Sunday, June 25, 2017

Chris Benoit: 10 Years Later

A decade has passed since the darkest day in professional wrestling history. Monday, June 25, 2007, police officers entered the Atlanta home of Chris Benoit and discovered his body, as well as the bodies of his wife Nancy and 7-year-old son, Daniel.

Sometime over that weekend, Chris killed Nancy -- who had performed in the wrestling industry from the late 1980s until the late 90s -- by wrapping a cord of some sort around her neck and strangling her. The next day, he sedated his son before putting Daniel's neck in the crook of his elbow and strangling him. That Sunday, Benoit sent some erratic-sounding text messages to a few fellow wrestlers, before hanging himself using a pulley system on a weight machine.

Benoit had missed scheduled events during that week, calling officials and explaining that his family had all gotten sick with food poisoning. He missed that Sunday's "Vengeance" pay per view event, where he was to wrestle CM Punk for the vacant ECW Championship that he was scheduled to win. He had no contact directly with WWE officials that day, and it was publicly stated during the show that Benoit was missing the match due to "personal reasons."

WWE officials learned of the erratic texts that he sent on Sunday that Monday. They called the Atlanta police and asked them to perform a welfare check. The officers then discovered the bodies. Around 5:00 p.m. the decision was made to cancel the 8:00 p.m. 3-hour show for that night and air a Chris Benoit commemorative episode. Before the show was off the air, the word had gotten out that it was being investigated as a murder-suicide. It wouldn't come out until Tuesday that it was Benoit who had murdered his family.

To commemorate the five-year anniversary, I wrote a piece over at @TricycleOffense in 2012 looking at where I was and how I felt that day in 2007. I looked over it for the first time in a while and I feel like it still holds up well. So, the following is an excerpt from that article.

* * *

Tricycle Offense | July 9, 2012

I remember the day clearly. I usually tried to avoid working on Monday nights, but sometimes I would have to. It usually worked out, as I would get off at 8 p.m. and make it home in time for wrestling at 9. This time, Monday Night Raw was a special 3-hour episode and started at 8 p.m. That is when I was scheduled off and explained to the manager my predicament. They all understood my weird obsession with wrestling, so I was allowed to leave at 7:45.

I made it home at 8:15 and quickly turned on the television. What I saw completely threw me off and confused me.
 
Bill Goldberg.
 
Goldberg, who hadn’t been a WWE wrestler since 2004, was on my television destroying everybody around him. I watched for a few seconds and quickly realized what I was watching – the Royal Rumble from 2004. A 30-man battle royal, this was the segment in the middle after Goldberg had just entered. The winner of that event was Chris Benoit. It led to his World Heavyweight Championship victory in the main event of WrestleMania 20.
 
I had figured out what it was, but I still didn’t know why it was on my TV screen. That is, until a graphic at the bottom of the screen popped up saying “In memory of Chris, Nancy, and Daniel Benoit.” I didn’t have Internet access where I was, and this was before the proliferation of smart phones. I called my then-girlfriend Kelly. She wasn’t a wrestling fan, but kept up with it by proxy from being around me. She answered the phone:
 
Me: “Go to WWE.com for me.”
 
Kelly: “What? Chris, no.”
 
Me: “I think Chris Benoit is dead.”
 
She couldn’t get to WWE.com, as their site was over capacity. I told her to try PWInsider.com. Again, she couldn’t get through. I had been on her computer, so TNA’s website was in her history. She went there and they had posted a condolence message for Benoit.
 
I watched the rest of the show in a trance. I couldn’t believe that one of my favorite professional wrestlers was dead. I tried to wrap my head around that. And around the fact that all three were dead. I was trying to brainstorm how. Car wreck? Carbon monoxide poisoning? Home intruder? I thought of every possible scenario except for the actual one.
 
Since WWE had just found out hours before Raw that Benoit had died, the show that night had been canceled, and a 3-hour tribute was quickly put together. It was highlights of Benoit’s career introduced by the announcers, as well as video comments from wrestlers in Benoit’s memory. A few weeks earlier, WWE had started the controversial “Mr. McMahon has died” angle and Vince appeared in the ring inside the empty arena saying that the show was originally supposed to continue that story, but because of Benoit’s death they were dropping that.
 
