WWE and USA Wrestle With Fallout From Chris Benoit Case
By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, June 27, 2007; C07
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon issued a non-apology last night for his organization’s three-hour tribute to pro wrestler Chris Benoit that aired Monday night on the USA Network. USA itself had no comment on having telecast a three-hour tribute to a man who, according to authorities, over the weekend bound and strangled his wife, suffocated his 7-year-old son and placed Bibles next to their bodies before hanging himself with a weight-machine pulley several hours and possibly as long as a day later.
The bodies of the longtime WWE wrestler, his wife and their son were found in their Fayetteville, Ga., home Monday afternoon and reports said police were treating it as a double murder and suicide.
On its Web site, World Wrestling Entertainment said it had asked authorities to check on Benoit and his family after being alerted by friends who received “several curious text messages sent by Benoit early Sunday morning.”
But WWE and USA Network officials also were reported as saying they were not aware of the circumstances when the tribute was put together to air in place of the scheduled live “Monday Night Raw” program — an “investigation” into the faux death of McMahon. (In the scripted story line, McMahon had been “blown up” in a bomb explosion in a stretch limo.)
Last night, at the top of “Extreme Championship Wrestling” on Sci Fi Channel, which, like USA, is owned by NBC Universal, McMahon mentioned the previous night’s tribute show.
“However, some 26 hours later,” he said, “facts of this horrible tragedy are now apparent. Therefore, other than my comments there will be no mention of Mr. Benoit’s name tonight. On the contrary, tonight’s show will be dedicated to everyone who has been affected by this terrible incident. This evening marks the first step of the healing process.
“Tonight WWE performers will do what they do better than anyone else in the world — entertain you.”
A spokeswoman for USA said the network had no comment about the fact it had run the Benoit tribute, explaining, “Really, they [WWE] know more than we do — it’s all coming out of their camp.”
Late yesterday, WWE’s home page posted an article saying the organization was concerned by “sensationalistic” reporting on the Benoit story, specifically that use of steroids might have contributed to his actions.
In a televised news conference yesterday afternoon, authorities said that in addition to prescription drugs they found anabolic steroids in the house. The bodybuilding drugs can cause paranoia, depression and explosive behavior that is sometimes called “roid rage,” the Associated Press reported.
During the news conference, District Attorney Scott Ballard told reporters that toxicology test results may not be available for weeks or possibly months. Asked whether steroids played a role in the deaths, he said, “We don’t know yet. That’s one of the things we’ll be looking at.”
WWE was already spinning that angle yesterday afternoon, insisting “roid rage” could not have been involved because the “physical findings announced by authorities indicate deliberation, not rage. The wife’s feet and hands were bound and she was asphyxiated, not beaten to death. By the account of the authorities, there were substantial periods of time between the death of the wife and the death of the son, again suggesting deliberate thought, not rage. The presence of a Bible by each is also not an act of rage.”
According to authorities, Benoit killed his wife Friday, his son late Saturday or early Sunday and himself some time later; his body was found hanging from the pulley of a piece of gym equipment. Ballard said it was “bizarre” that Benoit spread out the killings over a weekend.
“I’m baffled about why anybody would kill a 7-year-old,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to wrap our head around that.”