to admit I’m still biased, and still don’t feel as badly about Benoit as I should and do feel about someone like Charlie Sheen. As I wrote in “Minus Two & a Half Men:

“On the one hand, I felt his legacy as one of the best professional wrestlers ever to grace the squared circle shouldn’t be forgotten, however, Benoit took three lives…, sullied the reputation of professional wrestling and sparked a debate on steroids and drug testing that raged for years; the smoke of which still lingers today…

“Benoit was obviously seriously mentally ill; the (not-so-) funny thing is, his friends, family and co-workers never picked up on it.”

So, without further ado, here is a version of the article I mentioned above, originally written in 2008, with regular edits thereafter. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Over the weekend of 23rd and 24th June, 2007, the world of professional wrestling was rocked by the double murder-suicide involving World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar Chris Benoit, his wife and seven-year-old son.

Benoit was scheduled to appear at a WWE pay-per-view on the night of Sunday, 24th June, but had to return home abruptly a few days earlier, claiming that his wife, Nancy, and son, Daniel, had food poisoning. Suspicions arose when Benoit sent five odd text messages to co-workers and friends, repeatedly stating his “physical address”, which door to his suburban home was unlocked, and where his dogs were tied up. When repeated phone calls from the WWE went unanswered, and inquiries into local hospitals in the Atlanta, Georgia, area proved fruitless, WWE contacted authorities, who had a neighbour search the home, finding the bodies of Nancy, 43, and Daniel, 7. The body of Benoit, 40, was found hanging from a weight machine in his home gym.

At first it was thought the gruesome body count was the result of a triple-murder, and WWE ran a special three-hour tribute edition of their flagship show Raw, dedicated to the memory of Benoit. However, about 26 hours later news broke that it was actually Benoit who killed his family and himself. All mentions of his name were banned from WWE programming, and repeats of the tribute show were cancelled in international markets.

Doug Frattallone, a television producer, reporter and anchor, and author of the “Professor Wrestling” column on The Pittsburgh Channel website, says, “If there’s police tape around the home of one of your employees—and your employee and his family is inside, deceased—that might be a signal that there’s foul play. It’s certainly not the time to immortalise someone [with a tribute show]”.

The media, particularly in the US, had a field day with this story as more aspects of the crime came to light. Bad press has surrounded sports entertainment pretty much since its inception, and has only increased as the juggernaut that is WWE becomes more popular on a global scale. For example, when the Chris Benoit tragedy was revealed, US news programs, such as FOX’s controversial OReily Factor, were quick to point out that four prominent professional wrestlers had died since the book Wrestling Babylon by Irv Muchnick was published in 2007, adding to the industry’s negative profile. In the tome, Muchnick reveals 2002 and 2006 studies that focused on the premature deaths of 62 power lifters and 3, 850 National Football League (NFL) players respectively, and how the bigger men and men suspected of using steroids died at rates much higher than their non-drug-using counterparts. These findings lend themselves to the theory that Benoit committed his crimes while experiencing “’roid rage”, which I will return to later. But, Muchnick says, little attention has been paid to “the mortality rate of pro wrestlers…” because “…they’re just, you know, wrestlers”, and “are not actual human beings”.

Although not a wrestling fan at the time of Owen Hart’s death, a fatal accident that occurred during a pay-per-view where Hart was involved in an entrance via a cable from the rafters, I can only imagine the bad press generated at that time. And at the end of 2005, Eddie Guerrero, a second-generation wrestler and one of Benoit’s best friends, died of heart failure resulting from heavy drug use earlier in the wrestler’s life. This death didn’t cause as much controversy as Hart’s and Benoit’s (The Los Angeles Times newspaper dedicated almost ninety times as much info on Benoit as it did on Guerrero’s death), however there was some debate over drug use in sports entertainment once the toxicology report was released. WWE have overhauled their Wellness Policy, in which wrestlers are monitored on and penalised for drug use more stringently.