Later that night, I got online and tried to find out more information. I still couldn’t load PWInsider.com, but I managed to get onto WWE.com and saw a brief blurb that said the incident was now being treated as a murder investigation.
 
Before I went to bed that night, I re-watched the 2-disc Benoit documentary that WWE had released in 2004. As I was watching one of my favorite wrestlers discuss his early days in ECW, his turmoil-filled years in WCW, and finally his road to redemption in WWE, I started processing the information in my head. I wasn’t feeling very good about the situation the more I thought about it. As sick as it sounds, I remember thinking to myself as I was falling asleep, “I hope Nancy killed Chris.”
 
I didn’t want one of my heroes tarnished. That’s what Chris Benoit had been to myself and a lot of other people. He had been a hero. He was an example of hard work and dedication paying off for somebody who was told he wouldn’t be able to do something.

[Read the full post at Tricycle Offense dot com]

* * * 

WWE came under a lot of fire for airing the tribute show. In their defense, who could have imagined something like that happening? The next day, on the Tuesday ECW program, a taped message from Vince aired before the show. He noted that now that the facts are coming out, there will be no more mention of Benoit's name. 

McMahon noted that the WWE superstars were going to go back to what they did best -- entertaining everybody watching. He said that that day was the first in the healing process.

So, where are we 10 years later? Have we healed? What is the state of WWE and wrestling in general?

For the safety of the wrestlers, the industry is in a much better place. After the 2005 death of Eddie Guerrero from heart disease, WWE began implementing their Wellness Policy. After the 2007 death of Benoit, they finally started getting really serious about it.

Benoit -- and Guerrero before him -- were both heavily using steroids, but not being criticized for it. That culture seems to have largely been removed from the wrestling world. Jacked-up bodybuilders with unnatural bodies are a thing of the past.

True to their word, Benoit has not been mentioned or shown on WWE programming in the last 10 years. You cannot search "Chris Benoit" on the WWE Network, as nothing shows up. You can still watch events that feature his matches, though.

There was an uncomfortable stigma around wrestling in the later half of 2007 and for a while afterward. That, too, is largely gone. The wrestling world that Chris Benoit existed in has turned over both a new generation of wrestlers and fans. There are a lot of young fans who have no idea who Benoit is.

What is Benoit's legacy? Does he deserve to be remembered for what he was before June 25, 2007 -- one of the greatest wrestlers of all time? Does he deserve to be remembered as a heinous murderer who took two innocent lives before taking his own? Is there a gray area for possible head trauma from concussions clouding his mind? Alcohol use? Steroid "roid rage" potentially?

As I mentioned five years ago, Benoit was the unofficial catalyst for increased head trauma awareness in sports. The National Football League has been under fire for the issues that happen to their athletes. 

I feel like we won't know for a long time the full extent of brain trauma in athletes. The only way to study an athlete's brain is after he or she has died. A lot of athletes -- both in professional wrestling and other sports -- have agreed to donate their brain to science. All we can really do is wait for those findings.

To put a positive on the tragedy, increased awareness of head trauma related to concussions and the cleaning up of an oftentimes filthy wrestling industry is perhaps what we have 10 years after that awful late June 2007 weekend.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

#PizzaBlog Looking at the first summer

The Facebook "memories" deal showed me something from five years ago that made me do a bit of a double take. Five years ago, June 10, 2012, was the last day of operation for the "old" Pizza Hut building in Princeton. The one between McDonalds and Hardees, and across the street from the high school, shut down on that day and opened shortly after at its current location down the street in the Kroger plaza. I wasn't there when that happened.

I marked the occasion by getting nostalgic with some friends via text message, telling them that the five-year mark of "our" Pizza Hut closing was that day. We shared memories and good times, and also a few bad times.

It got me thinking about old times and things that have changed. With that, let's take a look back at how I got hired at Pizza Hut in June 2005 and my immediate thoughts on my first summer.

* * *

I sat around for the first week or so of my summer break in 2005 not doing a whole lot. I made it a point to watch Maury Povich every day. If I got up early enough I would catch "The Price is Right," but it was a chore getting up to watch something at 11 a.m. so I often missed that. I was sitting on the couch with Jed, my cat, when my mom walked past and innocently asked, "Why don’t you go get a job?" Hmmmm. A job? I’d never thought of that. Still 18 and not really being able to function on my own, I asked my mom what to do. She explained how the process worked: you go inside the building and ask for an application. Sounded simple enough. I didn’t have a car but we lived down the street from Stafford Drive, where a majority of fast-food businesses were located.

