Mushnick On Benoit : Told ‘Ya So!

Posted in "Wife Beater" Is Not A Fashion Statement, Professional Wrestling, Sports Journalism at 9:37 am by

With a Friday morning column that was presumably ready to go since last Tuesday, the New York Post’s resident hater of all-things WWE related, Phil Mushnick would like us to remember the real victims of the Chris Benoit Double Murder/Suicide : crusading journalists whose warnings were ignored.

Look what it has taken for the media to finally begin to report that Vince McMahon has been operating a death mill the past 25 years.

Look what it took for the news media to finally learn and report that McMahon produces a TV show that regularly features physically fit and soon-to-be dead young men.
It didn’t take one death, or even 20, for the media to finally wake up. Hell, pro wrestlers have been steadily dying young since the early 1980s, when McMahon began to rule the industry.

And it didn’t take Monday’s suicide of a McMahon-made star, Chris Benoit. It took three deaths in one weekend in one home; it took Benoit’s murder of his son and wife for modern pro wrestling to finally be stamped with a skull-and-crossbones caution label.
Hell, Brian Pillman died at 35; Louie Spiccoli was 27; Chris Candido was 33. For all the drugs Eddie Guerrero relied on to become one of McMahon’s champs, it was miraculous he made it to 38.

“Ravishing” Rick Rude was 41; “The British Bulldog,” Davey Boy Smith, was 39. Curt Henning, “Mr. Perfect,” died at 44. “Road Warrior Hawk” made it to 45, which can be like 85 in pro-wrestling years.

Given cartoon names, they were real people. They are among the most renowned pro wrestlers who died young – just since 1995. There are dozens more from where they came from, and wound up. None of their deaths made for big, nationwide news.

Monday night, in the midst of a plot in which he was supposed to have been murdered, McMahon knew exactly what to do. He replaced that night’s USA Network show with a Benoit memorial. McMahon’s best ratings have been generated by tribute shows following the sudden, real deaths of his performers. He cashes in on these guys coming and going.

Pro wrestling manufactures death. And the guy who owns and operates the biggest factory, the boss who sets the standards, is Vince McMahon. And, though it took 25 years and the deaths this week of Chris Benoit, his wife and son, the media are finally beginning to notice.

Hoo boy. Phil’s made the same points about Vinnie Mac being a death merchant on a number of occasions. And while there’s some meat to said charges, Mushnick does his readers no favors by his willful selectivity. Nowhere in the above piece does Phil ponder the possibility that Benoit’s state of mind could’ve been affected by anything other than his vocation. Likewise, Phil relies on the ignorance of his editors in citing Louie Spiccoli and as “amongst the most renowned pro wrestlers.”

But the portion of Mushnick’s argument that holds the least water of all is his claim that McMahon cynically used Benoit’s death to cash in last Monday night. Given the WWE only learned of the bodies being found in Fayette a few hours before the broadcast (well, supposedly), it wasn’t as though the promotion had any opportunity to fully exploit the tragedy. Nor did the story hit the wire services or much of the internet until early that evening.

I’m not saying McMahon would pass on a chance for higher ratings. But had he opted to ignore Benoit’s death or just mention it in passing at the top of the broadcast, he’d have been pilloried by Mushnick and the WWE’s fan base alike.

10 Responses to “Mushnick On Benoit : Told ‘Ya So!”

  1. gonzojournalist says:

    Why should Mushnick possibly let a fact interfere? After all, he writes for that bastion of journalistic integrity, The New York ComPost…….

  2. Greg Diener says:

    And did the Crumb Filled Bearded One bother to mention Vinny Mac retracting the apology 24 Hours Later on ECW?

    No that wouldn’t be good for Phil and his soapbox crusade would it?

  3. Don says:

    The discussion at a BBQ this weekend was why is NASCAR pilloried for a few deaths when the WWE gets away with many deaths. I’m not sure that we can both find something twisted in the damaged feet of professional ballerinas and not have the same issues with the abuse of steroids, steroid precursors that become steroids in the body or steroid-like substances that appears at first glance to be prevalent in professional wrestling.

