There’s no separating the art form of professional wrestling from out-of-ring actions for Chris Benoit. And I can’t believe I have to type that preceding sentence because it’s so obvious. Whatever goodwill his sports entertainment from Japan, WCW and WWE did for fans of the squared circle was immediately and permanently negated because of murdering his wife Nancy and 7-year-old son Daniel. That’s like calling Aaron Hernandez solely a good football player or O.J. Simpson a good actor because of his work in the Naked Gun trilogy.
Benoit’s name grossly entered the lexicon again last week, with the 15th anniversary of the double murder-suicide occurring last month, when pro wrestler Jordynne Grace, the current Impact Knockouts World Champion, tweeted this doozy: “I don’t think Benoit could 100% hang with most of the present day best wrestlers. He would not be able to remember matches. Also may he burn in hell, amen (praying hands emoji).” On Monday, Grace posted an apology, calling her tweet irresponsible and unnecessary.
Later in yesterday’s message, Grace stated she reached out privately to people her message hurt including David Benoit — Chris’s oldest son from his first marriage — as well as Chavo Guererro Jr. and Chris Jericho. Grace also started a fundraiser with the Concussion Legacy Foundation, pledging a $5,000 donation with a $20,000 campaign goal. Not among those contacted by Grace was Sandra Toffoloni, Nancy Benoit’s sister, who responded to the apology with a tweet of her own.
Toffoloni and Grace traded a pair of public messages, with the former stating “Please forgive me if I’m not feeling much like my usually extra-gracious self. My hurt is not aimed at you personally, but could I have a moment where I think of myself and my parents first?” Benoit’s name and legacy were quickly scrubbed from WWE history within a week of the murders, where it has stayed for good reason. If you doubt how evil Benoit’s actions were, watch VICE’s Dark Side of the Ring two-part series on him. It’s readily available on Hulu and Discovery+.
Tests done after the murders by the now-Concussion Legacy Foundation found that Benoit’s brain had taken enough damage to where it looked like an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. Other tests revealed he had a severe case of CTE, which wasn’t shocking. One of his signature moves was the flying headbutt, where Benoit would launch himself off the top rope and land with the crown of his skull on a prone opponent. Benoit also wrestled in an era of professional wrestling where steel-chair shots to the head weren’t outright discouraged and nearly outlawed.
“It was a tough time. The best part about that story is that the wrestling industry responded,” Chris Nowinski told Deadspin in a recent interview. Nowinski is a former WWE wrestler and the CEO and co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “Initially, it was a shock. But then WWE called me up and said ‘Come train our guys. Teach them what CTE is.’ They’ve made dramatic changes,” he added. “And so that’s actually a happy ending to a very tragic situation. We don’t have that same change happening in football.”
Nowinski’s focus is primarily on showing the dangers of the current football process, from Pop Warner to the NFL, and how the sport should be tweaked to limit concussions and early-onset CTE. A few of the changes he mentioned include the limited use of headbutts and pile drivers from wrestlers, as well as steel-chair shots to the head.
Somehow Benoit’s name being evoked — he’s basically wrestling’s equivalent of Lord Voldemort — brings from a deep corner of the internet talk of whether he’s WWE Hall of Fame worthy. That’s fuckin’ gross. First, the WWE Hall of Fame doesn’t have an actual location, maybe other than inside Vince McMahon’s mind. There’s no building to commemorate the inductees in Stamford, Conn., where WWE’s headquarters is located, or anywhere. The real Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum in Wichita Falls, Texas, hasn’t honored him. The International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Albany, New York hasn’t either. And it needs to stay that way.
Who should be considered for induction into every wrestling hall of fame? Nancy Benoit, who people forget had a 13-year professional wrestling career as a manager/valet and is unfairly best remembered for being a victim of her husband’s rage. Benoit’s tragedy usually focuses on what brought him to such a dark place and the horrible legacy he left behind, not the victims. I believe Grace has done a good amount of damage control here. The best kind of atonement there is should be thinking before sending a tweet, especially with the near-quarter-of-a-million followers you have, where you make insensitive comments. Grace shouldn’t be vilified forever for this. But it takes a rare case to fuck up that bad.
Professional wrestling veered down a new path for eternity after the Benoit incident. For good reason, you’ll never hear the nickname Rabid Wolverine uttered at a pro wrestling show again (except when Pat McAfee accidentally said it in April, though he wasn’t referring to Benoit). There’s no shot Benoit will ever be a Hall of Famer because you can’t disconnect from reality. Any other point to be made about him, besides realizing how despicable his actions were at the end of June 2007, is moot.