Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why Walk on Eggshells About Chris Benoit?

[cross-posted to the WRESTLING BABYLON Blog,]

BENOIT: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport is, unsurprisingly, a hot-selling book immediately upon release. Among wrestling titles in the U.S., only Chris Jericho’s well-written memoir and the latest WWE spinoff product, with Batista’s name on the cover, are doing better out of the gate. At Amazon Canada – where BENOIT has hovered inside or near the list of 100 bestsellers among all books – only Jericho’s and the long-anticipated blockbuster by Bret Hart are moving more briskly.

Your humble blogger, one of four BENOIT co-authors, thanks Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy, and Greg Oliver for carrying me better than Adrian Adonis covered for Jesse “The Body” Ventura in tag-team matches.

However, I observe that almost everyone – including Steve, Heath, Greg, and our publisher, ECW Press – tiptoes around the subject of our book rather more gingerly than necessary. Inevitably, the first posthumous book on Chris Benoit (as well as, in my biased prediction, what will ultimately go down as one of the best) has taken heat on the grounds of “taste.” But inevitability and legitimacy are not the same thing.

Here’s reviewer Mike Jenkinson on the fine Canadian website SLAM! Wrestling: “I’m leery of ‘rush job’ books that can be accused – rightly or wrongly – of trying to capitalize on sensational tragedies by being the first to market with an explanation of what happened.”

Let’s set aside the point that BENOIT most assuredly does not presume to have “an explanation of what happened.” (My own forthcoming book CHRIS AND NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, which is still in the research stage, will indeed take baby steps toward such an assertion.) I’d like to focus on the qualifier “rightly or wrongly.” I think that’s a weasel phrase, characteristic of a disingenuous argument whose English translation is roughly the following: “I personally am OK with good reporting and good writing on a story millions of people are interested in. But I’m not so sure the rest of the world is ready to handle this.”

Well, blow me down, Gertrude. This is nanny criticism, and it’s time to so label it. Smart wrestling fans, like smart readers, shouldn’t need to clear their throats on an ascent to moral high ground.

(I should note here that the producer of SLAM! Wrestling, BENOIT co-author Oliver, recused himself from editing Jenkinson to avoid the appearance of mutual back-scratching – or what the old Spy magazine used to call “logrolling in our times.”)

ECW Press went to pains before publication to emphasize on its blog how sober and responsible the book was going to be, and designed a sedate, text-dominated cover. (At first I lobbied for something a little more direct; now I like the cover, not so much because it pulls punches but because it looks great and it gives our project crossover cachet.)

Which is all OK to a point. That point, I submit, is where no one will call out this phenomenon for what it is: garden-variety denial. Or its walk-loudly-and-carry-a-tiny-stick backlashers for what they are: pencil-neck geeks.

When Congress stops taking a long-overdue look at the wrestling industry as a result of the Benoit fallout … when the feds wrap up their prosecution of Phil Astin, the prescription-happy doctor for Benoit and many other wrestlers … when all the tangential, multimillion-dollar litigation has run its course … when the name “Christopher Michael Benoit” has exhausted all currency or historical import … well, that’s when I’ll begin apologizing for BENOIT and for CHRIS AND NANCY.

Until then, I’d like to ask those of you out there with different viewpoints a few questions.

· WWE promulgated the most tasteless angles imaginable to exploit the death of Benoit’s good friend Eddie Guerrero. Did Chris respond by either quitting or signing his paychecks over to charity?

· Raw aired a tribute show on Benoit at a moment when, we now know, those in charge already realized that the family tragedy was in fact a murder-suicide. Did viewers subsequently punish WWE or the USA cable network by switching their allegiance to Gossip Girl?

· Eventually WWE will resume marketing Benoit DVD’s, for time heals and there’s money to be made off them. Will the weasels organize a boycott? Or will they say that, “rightly or wrongly,” some people think it’s a bad idea (and of course be sure to acquire their own copies)?

Upon hearing that he had been elected to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson told Dave Meltzer, “I believe all the wrestlers and people who are in and close to the business all know how much I love the business, and realize that there was [sic] no more challenges or possibilities to grow. I should preface, the intelligent people understand that. The goofs, not so much.”

My sentiments exactly. With or without everyone else’s permission, I think I’ll just continue to commit journalism.

Irv Muchnick

Friday, October 19, 2007

WWE Lawyer McDevitt 'Not Going to Dignify the Crap' About Chris Benoit's Concussions

[cross-posted to the WRESTLING BABYLON Blog,]

An extraordinary article in the Canadian magazine Macleans, "The Concussion Time Bomb," discusses in depth the possibility, recently raised by Chris Benoit's father Michael and former wrestler Chris Nowinski's Sports Legacy Institute, that mental impairment caused by brain trauma might be a cause of Chris Benoit's homicidal and suicidal rampage in June. The story can be viewed at

What is most extraordinary about the Macleans piece is not the concussion research itself (which is formidable and, at a minimum, interesting), but writer Steve Maich's ability to do something that few have accomplished: he made World Wrestling Entertainment lawyer Jerry McDevitt, ordinarily the smoothest of spin doctors, lose it.

McDevitt, a partner in the Pittsburgh law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, tells Macleans that until the Nowinski group reveals more about the science behind the postmortem examination of Benoit's brain, "we're not going to dignify the crap they're peddling." This is a bit of a departure -- one with tones of exasperation -- from the statement WWE issued after ABC's Nightline broke the story of Michael Benoit's close consideration of the multiple-concussion-syndrome explanation for his son's behavior.

McDevitt goes on to say in Macleans that "[t]he entire notion that the WWE could be sued because Chris Benoit garrotted his wife and killed his son is absurd in the extreme, legally and factually, whether he had concussions or whether he didn't. People get concussions every day in sports, and nobody goes out and kills their wife and child. It's no excuse for murder. Give me a break. Everybody knows it's not a side effect of concussions that you commit murder, for Christ's sake."

The word from inside Titan Tower in Stamford, Connecticut, since the day after the Benoit murder-suicide, WWE has been groping for PR angles that would make Chris Benoit come off as more sympathetic. (The sloppily exploited revelation that his son Dan had Fragile X Syndrome was one early example.) The reason is that the company, which has removed Benoit from DVD's and other merchandise lines because of image concerns, would like to resume exploiting his impressive archive of classic wrestling matches.

But the latest McDevitt remarks indicate that WWE is now less concerned about that and more concerned about defending a possible lawsuit by Michael Benoit.

Co-Author Muchnick Discusses 'BENOIT' in Radio Interview

[cross-posted to the WRESTLING BABYLON Blog,]

Irvin Muchnick, one of the authors of BENOIT: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport, discusses the Chris Benoit double-murder-suicide, and the prospect of Congressional investigations of the pro wrestling industry’s pandemic of drugs and death, in an interview this morning on WOC Talkradio 1420 AM in Davenport, Iowa.

BENOIT – co-authored with Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy, and Greg Oliver, and published by ECW Press — is high on the list of “hot new releases” of all sports books at It is also climbing the overall bestseller list at

The audio of Muchnick’s interview with WOC morning show host Jim Albracht can be accessed at