WWE went into damage control mode Tuesday, working to distance itself from wrestler Chris Benoit’s murder-suicide and taking pains to stress that steroids apparently weren’t a factor in his actions.
WWE CEO Vince McMahon issued a statement late Tuesday about the events surrounding the Benoit story, and made a brief statement on camera during Sci Fi Channel’s airing of Extreme Championship Wrestling.
The Fayette County, Ga., sheriff’s department and District Attorney announced Monday that they believed Benoit killed his wife and 7-year-old son, both by asphyxiation, over the weekend, before hanging himself.
According to WWE spokesman Gary Davis, McMahon was disturbed by a rush to judgment by the department and the media that steroid rage was the motivation for Benoit’s actions.
That’s why the WWE sent out a detailed press release Tuesday, in which the company said it was “shocked” at the latest developments in the Benoit tragedy and “concerned by sensationalistic reporting.”
The release said that Benoit tested negative in April for steroids, and in an unusual move, explained why the gruesome details surrounding the Benoit double murder-suicide were inconsistent with “roid rage.”
That left WWE in the awkward position of stressing that Benoit deliberately killed his wife and son. The company noted in particular that Benoit’s wife’s “feet and hands were bound and she was asphyxiated, not beaten to death.
“By the account of the authorities, there were substantial periods of time between the death of the wife and the death of the son, again suggesting deliberation, not rage.” the release said. “The presence of a Bible by each is also not an act of rage.”
The WWE took heat for preempting its regular program Monday night to air a three-hour tribute to Benoit. But Davis noted that at the time of airing, McMahon and his staff had no idea that Benoit had murdered his wife and son.
On Tuesday evening, McMahon appeared on camera before the ECW show and acknowledged the Monday night tribute to Benoit, adding that “however, now some 26 hours later, the facts of this horrific tragedy are now apparent.” Therefore, he continued, there would be no further mention of Benoit Tuesday night and the show would be “dedicated to everyone who has been affected by this terrible incident.”
Late Tuesday, WWE issued another release, this time explaining the timeline that led up to the discovery of the murder-suicide.
According to the WWE, Benoit informed them on Saturday that he would not be able to attend an event that evening due to his wife’s and son’s illness. The next day he sent several text messages to colleagues that simply gave out his address.
The WWE, which had rebooked his flight to Sunday, tried and failed to contact him that day. After the WWE employees informed the company of the text messages, the org alerted authorities in Georgia. The sheriff’s office told the WWE of the deaths; then, per “company policy,” the WWE prepared a Benoit tribute for the “Raw” show.
After the WWE learned the full extent of the Benoit murder-suicide, the company said it pulled all tributes to the grappler off the air and off its website.