It seems fitting that she was known simply as “Woman.” She was smart, she was funny, she was successful, and she was beautiful. Yet Nancy Benoit died simply because she was a woman.
That’s not shocking, really. It happens to approximately 1,200 women per year. Many times children, like Nancy’s seven-year-old son, are also killed. Frequently the killer kills himself afterward, so that should not shock us, either.
It is the fans that are shocking. In thousands of posts on dozens of sites, Chris Benoit fans are creating all sorts of conspiracy theories and excuses to justify or explain away the tragic murders he committed before hanging himself.
Some wrestling fans blame Nancy: “She’s not so innocent.” (Seeing as how she was hand-cuffed and strangled a day before her son was suffocated and two days before Chris Benoit’s hanging, she sounds fairly innocent to me.) “Maybe she cheated on him,” dozens of fans suggest, as if murder is a reasonable response to infidelity. Interestingly, no one suggests that he may have been cheating on her, or the more obvious conclusion, that he was an abusive megalomaniac with a lust for violence.
Imagine the outrage if a professional wrestler broke into a home here in north Georgia and slaughtered a woman and child. We would condemn the murderer and demand change in the industry. But our society still views women as belonging to their husbands, and children as belonging to their parents. Thus Benoit fans talk about the “mistakes” he made with his “own” family. They mourn the three victims as if they were hit by a meteor or died together in a car crash. They talk about them playing together in the afterlife. They write “Rest in peace, Chris Benoit.”
Most disturbing are the attempts by fans and wrestling promoters alike to eulogize Chris Benoit as a hero and a really good man. Good men don’t kill people. They certainly don’t kill women and children. Many fans feel they knew Benoit from his TV or ring appearances and claim the Canadian Crippler “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Chillingly, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) responded to the killings by airing a 3-hour tribute to the dead wrestler. After the public found out that Benoit himself was the killer, WWE vowed not to talk about Benoit again. It is telling that no tribute is planned for his victim Nancy Benoit, who was also a WWE star known as Woman or Fallen Angel.
The excuses offered for the murderer’s behavior are myriad. Some blame “roid rage.” Federal agents raided his doctor’s office and made over a dozen arrests, as if steroid use had suddenly come to light. It hardly takes a toxicologist to recognize that these entertainers are using anabolic steroids and have been for many years. As terrible as steroid use is, it does not explain a man handcuffing and strangling his wife one day, smothering his son the next day, and on the third day taking the coward’s retreat by hanging himself.
Here’s another item steroids cannot explain: the accolades offered by fellow wrestlers. For example, Stone Cold Steve Austin declared after learning of the deaths that he had nothing but respect for Chris Benoit.
Perhaps Austin’s ex-wife Debra Williams can explain it. “The domestic and drug abuse is out of hand in the WWE,” she said in a recent interview with Fox 31 news. According to Fox, Debra and Nancy led similar lives. Both went to the police seeking protection from their own husbands. Both lived in fear and both filed for divorce after repeated attacks. In Debra William’s case, Austin coerced her to write a letter to the authorities stating that the complaint was a mistake. Austin was put on probation for one year, and Debra was placed under a court gag order that prevented her from going public about the drugs, alcohol and domestic abuse so prevalent in the world of wresting. Nancy also withdrew her complaint, and remained with her abuser until he killed her on Friday, June 22nd.
“Why do they stay?” misinformed people ask, implying that battered women can just leave if they do not like being abused. It is a misguided question, which can be answered in three words: They don’t stay. Half of all marriages end in divorce, after all. The number of women who intentionally stay with abusive men for the rest of their lives is a fairly small number.
Leaving an abuser is not easy -- particularly when a woman faces losing her children, her home, her financial stability, and quite possibly her life. Every week the news is filled with stories of men who would rather kill their wives than watch them walk out the door. In fact, the majority of spouse murders take place during separation and divorce. Some men take “till death do us part” to a whole new level. Each year, more Americans die at the hands of husbands or boyfriends than fighting in Iraq.
Wrestling fans are accustomed to suspending belief when a steroid-enhanced maniac lands an elbow on the slick, shiny abdomen of another wrestler. Apparently they are equally willing to suspend belief when the facts (Chris Benoit is a murderer who doesn’t deserve a tribute) diverge from their altered reality (Chris Benoit is a saint, a hero, and a good man.)
WWE producers surely see reality. They know that their actors are not gods. They know that they are strung out on booze and steroids. Rather than condemning steroid use among athletes, the WWE has maintained that steroids could not possibly be responsible.
They know that domestic violence is rampant among their ranks. The slaying of Nancy Benoit presented an excellent opportunity to mourn her passing and highlight the problem of domestic violence in America. Imagine the impact! Wrestling fans could have been presented with warning signs, help-lines, and prevention guidelines. WWE bypassed an unprecedented opportunity to save women’s lives by talking about what one man did to one Woman. Instead, they glorified the monster.
-- Jeannie Babb Taylor