Kevin McElvaney, Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine and WrestleZone.com columnist, shares his thoughts on the Wellness Policy:

“Chris Benoit was obviously either allowed to ‘slip through the cracks’ or somehow circumvent the Wellness Policy through a loophole or with a cheating device… There was a recent change implemented in the Wellness Policy which addresses the possibility of cheating in urine tests. Wrestlers must now lift their shirts and pull their pants down to their knees while giving urine samples, while a representative of the testing team observes. Some people were probably using urine filtration devices to produce clean samples, and it’s possible that Chris Benoit did the same thing… One problem with the… policy—at least as of June 2007—was that doctors notes excused plenty of drug abuses that would otherwise have been punished…”

Fellow WrestleZone.com reporter Keelan Balderson echoes McElvaney’s concerns on the legitimacy of the program:

“…There are a few major loopholes that wouldn’t be allowed in the Olympics, for example… If you have a legitimate doctor’s prescription for a substance… it’s allowed to slide”.

Benoit had a doctor’s prescription, from the corrupt Dr. Philip Astin, who was charged with 175 counts of illegally prescribing drugs to Benoit and others, and has been sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

When reading the many farewell messages on the websites of Benoit’s peers and fellow wrestlers at the time the news broke, it’s clear he and his family’s deaths were hard to fathom. Former WWE Champion and current commentator for the SmackDown! Brand, Booker T, said on Houston, Texas, news program KHOU:

“I feel like the human life is a delicate piece of equipment and everyone has their breaking point. We don’t know what his breaking point was… We’re all human. I just think it was a huge malfunction and whatever it was, we may never know”.

Controversial former WWE Superstar Bret Hart, brother of the late Owen Hart, was interviewed extensively in the wake of the tragedy, saying Benoit was a locker-room leader and never expressed any signs that could have signified the events that occurred. “It knocked you off your feet the second you heard it…”, Hart said, “I can’t imagine Chris killing his son…”. In fact, Hart revealed that as a child, Benoit “reminded me of my own little son…”

Rob Van Dam, a former WWE Superstar who is known for being outspoken, holds Benoit in the highest esteem:

“Chris was truly a role model’s role model. You simply had to respect him and admire his focus and unmatched discipline. If I ever got asked a question about who I looked up to the most in the business… it’s Chris Benoit—in the ring and in the dressing room and with his family”.

However, there are others who view Benoit’s actions as unthinkable. Former WWE Diva Victoria, who chose to vent her feelings on MySpace, said the murder-suicide was “selfish” and “hurtful”, fearing that the high profile of Benoit “glamorises the situation”.

And of course there’s the official statements from WWE and Vince McMahon (whose WWE character and alter-ego “Mr. McMahon” was involved in a murder angle in the weeks leading up to Benoit’s death, which was immediately abolished in light of the tragedy) who appeared on US morning show Today, and his wife and WWE CEO Linda McMahon on Good Morning America. In Vince’s interview, he said that Benoit doesn’t represent what the WWE is about (although when he was alive, many people in the company, wrestling insiders and wrestling fans would say that Benoit was exactly what the WWE was about, or should be about), and that there was “no way of telling that this man was a monster”.

The WWE knows how smart their fans are in terms of knowing what goes on outside the ring, so why not incorporate some of that into the product? Chris Benoit will never be mentioned on or in WWE programming and publications again. However, to my knowledge Benoit has been mentioned twice on WWE programming since his demise [up to May 2008]: once in an onscreen address from Chairman McMahon the night after the Raw tribute show aired, saying that references to their disgraced employee will cease immediately, and during Ric Flair’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech (which has been edited out of the forthcoming WrestleMania XXIV DVD, on which the ceremony is a bonus feature). Due to the sensitive nature of the crimes it’s obvious why they haven’t been used to bolster the product.

