On Connor the Crusher and Daniel Benoit

It’s not that I think Connor Michalek isn’t deserving of the WWE Hall of Fame Warrior Award. As a mother of two, pediatric brain cancer is a darkness I can hardly bring myself to focus my eyes upon. I choked up this week when I watched the recap of his struggle when they announced that he would receive the Warrior Award; that kid fought an epic battle. Part of me also has great respect for what WWE has done with the legacy of the Ultimate Warrior, my #1 favorite wrestler from childhood, who just before his death was finally able to make peace with the company he raged against for most of my adult life.

But another part of me is concerned about the extent to which the WWE is exploiting Connor’s legacy for corporate gain. They have been eagerly padding their programming with Connor material for some time now, which I have to assume amounts to a substantial tax write off for corporate WWE. I’m not claiming this makes the Connor’s Cure bracelets and their parent fund a negative; good can certainly come of corporate philanthropy. But in this instance I feel the need to resist buying WWE’s Connor story with my whole heart, because it looks to me like an instance of feel-good kayfabe under which lurks a great deal of hypocrisy.

During the time WWE has been celebrating the life of Connor the Crusher and proudly recounting how well they handled that situation, the same parent company has tolerated the abuse, bullying, and serious injuring of its developmental wrestlers by old school asshole Bill DeMott. CM Punk was treated with disdain and medical neglect by the McMahons and their staff. The now majestic lucha warrior Alberto el Patron was made into a cultural caricature and fired for defending his honor against some low-level racist corporate douchebag. Divas have been continually reduced to catfight narratives and eye candy, no matter how loudly we protest.

But, but, you might argue, this isn’t about adults who chose to work in a cutthroat industry. This is about a kid who was dealt a terrible hand in the form of pediatric brain cancer. And you would be right to point this out to me. The WWE and its wrestlers made the last months of Connor’s life a wonderful dream come true, and that is worth lauding, remembering, celebrating. Yes, true, fair enough. Good on WWE for what they did for Connor. But I would counter that there is still an ugly hypocrisy here. As they make sure we know what a wonderful end of life they showed Connor Michalek, I never hear them mention another kid who suffered and died, who worshipped wrestlers and whose name was intimately associated with WWE. His name was Daniel Benoit.

Now to be fair, I wasn’t paying attention to wrestling in 2007 when WWE superstar Chris Benoit murdered his son and wife, and then hung himself. Maybe I just missed all the wonderful things WWE did to memorialize this sweet kid with his dad’s eyes who probably never saw it coming. But I’ve been cruising the internet for the footage and I’ve come up short. There are plenty of Youtube clips in which WWE personalities comment on the Benoit tragedy, shoot on Benoit, and defend WWE for essentially erasing Benoit from their footage. There’s an E True Hollywood Story called The Legendary Life of Chris Benoit. But nowhere do I find the WWE admitting any culpability or honoring Chris Benoit’s murdered son or wife.

I do think Stephanie’s tears are genuine when she remembers Connor, and that Daniel Bryan’s smiles are honest when he speaks of the time he spent with him. But if we’re to look beyond the kayfabe on the topic of CM Punk, Austin Matelson, or any other abused or neglected soul who has been chewed up and spit out by the WWE, we need to look beyond the kayfabe of “Connor the Crusher” to remember Daniel Benoit. The WWE needs a companion award to the Warrior Award for family members who have suffered as collateral damage to a wrestler’s career. Daniel sounds like he was a sweet, gentle kid, not so much the warrior type. In fact Daniel was one who needed a warrior.

I would encourage you to watch this video about Daniel Benoit with an open heart. Don’t worry about graphic design, grammar, or the elevator music version of a Celine Dion torch song. I can’t verify the accuracy of this video, but the intent is clearly genuine.

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