WWE News WWE News: Detailed report on Michael Benoit's conference Monday - claims WWE owes Chris money & Linda's Senate run to protect WWE from investigations, more
Oct 27, 2010 - 3:06:39 PM
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By James Caldwell, Torch assistant editor
On Monday afternoon, Michael Benoit, the father of deceased WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, met with reporters in Connecticut on behalf of Richard Blumenthal, who is running against former WWE CEO Linda McMahon in the U.S. Senate campaign.
Mr. Benoit's presentation can be summed up as him presenting a case for regulating the pro wrestling industry, citing specific examples of what he believes is an uncaring WWE company related to WWE's handling of Chris Benoit's murder-suicide in 2007, and claiming Linda McMahon is running for Senate mainly to protect WWE from government oversight and future investigations.
The following are highlights from the press conference. Many of these topics have been covered before in the three years since the double murder-suicide in June 2007, with Mr. Benoit presenting his perspective on the events on Monday. (The full PDF transcript of Mr. Benoit's comments are available on Irv Muchnick's website.)
-- Mr. Benoit challenged WWE's oft-repeated claims the company did not know Benoit murdered his family prior to airing the live tribute to Benoit on the Monday, June 25, 2007 edition of Raw. He also suggested Vince McMahon had an idea of what happened the day before at the Vengenace PPV that Benoit uncharacteristically missed.
"Dean (Malenko) shared with me that on Sunday, which was the 24th, a fellow named by Chavo Guerrero, a good friend of Chris’s, told him about some text messages that he had received that had come in early in the morning. These are some text messages that my son had sent saying here is address, the dogs are in the compound, the gates are open. ... Now they were doing a pay-per-view Sunday night. If you go to a pay-per-view, one thing you will see is that Vince McMahon is in charge of that pay-per-view. He controls it completely. So to suggest for thirty seconds that Dean didn’t share those text messages with Vince, I believe it is impossible," Mr. Benoit said.
"WWE did not have a wellness call until noon that next day. It was noon that next day before they actually called the sheriff’s department to do a wellness call at the place. What I am suggesting is the only reason they didn’t is because they were setting up the tribute show. They didn’t want to do it the night before because it would interfere with the Pay-Per-View. So when someone says they got out ahead of the story, I think, my own personal opinion is that was the case."
-- Mr. Benoit recapped the deterioration of Chris Benoit's brain when it was studied postmortem. He said there is a distinction between Benoit's CTE condition and an actual Alzheimer's patient. He said, "You have two things present with Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s an ameloid plaque and a protein. In CTE that is caused by brain damage, by trauma to the brain, you only see the plaque. There is no ameloid protein in there. So, there is a difference when they get it under the microscope."
"When we came out with the findings in September of 2007, the first thing that we got back right away was pushback from WWE. 'This is impossible, to even suggest that Chris Benoit had the brain of an 85 year old. How could he possibly function? Take the plane, anything like this.' So, they didn’t understand the science," Benoit said.
"But the fact of the matter is, is that, my personal belief, a myriad of deaths that have taken place in this industry over the past 20 years and they’ve taken place in this industry over 20 years—why? Because of deregulation, and the person that is running for the Senate, the Senate, in Connecticut, actually brags about being responsible for part of that deregulation. They pulled the safety net away from these guys."
-- The issue of whether Daniel Benoit, Chris's son, had Fragile X syndrome was played up throughout the immediate media coverage following the double murder-suicide in 2007. WWE, including then-CEO Linda McMahon, floated the story that Daniel had Fragile X. Later, WWE retracted those statements.
Mr. Benoit said his belief is that WWE was trying to draw attention away from the company's historical health issues. (The Fragile X condition does not appear to have been pulled out of the air, though, and there remains mystery over whether or not Daniel Benoit had the condition or something similar to Fragile X. The takeaway is that Mr. Benoit believes WWE's intentions were to push that storyline to the forefront - whether it was accurate or not.)
"Linda McMahon was on Good Morning America talking about my grandson having Fragile X. Within a few days, they had to retract that statement because there was no medical information available. The doctors, the school, everyone is saying, where did this come from? So, they had to retract that. But they were trying to push the theory. They were trying to push WWE out of this picture as far as they possibly could," he said.
Mr. Benoit said he believes the McMahons were "trying to influence the investigation in that way." He went so far as to say he believes it was an attempt to "obstruct justice" during the autopsy investigation.
Mr. Benoit said: "I got to meet Dr. Sperry from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and he told me of a call he had received from a coroner out of Pittsburgh. And this coroner was suggesting a couple of things to him, like, he better test Daniel for Fragile X. ... So, he is suggesting these things to Sperry and Sperry said to me, 'Mike, I just dismissed them. I just completely dismissed them.' I think it was probably a year later that I’m reading in the paper that there’s a criminal trial going on in Pittsburgh and who is on trial? Dr. Cyril Wecht, and who is his defense attorney at the time? (WWE attorney) Jerry McDevitt.
"So, did the McMahons get Dr. Wecht to call the Fayette County criminal investigation department and try and influence the direction of the autopsy on the son? If they did, that’s an attempt to obstruct justice. That’s what it is. I mean, that’s the way I look at it. It’s certainly a coincidence in the fact that his lawyer is Jerry McDevitt. Why would he call Atlanta from Pittsburgh?"