The walk wasn't long, but it was hot outside. Not prepared for that, I got a sunburn on the part in the middle of my getting-long hair. I bought SPF-80 sunscreen at CVS the next day and wound up using it literally only one day that summer.

The first place I stopped at was Hardees. I got an application and continued making my way up the street. Pizza Hut was next in line. Then McDonalds. Big Lots. Roses. On and on the application gathering continued. To this day, I’m still not sure if I imagined the following: I am positive that I saw some sort of sex shop. I remember looking at a window and seeing a pair of thigh-high leather boots and handcuffs. I walked past it without going in. I was still timid about things of that nature. The reason I'm still figuring out if my mind played tricks on me is because I never saw that place again. Now there’s a bank standing where the alleged sex shop was, but I never once saw that place again. Granted, I didn’t really look for it, but still.

I walked back home feeling accomplished. I sat back down on the couch and went back to petting Jed and watching TV. I showed my mom all of the applications I picked up. "Why didn’t you fill them out?" she asked. She didn’t care for my answer: "I didn’t have a pen." She told me to fill them out and take them back. Begrudgingly, I started writing down my name, address, and not checking the box asking if I’ve been convicted of a felony. 

I thought I was done walking for the day but I wasn’t, so I grabbed my completed applications and trudged back down the street. I walk into Hardees and hand somebody the application. They ask if I want to speak with a manager. Sure, I say. The manager’s a little busy so they ask if I can wait for a minute. Not really understanding how finding a job works, I say, "That’s okay" and leave. 

I go next door to Pizza Hut. I walk in and hand my application to an attractive, yet older woman. Her name is Janice. She is the general manager. She asks me to sit in a booth with her and conducts an impromptu interview.

"Do you have a car?"

"No, but I live right down the street. I walked here."

"Do you get sick a lot?"

"No. I don’t remember the last time I got sick."

"You’ll have to take out that lip ring. Are you willing to shave your goatee and sideburns?"

"That’s not a problem."

"Do you have black pants and black shoes?"

"Yes I do."

"Okay. Come back here tomorrow at 8 o’clock."

I went outside and called my mom to tell her I had a job. And that’s how my journey into the working world began.

Having a job was such a culture shock. I had never thought of myself as being sheltered, but I really was. Having a job was the first time I was exposed to -- for lack of a better term -- different people. And I don’t mean race or religion or anything like that. I mean different in the sense that until then all I knew was that you go to school, graduate, go to college, then go on to your career. 

I had never met a high school dropout before. I had never interacted with an old man who had no other career options aside from minimum wage. If you’ve never met somebody who society deems a "loser" then you have a negative connotation of them. Service and food industry workers have a bad reputation of being slackers and criminals and, yes, losers. 

Working along side these people showed me that most of them were really good people who were just in the middle of a bad situation. I met a lot of nice, smart people that were just there because they didn’t graduate or they had a kid and couldn’t get past surviving day-to-day and paycheck-to-paycheck. They wanted to move up and beyond but you get stuck in a rut and then you’re there. I liked those people and felt bad for them. 

I told myself early on that I wasn’t going to wind up like them: working a minimum wage job past a certain age. At 18, I didn’t know when I was ready to move on, but I eventually pegged that age at 25. If I was still working at Pizza Hut at 25, then I’d be a loser by my standards. And that’s what wound up happening, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Two people I met early on stick out for important reasons. The first was a server named Debbie. She was one of the first people who warmed up to me and made me feel welcome there. We also had the same birthday -- August 18, although she was 10 years older than me. I thought it was really odd that she was 28-years-old and waiting tables for a living. At one point she was asked if she wanted to become a manager. She said no, her reason being that she made more money serving. Even at 18, with no experience in life, I thought that was a bad way to think. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to work her way up the ladder. Wasn’t that the point of working? To go higher and higher? I didn’t realize that there were people who just thought short-term and didn’t see the big picture. Yeah, she made more money as a 28-year-old pretty server, but wouldn’t there be more job security as a manager once those 28-year-old looks start to fade?

