The following article was originally published June 28, 2013, at Bleacher Report (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1687472-aaron-hernandez-and-chris-benoit-coverage-highlight-the-nfl-double-standard). For the purposes of research and reference, this is how it appeared:
On Wednesday, NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged “with first-degree murder in the execution-style killing earlier this month of Odin Lloyd, whose body was discovered in an industrial park not far from Hernandez’s home.”
Monday of this week also marked the six-year anniversary of the murder/suicide of WWE Superstar Chris Benoit, who took the lives of his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel.
The crimes are the crimes.
My concern is with the double-standard of sports and entertainment reporting concerning these events.
On June 24, 2007, the story blossomed from Benoit, a consummate professional, no-showing at a Sunday pay-per-view, to something terrible has transpired. The complete facts of the crime were not yet disclosed by the time “Raw” aired the following evening, only that the little family had perished.
In an unusual and unprecedented move for WWE, the broadcast emanated from an empty arena. Unfortunately, the organization was no stranger to losses. The great former champion, “Sensational” Sherri Martel had passed away two weeks before, due to a drug overdose at the age of 49. The WWE Hall of Famer was paid tribute with a title card, the same as had been done for other stars not on the active roster. But the show went on.
The “Raw” following the avoidable, accidental death of Owen Hart in 1999, from a stunt his widow later claimed he did not want to participate in, and the “Raw” and “Smackdown” following the untimely heart attack of Eddie Guerrero in 2005, were celebrations of those athletes. A moment of silence was followed by heartfelt, out-of-character testimonials, and wrestling match tributes, all in front of emotional crowds that shared in the mourning and the catharsis.
The testimonials for the Benoit broadcast were equally heartfelt, but the mood of the show was funereal, a portent to the conclusion no one had wanted to reach.
By the following evening’s “ECW” broadcast, the determination of the deaths was known and publicized. Vince McMahon began the broadcast with a simple address to the camera that Benoit would no longer be shown on WWE programming, and the company was going to return to what it does best, entertaining the fans.
McMahon did himself no favors, however, when WWE gave in to the pressure of speculation and posted a press release on their website proclaiming steroids had nothing to do with the Benoit murders.
A decade prior, the WWE Chairman had beaten a steroid rap that the federal government failed to make stick. The company had implemented wellness policies over the years, but it took the spotlight of Eddie Guerrero’s death (it should be noted, from natural causes) for WWE to begin a wellness policy in earnest, and is still in place today. That policy is part of what convinced the legendary Bruno Sammartino, a near 30-year critic of his former employer, to once again participate in WWE events this year.
In the context of 2007, however, that ill-advised—and, in light of McMahon’s previous court case, self-serving—press release regarding steroids did nothing to quell the media eruption over the Benoit murders, instead it only added to the confusion and fanned the flames of controversy.
Benoit’s good friend, WWE Superstar Chris Jericho, has gone on record over the years with comments such as “[Benoit] almost brought the entire industry down.” (Jericho’s views on Benoit the man have evolved as more information about the nature of concussions has circulated.)
I disagree that it was Benoit who almost brought the wrestling industry down; his murders/suicide were simply the weapon that sports writers and media personalities used to strike at a profession for which they had no care. The media attacks on professional wrestling were nothing less than a witch hunt, and I assure you I am using that phrase without hyperbole.
When postal workers killed their fellow mail carriers, the United States Post Office was not held to task as a party in the incidents. It would have been wrong to. Those terrible actions, and if you recall, there were enough shootings to coin the phrase “going postal,” were the actions of individuals, not of an industry.
Which brings me to Aaron Hernandez. There is no outcry at the NFL over this vicious incident. Talking heads are not demeaning footballers, or their profession. No one is on the air speculating if it was a matter of ‘roid rage.
In the latest development, NBC reported on Thursday that Hernandez is a possible person of interest “in the drive-by killings of two men last year.”
There is no media firestorm brewing over Hernandez’s former team, the New England Patriots. There are no effigies of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell burning over these callous crimes.
Yet, if a WWE Superstar, or any wrestler, for that matter, were involved in a drive-by shooting, media types would wonder aloud if Vince McMahon himself didn’t pull the trigger.
But don’t take my word for it. Last week, the phrase “wrestling death” scrolled across television screens and headlined articles in the wake of 5-year-old Viloude Louis’ death at the hands of her 13-year-old half brother, who was supposed to be babysitting her.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s spokesman Col. John Fortunato said the Louisiana boy “reported he started to wrestle with the victim and practiced “WWE” style wrestling moves on the girl.”