-- Mr. Benoit claims WWE still owes the Benoit Estate $40,000-50,000 from three weeks pay, plus royalties from memorabilia sales at the time of Chris's death. He recalled WWE claiming they paid the money, then coming back and saying it was a mistake.
"When my son died, they owed him about three weeks pay, plus royalties from the sale of memorabilia. Our lawyers sent to Jerry (McDevitt) a letter asking WWE to forward the payments because the tax slips that they sent, we had an income tax actually due on the estate. And the tax forms that they sent us didn’t agree with the deposits that had been made in my son’s accounts. So we questioned them. And at first he said, 'No, no, no we paid everything. You guys, you’ve probably just, you’ve missed the receipts. They’ve gone somewhere.' So, we went back again and said, 'That’s not the case. You need to send us an account.' And then we got a letter back, which I have here. And what he said was, 'It was a mistake. We haven’t made all the payments.'
"How much are those payments? I don’t know, 40, 60 thousand dollars. I’m looking at it and saying - you know, I don’t want to spend a lot of more money going after this. It will probably cost us 40 or 50 thousand if they’re going to pay us. But I would think, I would think that the least that WWE could’ve done was to pay out what they owed my son. He’s got two surviving children here. But no, they didn’t do it. They still owe that money today. That 40 or 50 thousand dollars is probably part of the cash that that lady is spending on her campaign right now."
-- Regarding the issue of concussions and how it could have impacted Chris Benoit's mental state at the time of the murder-suicide, Mr. Benoit recalled WWE's claims a few years ago that an NHL hockey player like Eric Lindros didn't kill someone after suffering a concussion. Mr. Benoit said Lindros had time off to recover, whereas WWE wrestlers typically do not get time off to recover.
WWE has since written up a formal Impact concussion test requiring wrestlers to be medically cleared prior to returning to in-ring action. WWE has not disclosed the actual application of that policy in terms of specific examples where a wrestler has been held out for further monitoring.
"They work 52 weeks of the year. They never have a chance to recover. The worst thing that can happen to you when you have a brain injury, a concussion, is to get sub concussive blows soon after the fact," Benoit said.
"WWE is saying, 'If that was true, Eric Lindros, who is in the NHL, who has a history of concussions, should have killed numerous people.' Every time Eric Lindros had a concussion he took four, six months off. He never had a complete season if you look at his history. So Eric Lindros had time off. Guys get concussions in the wrestling industry - guess what, they’re wrestling the next night."
Mr. Benoit labeled WWE's response to wrestler health issues "very reactive" and "based on public relations." Benoit concluded on the issue:
"It is my belief, again, that the problems in any industry when there’s no oversight, the first ones to suffer are the people. And I think any and every industry—can you imagine what would happen in boxing or, well, mixed martial arts for that matter if there was no commissions looking at them? Someone gets knocked out in a mixed martial arts fight they don’t fight for six months. They’re off. And again I talk about in the wrestling industry - you get a concussion one night, you’re in the ring the next night getting hammered again.
"Doctors believe now that this (CTE) is a disease. Once you have it it gets progressively worse. You have it, you ended up getting it in your 20s and 30s. By your 40s and 50s, you’re ending up with full-blown dementia, an Alzheimer-like condition. Something needs to be done. We’ve got some momentum because of this campaign. Something needs to be done. These people need to be regulated going forward. They can’t continue to do what they do and get away with it."
-- Mr. Benoit responded to Linda McMahon's regular statements during her Senate campaign that WWE is a "scripted soap opera" and the wrestlers are protected by the company.
"This is a scripted thing. They talk about this being scripted, they talk about their workers being the same as soap opera workers, they talk about them being the same as singers. You know, this is scripted. How can we have the death rates like that?
"My belief, my belief, Mike Benoit’s belief, the only reason that woman (Linda McMahon) wants to go to Washington is to protect the dollars that WWE makes to head off any attempt to regulate their industry. That’s the only reason she wants to go to Washington."
Caldwell's Analysis: Earlier this week, Linda McMahon attempted to write off any negativity from Mr. Benoit toward WWE by calling him "bitter" and "searching for answers" trying to discredit his opinions and beliefs. I believe the conclusion to make looking back at the events from June 2007 is that a more proactive approach to wrestler health issues in the years and decades before June 2007 potentially could have altered the course of events. Looking at the condition of Benoit's brain and the physical pounding he took to the head during his career, there is evidence supporting that conclusion.
Mr. Benoit asserts WWE was motivated by money - protecting their business - rather than protecting individual people, which covers the area of "looking for TV ratings" with the Benoit TV tribute and "reacting" to wrestler health issues rather than taking a "proactive" approach. McMahon's comment to Congress in 2008 about assisting former wrestlers for "Public Relations reasons only" also lends credibility to Benoit's statements.
The takeaway is that Mr. Benoit is seeking more oversight into WWE to help prevent future occurrences similar to the Chris Benoit Tragedy and improving the health conditions for current WWE wrestlers. WWE might disagree with his statements and assertions, and label him "bitter" to discredit his overall presentation, but he makes valid points on the health issues that are vital to the health and well-being of the wrestling industry.
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