Hello there loyal readers. Welcome back for a very different kind of article. Usually I write about some old school wrestling memory of mine and I try to keep the tone light and fun. But the events this past week surrounding the Penn State child abuse scandal have compelled me to action. I am not here to debate the merits of the penalties handed down to Penn State by the NCAA. For the most part I agree with the sanctions.
As the father of two small children I can not even begin to imagine the pain and horror those victims and their families have gone through. In fact, even writing these first few sentences has got my anger up over the thought of what was allowed to occur. But I don’t want to get off on a moral tangent here. Let’s all agree that what happened was horrific and everyone involved needed to be punished. This leads me to Joe Paterno. I can think of only one other individual who fell from grace so quickly and as shamefully as Joe has. And that would be Chris Benoit.
Joe Paterno was all about the football program at Penn State. He built it from nothing into a national powerhouse. His football program allowed the university to flourish and become the institution it is today. And it was this blind obsession for what he built that led Paterno to make the catastrophic decision to keep quiet about what was happening to protect it. Chris Benoit was trained in wrestling in two of the most mentally unhealthy environments imaginable, Stu Hart’s Dungeon and Japan. A cult like belief in the sanctity of professional wrestling was burned into his brain. Over the years, Benoit would sacrifice life and limb with an almost fanatical desire, all in the name of “the business”.
Paterno was so protective of the empire he built that he was noted for never allowing outsiders into the program. It was like a secret society that only select few ever got to see. Benoit would often haze rookies to the point of near death if they did not show the proper respect and reverence to the veterans in the locker room. You had to pay your dues to be one of the boys.
Even the initial reactions to both incidents were similar. The WWE cancelled Raw right after the Benoit murders and had a night of tribute to Benoit, before the horrific truth came out. It would turn out to be probably the biggest regret of Vince McMahon’s career. When Paterno was fired, Penn State students marched and protested for their beloved hero who was just a scapegoat in their eyes. Now they look foolish for supporting someone who wasn’t just an old man who didn’t have all the facts. He had the facts and he had a choice, and he chose to do nothing.
In the end both men died without truly facing the punishment they deserved. Benoit took his own life on that fateful weekend and with it took the cowards way out. Paterno, of course, was fired for his inaction and died of lung cancer shortly thereafter. But had he lived, he would have had to deal with the facts that came out of the Freeh report and the knowledge that he wasn’t so innocent after all.
One last similarity between the two is their legacy, or lack there of to be more precise. Chris Benoit was one of my favorite wrestlers ever. I loved his technical abilities. I loved his intensity, which actually turned out to be insanity. I saw one of his last matches, in Philadelphia, just weeks before he snapped. I was sitting in the third row for an ECW taping. I still to this day can remember the feeling I had seeing the look on Benoit’s face as he glared at his opponent who was outside the ring standing directly in front of me. It was fear. I actually lost myself for a moment and felt afraid, that’s how intense he was.
Vince DeHoratus lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two kids. He has been a life long wrestling fan and he has passed that love onto his son. Though not quite yet “middle aged and crazy”, he is fast approaching it.
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