A longtime friend and former business partner of Brian Blair today said that the retired professional wrestler arrested on Father's Day and charged with child abuse is more of a victim than a criminal.
Blair, a former professional wrestler and county commissioner, was arrested Sunday and charged with two counts of child abuse - third-degree felonies. Aside from a brief statement he made after he was released from jail Monday morning, Blair has not commented. Neither has his attorney. But Blair's friends have been stepping forward to defend him.
Ed Barbara, who has known Blair for two decades, told TBO.com that there's more to the story surrounding Blair's Sunday morning arrest than was released. Blair was charged after a scuffle broke out between him and his two teenage sons and two of their friends, authorities said. The Blair boys weren't seriously injured and showed minor bruises and marks, authorities said.
Blair was taken to the hospital before he was booked.
Barbara said he has spoken to Blair, 52, since the arrest and even accompanied Blair's wife, Toni, to jail when he was released on Monday. Barbara said Blair has had issues with his oldest son, Brett, 17, over the past several months.
"There have been issues and challenges going on at home, like in many homes," Barbara said. "I've seen Brian in tears with his face in his hands, concerned about his son's attitude, choice of friends and health choices.
"These are good kids at heart," Barbara said, "but they are making some wrong choices, in my opinion especially with disrespect and their choices of friends."
Barbara said Blair told him that on the night of the scuffle, Blair and his wife were asleep and they thought their boys were in the house, also asleep.
When the teens loudly came into the home at 4 a.m. on Sunday, along with two friends, Blair came out to talk to them.
"There was total disrespect and anger that came from his sons and their friends and things started getting out of control," Barbara said Blair told him. "Brian did what any good parent, what any good dad would do: try to squelch this from becoming something bigger."
That's when he was "blindsided," Barbara said. The blow sent him to the ground and then he felt the stomping begin. Barbara said Blair told him he didn't know who hit or kicked, but he got "bruises on his ribs while he was being kicked on the ground.
He said he doesn't know what happened.
"I think it's getting woken up at 4 in the morning and having kids jumping in your face," he said.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesman J.D. Callaway would not comment on Barbara's version of events. The investigation, said Callaway, is continuing. Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi declined to comment, saying only that the matter was still under investigation.
Barbara said he does not know if Blair will pursue charges against the other teens in the house.
"He can't see his kids." Barbara said. "He can't speak to his sons. He can't take them on a vacation he had planned for next week," Barbara said. "Physically, he's hurting. He was beat up in the press. He was accused of a terrible crime when he is the victim."
The day of his arrest, Blair said that he was glad his wife wasn't hurt, but wouldn't elaborate. Barbara said today that Toni Blair was in the house at the time.
The day of the arrest, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies said Blair punched, shoved and put into choke holds his two sons, the youngest of whom, said Barbara, is 14. They boys were not physically injured. Deputies would not comment on the case Wednesday morning.
"The family situation," said sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway, "remains under investigation."