Many are wondering what drove Benoit to murder his wife and child and take his own life over the span of three days. (Nancy was killed on Friday 22nd June, Daniel on Saturday 23rd June and finally, Benoit on Sunday 24th June, according to medical reports.) Much speculation revolved around “’roid rage”; violence stemming from the use of steroids. However, the rage usually only occurs for a few minutes after taking the drug, and with the murders taking place over three days, ’roid rage seems unlikely. Balderson says, “…There have been no studies that prove it even exists and on top of this there was method in Benoit’s actions—you can’t kill your wife, son and yourself in one quick burst of rage”. Heath McCoy, writing in Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport, agrees: “… there was much about the incident that indicated deliberation, not rage”. Contributing doctors on the case revealed that withdrawal from steroids does cause bouts of severe depression, fatigue and mood swings, which seems a more likely scenario. But the abundance of steroids found in Benoit’s possession (Dr. Astin provided the wrestler with ten months worth of steroids every few weeks), isn’t evidence to support withdrawals. Though, “to be safe, I think steroids should be treated as the cause of the problem, but so should concussions, mental health, and personal problems,” says McElvaney.

The factors in Benoit’s life mentioned above may have contributed to the tragedy. Benoit suffered a broken neck eleven years ago, and if he was still feeling the effects of the injury, it could have impacted tremendously on his emotional and physical wellbeing. The travelling involved with being a WWE Superstar results in being away from home for long periods of time, which can take a toll on personal relationships. Reports surfaced that Benoit and his wife Nancy fought constantly for the wellbeing of Daniel who, it was alleged, had Fragile X syndrome, a form of inherited developmental delay that can be accompanied by growth problems (Benoit had apparently been injecting his son with Human Growth Hormone [HGH] in an attempt to counteract that) and autism. Benoit may have transferred his paranoia about his own size onto his son. It took the wrestler years to break into the mainstream American market because he was “such a small man”. Bret Hart says when he met Benoit as a teen, he “remembers him looking closer to nine or ten”. Balderson explains:

“I think all smaller wrestlers deep down feel that they need to be bigger to make it [in the WWE] because that’s how Vince [McMahon] likes it… Vince continues to push wrestlers… because of their size [as opposed to actual wrestling talent], so there is an ideology that to make it in this industry you have to be big, or at least ripped for your size.”

Which Benoit was. McElvaney goes on:

“…Chris was self-conscious about his own size and, apparently, insecure about Daniel’s size. The latter is completely unjustifiable, to me. I think the fact that Chris Benoit injected his son with HGH affects my opinion of him far more than the fact that he, himself, used steroids.”

Daniel’s condition had been pretty well concealed, as McMahon, Benoit’s closest friends, and even Nancy’s parents were not aware of it (they deny that their grandson suffered from Fragile X). As stated earlier, grief over the death of friend Eddie Guerrero may have been a contributing factor to the killings, or at least Benoit’s state of mind. Greg Oliver, another author of the book Benoit, was in contact with the wrestler at the time of Guerrero’s death:

“‘… I do not believe that I will ever find someone that I will bond with and be able to understand and be understood as I was with Eddie… My wife Nancy bought me a diary and I have started to write letters to Eddie…’”

Said diary was not found by the authorities.

Also, it surfaced that Nancy filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order against her husband in 2003, signaling that perhaps domestic violence was an occurrence in the marriage. (The divorce petition and restraining order were later dropped.) It had also been speculated that Benoit was to be demoted in the WWE. Just weeks before the tragedy, it was reported on many wrestling news websites (not WWE.com) that the WWE creative team didn’t feel Benoit had a strong enough on-screen persona or microphone skills to be a top Superstar or champion. However, the pay-per-view that Benoit missed the Sunday that he died was the day that he would once again be a World Champion. Chris Jericho weighed in on this at the time on Nancy Grace:

“… He was about to become the ECW Champion… ECW is more with some younger guys that are just learning, and Chris was a great trainer and so well respected, they wanted him to be kind of more of a trainer to some of these younger guys… So to move Chris to ECW, Chris would not see that as a demotion”.

His other stint as World Heavyweight Champion was at WrestleMania 20 in 2004, where Daniel and Nancy came into the ring to celebrate with Benoit. “… A hundred years from now, at WrestleMania 120, they’ll look back and see [that] Chris Benoit made Triple H tap out at Madison Square Garden…”, Benoit has said. No, they won’t. McCoy believes what Benoit did “to drag it [wrestling] down and scandalise it in the eyes of the public would have shamed [Benoit] to the core”.

