The father of wrestler Chris Benoit accused U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon today of responding to his son’s suicide after murdering his family in 2007 with a public-relations offensive to protect the image and profits of World Wrestling Entertainment.
At a press conference in Hartford, Mike Benoit described McMahon and her husband, Vince, as desperate to distance WWE from medical evidence that Benoit was suffering from concussion-induced dementia when he killed his wife and son, then committed suicide.
“What are we talking about here? Not people,” Benoit said. “We’re talking about dollars. The dollar sign moves everything with this company.”
Benoit, who lives in Alberta, Canada, said he was flown to Hartford by the campaign of McMahon’s Democratic opponent, Richard Blumenthal. His message was one he has delivered in other settings, including an interview on ABC News.
McMahon, a Republican seeking office for the first time, said the press conference was meant to be a distraction.
“I think the motivation is clear. Blumenthal in my view is trying to take away any focus on the issues that are here in the state with 9.1 percent unemployment,” McMahon said. “He’s not focused on putting people back to work. I just think this is politics at its absolute slimiest.”
Benoit said professional wrestling is inherently dangerous, despite its scripted storylines, and that WWE does a poor job of caring for wrestlers, who are independent contractors.
He spoke for 48 minutes before taking a question. His presentation was a mix of science – talking about new evidence about the long-term dangerous of concussive injuries – and complaints about WWE’s response to his son’s death.
An examination of his son’s brain found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the result of repeated concussions as a professional wrestler, he said.
In 2007, Chris Benoit was a star who had wrestled for six years for WWE and about 15 years for other companies, including Ted Turner’s WCW. WWE aired a tribute show soon after his death, which Benoit called an effort to boost ratings. The only contact from the McMahons was a voicemail from Vince McMahon.
“We didn’t get a card, a letter, a phone call, flowers, nothing from the CEO of the WWE. And who was the CEO? Linda McMahon,” Benoit said. “This is the person that the State of Connecticut is thinking about sending to the Senate of the United States.”
“I don’t remember not reaching out to Michael,” McMahon said. “It would not be my style, not to reach out to him. Typically, when anything like that happens, we do try to make every effort to contact family.”
Benoit said Linda McMahon suggested during an interview on Good Morning America that Chris Benoit might be have been stressed or depressed about his son, Daniel, having a genetic condition, Fragile X Syndrome. But there was no evidence Daniel had the genetic condition.
McMahon today she said she was unsure where she had gotten that information.
“We were all trying to understand what really had happened, because it was so contrary to anything that we knew about Chris Benoit,” she said. “He was one of the most requested individuals for the Make a Wish Foundation. He had never been late to a performance, took great pride in his work.”
McMahon said she believes Mike Benoit is looking to shift blame for the double-homicide away from his son. As a parent, she said, she can understand the impulse.
“I’d want to look for answers. I’d want to look for somebody to blame, because I don’t think I could find it within myself to actually say what caused my son to do this. I’d be wanting to look for blame,” she said. “My heart goes to him. It really does. The bottom line is we don’t know what happened to Chris Benoit, or what happened in that household.”
Benoit said he is convinced that if his son never had wrestled and suffered repeated concussions, the murder-suicide never would have happened. He said he also believes that everything WWE does in regard to the health of its wrestlers, whether it is steroid testing or concussion monitoring, is a matter of public relations.
A spokesman for WWE said today the company has responded to new research about concussions, and it has required since 2008 that wrestlers pass cognitive impact tests before returning after a head injury.
“We’re always looking out for the welfare of our talent,” said Rob Zimmerman, a spokesman for WWE. “Without them we don’t have a business.”
In addition to concussion testing, WWE also has banned “chair shots,” blows to the head with a folding chair.
Benoit said he cannot help but think WWE always is putting the company ahead of its wrestlers. Soon after his son died, he said, WWE sent a private investigator to the authorities in Georgia, where Chris Benoit died, posing as a representative of the Benoit family.
He was uncertain what the investigator was seeking.
Zimmerman had no immediate comment on why WWE hired an investigator.
The investigator, Clifford E. Cormany Jr., acknowledged today that he investigated the death of Benoit and his family, but he declined to identify who hired him, saying it was covered by attorney-client privilege.
Cormany, who is a retired FBI agent, denied ever suggesting that he represented Benoit, saying he informed local law-enforcement authorities in writing who had retained him. Benoit said authorities did eventually tell him that Cormany had told them his client was WWE.