Wrestling with Our Tolerance of Violence

By Jason Menard

Violent criminals, thieves, rapists, murderers. Generally, they’re the type of people that we abhor. That is, unless they’re willing to strap on a uniform or do a little metaphorical song and dance and entertain us.

Last night, WWE decided to broadcast a three-hour show, which was shown on The Score, dedicated to Chris Benoit. Benoit, a Canadian wrestler who has gone by many names: The Canadian Crippler, the Rabid Wolverine, and now — allegedly — murderer.

A three-hour tribute to a man who may have killed his wife and seven-year-old son? What message are we sending?

Why is it we’re so willing to look the other way when an athlete commits one of these transgressions? It’s safe to say that one of the most abhorrent acts that exists in our society is violence against women. Unfortunately, the list of present and past athletes who have been charged with sexual assaults and rapes is mind-bogglingly long. We’ve seen police blotters stained with the names of athletes accused of assaulting their spouses and partners. Yet, when it comes time to press charges, suddenly what was once a violent attack becomes nothing more than a mere understanding. Do you think the fact that a multi-year stint could seriously derail the financial gravy train has anything to do with that?

But fans can remember. It just seems that many choose not to. Allegiance to the home squad’s colours appears to supersede our disgust at the acts, both real and alleged. Many of these athletes continue to receive the cheers and accolades of fans while they’re on the field of play.

And we haven’t even discussed those involved in gun play, robbery — anything up to and including defecating in a co-ed’s laundry hamper! Yet, sports fans are willing to forgive and forget far too easily.

Maybe it’s time to reframe this discussion. It’s easy to distance yourself from the impact of an athlete assaulting a nameless, faceless woman. But what if it was your daughter? How would you feel as a parent listening to thousands upon thousands of fans cheering on a man who abused your little girl? How would your daughter feel? It would be like being raped again.

Leonard Little, once known as a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, should better be known for the fact that he killed an innocent 47-year-old woman 1999 after getting behind the wheel of his vehicle while inebriated. And how contrite was Little? Six years later he was given two year’s probation for speeding — and the three field sobriety tests that he allegedly failed, combined with the fact that he refused to take a breathalyzer test, was shelved due to his lawyer’s insistence that police didn’t follow the proper procedures.

A few years back Ray Lewis and his posse were involved in an altercation that left two men dead. He admitted he lied to the police about his involvement, then he copped a plea, testified against his co-defendants, and is now revered throughout the league.

When either of these players do their sack dance, do you think the victims’ respective families feel that they’re dancing on those graves?

Are we that willing to forgive an athlete’s actions because we believe that the same violence and aggression that can drive an athlete to success can spill off the field of play? Or are we simply willing to win at all costs?

In the end, people will argue that the person’s off-field persona and activities have no impact on what their sporting legacy should be. And there is some merit to that. The notes of a beautiful symphony don’t change just because it’s suddenly come out that the composer was a murderer.

And there is always the notion of forgiving and forgetting. But by celebrating these athletes and holding them up as icons, are we not simply aiding and abetting future generations of criminals?

In the end, a tribute to a fine Canadian wrestler may have been appropriate one day, but not on the day he stands accused of murdering his wife and child.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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