I don’t remember the name of the other guy who sticks out to me. He was a delivery driver. From a visual standpoint, he sticks out because he was the first man I ever saw in person who had sleeve tattoos. A New York Yankees logo that was purple stuck out on the inside of his forearm. He had worked in the past as a tattoo artist, which I thought was cool. 

He was the first guy I was around that I ever heard talk about drugs. At this point I still hadn’t seen any; we were still a few years off from that. But, he talked about when he lived in Florida and used to sell cocaine. One night he had acquired some methadone, the drug people use to wean themselves off of heroin. He was asking around if anybody wanted to do it with him. He gathered up a few volunteers. I assume they had a good time. 

On a more personal level for me, this guy was the first person I ever heard who had something negative to say about college. Until that point, my mindset was go to college, graduate, get a career. It shocked me when I heard him say, "I can’t believe I have a graphic arts degree and I’m delivering pizza." As I got older and more jaded I understood where he was coming from, but at the time it was total and utter shock to hear somebody speak that way about graduating from college.

I felt an odd sense of pride every time I put on my Pizza Hut uniform. I liked the way I looked in it and I liked the way I felt when I went to work. I knew I wasn’t making a major contribution to society, but I still felt like every little bit counts. People need pizza and it was my job to give it to them. 

I used to often wonder what kind of people were eating the pizza I made. While I was placing toppings on a slab of dough I would imagine office workers having a party or kids eating with parents or business workers working on their next big proposal. One day I spun an elaborate story in my head about a man holding a woman hostage at gunpoint and ordering a pizza while he figures out what to do next and how his life got to this point. I had a very active imagination.

At the time I was a part-time, seasonal worker. I worked during the summer, went to school, then came back each additional summer. The first summer I was still learning and getting used to everything. I recall the odd look on the manager’s face when I asked her to show me how to use the mop wringer. "You mean you don’t know how to mop?" "No, I know how to mop. I’ve just never used one of these bucket things."

The final pizza I made that summer was a personal pan with pepperoni and green peppers. I left and completed my second year of college. Coming back for my second summer at Pizza Hut was important. I met what would become the core group of friends I’d have for the next five years or so.

* * *

And there are some memories from my first summer of working at Pizza Hut. I may check back in with some more stories about the people I encountered, and some more anecdotes. And, I will may take a look at summer number two at some point.

Check out my past #PizzaBlog entries here:



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

June 2017 Wrestling Thoughts

I was so happy to see Samoa Joe win the "Fatal Five Way" match at the WWE Extreme Rules event last Sunday. That's a guy who has really paid his dues and is super deserving of his chance at the top.

Joe is one of the early stars of Ring of Honor, and was one of the most under-used stars in the history of Impact Wrestling's 15-year life. He was totally on fire as the unstoppable bad ass during his stint as NXT Champion.

He will match up well in his title match against Brock Lesnar. Joe is legit tough and looks menacing. This match in about a month or so should be a great brawl. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a suplex or two.

* * *

If you scour the archives of the blog here, you'll find a few complimentary posts about Austin Aries back in his Impact Wrestling days. I've always been a fan of his, and I was happy to see him reach the top in Impact, and even happier to see how he's succeeding in WWE.

While I do think he should have won the Cruiserweight Championship as the culmination of his feud with Neville, I am okay with him coming up short. Neville has been on a totally different level since winning the title. The "Neville Level," as he was referred to it on television. The "King of the Cruiserweights" is possibly the top bad guy in all of WWE right now.

And I'm a fan of the future of Aries. He will recover from this, eat a banana, and move on to the next obstacle in his path.

* * *

Noam Dar is going to be a star in WWE one day. Well, he already is, but he'll eventually break out as more than mid-card comedy act. The reason why that's working for him, and why he hasn't turned into a less-funny Santino Marella, is because he's still treated as a threat inside the ring. That's the key. He can be funny and goofy and pronounce Alicia Fox's name as "Alicia Fucks" due to this thick Scottish accent, but he's still a talented wrestler and that point isn't lost on the WWE audience.

He's only 23, so he has plenty of time to turn into a star.

* * *

Bobby Roode has truly been a "Glorious" champion in NXT. I've watched Roode since his Impact Wrestling days in 2004, became a huge fan of his around 2008, and he's another guy that I've enjoyed being able to see enjoy the fruits of his labors.

I feel that he will ultimately lose the championship to Roderick Strong, as that seems to be the long-term direction, but I see only good things in the future for Roode.