Monday, June 22, 2009

Another Day, Another Free Fall From Grace...

Domestic violence, whether it is wife beating, child abuse, workplace bullying, or whatever, manifests itself in so many ways. It is not just physical brutality, as in a punch in the chest or a blackened eye. It is emotional and psychological, as in bullying and denigrating behavior. And it is economic, as in interfering with one's ability to earn a living.

But when it comes to "sports entertainment" (read: professional wrestling),when does this cross the line from choreographed violence into something more dangerous and frightening real?

Earlier this morning, while surfing the Internet, I stumbled across the news via the St. Petersberg (FL) Times that former WWE wrestler Brian Blair was arrested on Father's Day on two felony counts of child abuse.

It was in clear, graphic terms that, according to press accounts, the following scenario played itself out:

At 4:00 a.m., during a violent domestic dispute in the Blair househod, Brian punched his elder son Brett in the chest. Though Brett tried to walk away, Brian grabbed him and and punched him in the face, then slapped a choke hold on him to where he began having breathing difficulties. Once he released the hold, he grabbed his younger son Bradley by the throat and punched him in the head.

Blair was also alleged to have had a history of domestic abuse. In 1984, a former girlfriend accused him of beating her during an alcohol-fueled domestic dispute. Though Blair was slated to be charged with battery and grand theft (he allegedly took $2,000 in gifts he gave her), the case was never really pursued and charges were not formally filed.

Blair was released without bail earlier today, but the presiding judge barred him from having any contact with his children, The case has been turned over to the Department of Children and Families.

In responding to his Father's Day arrest, Blair said, "It's a real, I guess, unfortunate situation, that it's a misunderstanding that could have been prevented," Blair added, "I have over 7,000 hours mentoring children, and the last thing that I'd ever do is hurt a kid. Sometimes the hardest kids to mentor are your own."

Blair told reporters that he loves his constituents and hopes to continue his life in politics. "If they were there, I think they'd understand the situation," he said. "The most important thing is that my wife is OK."

But then, this is a by-product of the netherworld of professional wrestling, where things have to be seen to be disbelieved.

The Blair incident is not an isolated one, but rather one in a disturbing pattern of violent behavior that has profoundly impacted those within the business. There were wrestlers who died way too young -- casualties of substance abuse, difficulties coping with life on the road, and in the extreme case of Chris Benoit, hitherto brain concussions that triggered homicidal behavior that tragically took the lives of his wife and son. There are also scattered accounts of lawbreaking: former wrestler Jeff Gaylord was recently arrested for bank robbery, and another former wrestler, Dick Slater, was facing down attempted murder charges in the 2003 stabbing of his ex-girlfriend.

It may not be a problem in the first instance. But when you multiply them manifold, then it does become a problem.

We all make choices, the choices we make do have consequences. There is a difference between an action taken and a action multiplied, as there a difference between microcosmic intention and macrocosmic effect. And the immediacy of disturbing news traveling on the Internet magnifies this even further.

This is not necessarily what a clinical psychologist would call a case of oppositional defiance disorder. Perhaps the most reasonable conclusion that could be drawn is there were contributing environmental stressors and other factors that came into play in the Blair debacle: a devastating re-election campaign loss, difficulties making a transition into another life, possible financial difficulties, all converging into a perfect storm that led to what happened.

I am not trying to pass judgment on Blair, nor am I trying to make a rush to judgment, either. I came out of an abusive family environment with the scar tissue to show for it, and it is through that prism I see things through. I also had more than my share on encounters with serial bullies both in the classroom and in the workplace where, every time I tried to speak up for myself, was targeted for retaliation and retribution.

But then, this is America. And if you're looking for an apt metaphor that describes our current psychopathological state of mind, try explaining separation anxiety disorder to a truant officer.

All in all, this is much more that extremely poor judgment and restraint on Blair's part. What it represents is a perverse attempt at an assertive power statement to reassert control over a family. And such an abusive act -- regardless of who makes it -- only serves to denigrate and diminish us all.

There is no doubt Blair will not be able to mentor children anytime in the future, given what had happened that fateful Father's Day. There are issues Blair needs to address -- not only in anger management classes, but in family therapy sessions. The Blair family needs time to heal, and time to reconcile and to move on.

Now that I got all this off my chest, I can now hold my peace.

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