The Daily Mail reported, “[The 13-year-old] said that even when his little half sister said she was in pain, he continued to carry out the moves on her. Detectives added that he appeared to be enjoying talking about the assault.”
WWE, which has run “don’t try this at home” ads on all of its programming and home video projects for several years, was compelled to issue a statement amid the finger-pointing firestorm:
“The death of Viloude Louis is a tragedy and we express our heartfelt condolences. Authorities have already charged the accused with second degree murder and determined that this was not an accidental death due to a wrestling move. The facts of this case clearly point to a lack of parental supervision and a teenager who had a history of violent behavior toward his 5-year-old stepsister. It is illogical to conclude that the repeated, brutal and ultimately fatal beating of a 5-year-old little girl by a teenager could be confused with imitation of WWE action seen on TV.”
When a child injures their spine or dies of dehydration as a result of playing football, the NFL is never held responsible, the NFL is never called on the carpet, the NFL is never condemned for broadcasting their violent sports fantasies, this fake game of war called American football, every season.
Moreover, where is the outrage at the NFL when their own professional football players commit despicable acts?
There is none.
The NFL is just too precious, especially for itself.
League officials seem to believe football lives in an Imagination-land, too sacred to be sullied by the gritty or the obvious.
Football, Inc. makes a dog and pony show of the draft every year, conveniently ignorant to the fact that gambling via fantasy leagues is what is driving the interest in recent years.
The NFL embarrasses itself every year by promoting a team name based on a racial slur, and then deny that it is. No, in NFL Imagination-land, there’s no such thing as racism, only “tradition.”
In 2004, the NFL strong-armed ESPN to cancel their highly rated and acclaimed drama “Playmakers,” which focused on the lives involved in a fictional professional football team, including a manipulative owner, and players who abused drugs.
Apparently not understanding the concept of a television drama, then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, according to the New York Times, leaned on ESPN’s parent company Disney to ensure commercials for “Playmakers” would not air during NFL broadcasts.
Although former NFL player Deion Sanders indicated the program “accurately depicted the dark side” of the League, Tagliabue spoke on high from Imagination-land, condemning the show as “one-dimensional and traded in racial stereotypes, and I didn’t think that was either appropriate for ESPN or right for our players.”
Yes, the same organization that has a team named “red-skin” complained about stereotypes.
Apparently from the same soapbox in Imagination-land, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie “told The Philadelphia Inquirer, “How would they like it if Minnie Mouse were portrayed as Pablo Escobar and the Magic Kingdom as a drug cartel?””
Once “Playmakers” was pulled from the air, the NFL released the audacious statement, “It was an ESPN decision and now we can all move on.”
Where was the media outrage in that instance, when the NFL deserved to be raked over the coals for acting on the fascist belief that their freedom of speech was the only speech that mattered?
Regarding felonious crimes, where was the media outrage at the NFL in January when Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then committed suicide? Why was the NFL not held accountable and put on media trial for the Belcher murder/suicide, just as the wrestling industry was put on media trial for the Benoit murder/suicide?
Where is the media scrutiny of the NFL when, in the very same week Hernandez is charged with murder, Cleveland Browns rookie linebacker Ausar Walcott was charged “with first-degree attempted murder, second-degree aggravated assault and third-degree endangering an injured victim”?
Why is the media not reporting on this dangerous trend of NFL players associated with criminal behavior?
I label it a “trend” because this is, after all, the third incident this week, lest we forget about Dallas Cowboy Josh Brent, who is in jail following a second positive drug test for marijuana. Brent is currently awaiting trial stemming from a Dec. 8 auto accident in which he “is accused of driving with a blood-alcohol content more than twice the legal limit at the time of the car crash that killed [Jerry] Brown, a Cowboys practice squad linebacker.”
Should I shake my fist in the fake rage such is well-practiced on cable news channels, and claim the NFL needs to be held accountable for an environment that is obviously fostering all of these criminal acts?
Though I find certain NFL officials such as Washington owner Daniel Snyder to be disingenuous, I, as a journalist, as someone with a certain amount of media cache, do not seriously blame the NFL for the actions of a number of misguided individuals any more than I blame the wrestling industry for the Benoit tragedy, or the Post Office for employees who brought guns to work.
The media attention on Hernandez is where it should be—on that individual, not his profession.
I only hope the wrestling industry will be treated as fairly and shown the same consideration, on the dread if and when.