Benoit Most Recent in Line of Wrestlers Surrounded by Tragedy (Updated)
> 6/27/2007 10:02:25 AM

The tragic death of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, along with the apparent murders of both his wife and son, captured headlines around the country this week. The bodies of all three were discovered Monday after representatives from World Wrestling Entertainment, for whom Benoit performed regularly, prompted authorities to visit the Benoit residence after a series of bizarre text messages from the wrestler. Preliminary police work determined that Nancy Benoit and her son were asphyxiated several hours apart, and that Mr. Benoit hanged himself sometime after.

What should not come as a surprise to those familiar with other recent deaths of WWE wrestlers is that police found an assortment of anabolic steroids, HGH and other performance enhancing products in the home. Speculation is now running rampant about the drugs' potential role in the deaths, but the WWE issued a comment stating that Benoit tested negative for steroids on April 10 as part of a random drug test regimen in which WWE performers agree to take part.

Benoit was the former tag-team partner of Eddie Guerrero, another wrestler whose untimely death was linked to anabolic steroids and prescription pain medications. It was after Guerrero's death that the WWE realized that it needed to clean up and protect its performers as well as its image. Unfortunately, this latest tragedy illustrates the effect that the company's efforts have had thus far. Toxicology reports will not be available for quite some time, but even if Benoit comes up negative for steroids or other performance enhancers, it does not mean that those substances were not a factor in this incident. Reviews of research into steroid use show that psychiatric symptoms, including depression, paranoia, rage and others, can occur during times of use as well as nonuse. While the current rush by many media outlets to call this an incident of "roid rage" may prove to be true, steroids could have played a strong role in bringing Benoit to the mental state necessary to proceed with a murder-suicide even if they were not directly involved.

What is perhaps most troubling about the organization's behavior is its immense popularity. WWE performs very strongly in the TV and PPV ratings department, and the company's performers, like Benoit and Guerrero, serve as heroes to young people around the country. In a column for Sports Illustrated, writer Chris Mannix lays out the history of drug abuse in wrestling and ponders whether its time for Congress or the authorities to step in to fix the problem. For all his talk about self-policing and cleaning up the "sport," Vince McMahon, chairman of WWE, has not yet done enough to fix what is obviously a problem. These wrestlers are not just dying prematurely, they are taking the lives of others, and they are setting examples that will effect future users. Perhaps the Benoits' tragedy will spur action from the outside, or even from within WWE. It is clear that something must be done.

UPDATE: In this feature on WebMD, the writer answers 14 questions about steroids and roid rage. Among the most important facts that she points out is the distinction between anabolic steroids, which are the kind most usually associated with performance enhancement, and corticosteroids. The former were discovered at Benoit's residence, while the latter are regularly prescribed for a number of medical conditions. The effects of the two varities are almost polar opposites: anabolic steroids are used to build muscle mass and retain protein, while corticosteroids actually break down tissue. Using the term "steroids" without stipulating which variety can cause confusion.

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