Once again, WWE’s decision to pull all mentions of Chris Benoit from their product was the socially responsible and ethical thing to do. “Future generations will never know what a great performer he was, and that’s a shame,” says Oliver. “He epitomised what professional wrestling could and should be: hard-hitting, dramatic, serious action between high-calibre, exciting athletes”.

“We can… never forget or forgive these horrible acts… And that overshadows everything else in his life. But you can’t tell the story of pro wrestling without talking about Chris Benoit,” says Jericho.

Much like you can’t tell the story of the history of the world without taking the bad with the good. And, if turning on the nightly news is anything to go by, there’s still a lot of bad.

*

Three years after I wrote this article (with some edits I made just now), my feelings have changed somewhat. But if reading the copious amounts of literature on the subject of Benoit and questionable behaviour in sports entertainment (some of which I’ve mentioned here and, if you have any interest in this topic whatsoever, I advise you pick up. Perhaps I could even lend you a copy ;)), professional wrestling companies aren’t completely innocent in all this. One of the sections I edited out of the piece for publication on The Scarlett Woman was about wrestling legend Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka who, in 1983 after a domestic violence incident, was suspected of murdering his girlfriend. Yet he still appears frequently on WWE television as one of the greatest high-flying wrestlers of all time. I guess it goes to show that domestic violence, drug use and all manner of other crimes are passable in the entertainment industry (sorry to bring his name up again, but Charlie Sheen comes to mind), just as long as you’re not found guilty of murder. Then you’re really done for.

Related: Minus Two & a Half Men.

Elsewhere: [WTAE Pittsburgh’s Channel 4] Homepage.

[WrestleZone] Homepage.

[MySpace] TNA Knockout Tara AKA WWE Victoria (TNA Knockout Tara)’s Page.

Image via Who’s Dated Who.

Breaking the Mould.

A recent post on MamaMia by Rick Morton revealed that although he is a gay man, he has no sense of rhythm and cannot dance. He also liked sports. Anyone who’s seen the stereotypical gay man on Sex & the City, Desperate Housewives or Modern Family knows that gay men always have rhythm and hate sports. Therefore, Morton breaks the stereotype.

The post, entitled “What Stereotype Do You Break?” got me thinking about… erm… what stereotypes I break!

One misconception about me that I struggle with constantly is people thinking I’m dumb because of the way I look, dress, speak and the things I’m interested in. If people looked a little deeper, they would see that yes, I sleep in curlers, dress up to go to and from my workplace, at which I wear a uniform, am in tune with the “OMG” zeitgeist and am partial to a copy of Famous and a gossip session.

But yes, I also have a degree, a blog and a keen interest in secondhand book shopping. I also like to read books I pick up at secondhand bookstores. In fact, reading is my favourite pastime and is like oxygen to me. I love nothing more than bumming around the house in pyjamas and no makeup for days on end preferably. I also like guys who like these things. I am a feminist.

And yes, I have volunteered at the RSPCA scooping up poop for hours on end because I like animals and try to lend a helping hand to charities where I can. I enjoy cleaning, can’t stand listening to private school kids on public transport, and hate people who are entitled and who haven’t had to work for everything they have. I don’t really like shopping and if I’ve committed to more than two social outings per week, I start to get anxious.

I could go on forever about the many ways people prejudge me, and the many ways in which I let them because I don’t like letting people too close.

But the largest stereotype I break is that I’m an educated, girly girl (on the surface) who just happens to be a fan of wrestling. Those who’ve read The Scarlett Woman for an extended amount of time will know that I am partial to my wrestling; preferably World Wrestling Entertainment, but I will settle for TNA or some independent action. I have been to nine live events in Australia, met ten wrestlers, been within a metre of three others, and have scores of old school VHS tapes under my bed.

 

What stereotypes do you break?

Related: So Misunderstood.

Clunes Back to Booktown.

Book Now, Bendigo.

Girls Night In.

Nine Lives.