All of that explains why fans feel so shaken.

We don't know that wrestling led Benoit to the terrible events of last weekend. We will never know what ran through his mind.

Some people dismiss wrestling all too easily because of its carnival roots and ridiculous plots. But really, what's so rational about dressing up in colored armor and beating your fellow man as half-naked women cheer you on at the coliseum? I've just described the nation's most popular sport, professional football.

And we know that football shatters the bodies of its greatest heroes. Johnny Unitas' scarred knees and gnarled hands told us so.

We know that tens of thousands of punches to the head slow the steps and slur the words of courageous boxers. We're reminded every time Muhammad Ali appears in public.

We know that a car traveling 200 mph can spin out of control even when guided by the most skilled hand. Dale Earnhardt's demise at Daytona attested to that.

No, it won't do to dismiss the implications of Benoit's death simply because he was a wrestler.

As a culture, we've decided that consenting adults are allowed to push themselves past safe limits for our entertainment. Drug testing and better medical care and safety precautions can lessen many of these risks but cannot stamp them out.

I don't know about you, but when a boxer loses his life in the ring, or a football player is crippled, or a wrestler turns up dead in his hotel room, I feel complicit.

If I know these acts are so destructive, why do I watch? Do I lack the moral fortitude to look past my desire to be entertained? I fear the answer is yes.

In the past few days, scores of wrestling fans have said on message boards that Benoit's death will kill their love of the spectacle. Many more have said that one man's deranged acts shouldn't end an art loved by so many. I agree with the latter, and yet I wonder.

childs.walker@baltsun.com