    The studio system was shut down throw via the 1948 Paramount decision:

    Perhaps a similar kind of ruling would allow for more free agents in wrestling, wrestlers with control over their characters, and a better lifestyle for a more agile, flexible business environment as of 2007?

  4. GC says:

    I’m not sure the WWE is “getting away” with much in this instance, but if Vinnie Mac has evaded the authorities in the past, that’s probably because so many of the deaths occurred on someone else’s watch. Not to nitpick, but you refer to “many” deaths….other than Benoit, Eddy Guererro, Owen Hart and Brian Pillman, what other wrestlers have died while active members of the WWE roster?

    Obviously the list of dead wrestlers is far longer, as Phil alludes to. But the reason McMahon has escaped further scrutiny is because if they drop dead a year after he’s fired ‘em, it isn’t really the WWE’s fault. Sort of. Kind of. Maybe.

  5. Don says:

    My reference to the NASCAR complaint (as well as the ballet issue) was meant ironically. People die in motorsports with abandon, but due to the mechanized nature of their deaths there is often more shrugging than hand-wringing. Someone dies in boxing and the world goes crazy.

    It’s not… logically scaled to the problem, but in Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” there is an interesting dialog about how soldiers are more afraid of bayonets and explosions than the more common bullets- it’s not death they’re afraid of, it’s pain. It’s not the number of people who died, it’s the steroids.

    You tell me what the mortality rate is among wrestlers, I can’t guess how many there are at any one time with the loss of the ECW. 100? 200? 500?

    I think it’s safe to say that after the deaths of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin there were issues with drugs in the music industry as a “will someone plase think of the children” issue for 15 years. You list 4 deaths and Mushnick lists 8. Is that 2% of the pro wrestling world. 1%? It seems at first glance to be rather significant.

    It’s a circus and one that would probably be better served with free agents and a competing companies in one association ala professional sports.


  6. GC says:

    I’m not denying there’s too high a number of pro wrestlers dropping dead in their 30′s or 40′s. But it’s also a tad simplistic to wonder why the feds aren’t going after McMahon when he’ll be the first person to point out a) he’s got drug testing in place (cough) and b) some of the dead guys are EX employees as opposed to the current crew.

    Which is a simplistic defense in and of itself. But it’s the entire culture surrounding pro wrestling, not specifically McMahon, that’ the problem. I’ve already made reference to his monopoly at the top of the biz and the performers’ lack of a union. But on the other hand, WWE took Kurt Angle off the road — almost certainly for health or chemical issues — and he emerged shortly afterwards with TNA.

    If the WWE had the sort of competition that was looking out for the welfare of the workers at the same time paying a competitive wage, that would be one thing. Instead, you still have a scenario where if the WWE kicks a wrestler to the curb for drug abuse, they’ll still find work elsewhere (TNA, Japan, MMA) as long as they’re a big enough name.

    And again, not that I’m trying to defend McMahon too heavily, but the last time the former WWF was immersed in a ‘roid scandal, some of the promotion’s biggest bodies ended up fleeing to Atlanta. Which coincided, however briefly, with WCW kicking Stamford’s ass in the ratings.

    McMahon might well argue (off the record) that he’s tried on some half-assed level to clean things up, but the public clearly prefers a chemically enhanced product.

  7. Don says:

    And perhaps that’s it. Perhaps this is the long-standing rural love of truckers on amphetamines and moonshine. Perhaps the audience doesn’t care and wants more. Perhaps there’s a lack of sophistication in the wrestling audience that wants a jingoistic, over-inflated, comic book thrill right in front of their eyes.

    (if anyone reading this has not watched Robert Mitchum’s “Thunder Road” then rent it now)


  8. GC says:

    I’m not sure where the jingoism enters into this. I mean, Benoit’s schtick was hardly a good argument for Canadian health care.

    And I would hesitate to call the wrestling audience any more or less sophisticated than anyone else. The general public is so (not) outraged by baseball’s PED era that MLB will again be declaring all-time highs in attendance and profits. The NFL’s levels of human exploitation are just begining to be examined, but there have been no calls I can find for a public boycott.

  9. Don says:

    I won’t argue for a public boycott of wrestling because, in general, the public is already boycotting wrestling.

  10. GC says:

    whatever, Don. Raw did a 3.8 last Monday.

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