Hulk Hogan’s an asshole (but he’s not the bad guy here)
Hulk Hogan is a bad person.
There’s no getting around that now. For years, his defenders have made excuses for him. We’ve tried to get around the fact that he just isn’t that great of a wrestler by going on about how great he is at working the crowd. We’ve tried to downplay the behind-the-scenes politics of the various companies he’s wrestled for, and all the stories of careers screwed over and storylines abruptly dropped to assuage his ego. We’ve put up with his, shall we say, slight tendency to exaggerate his own importance because, once upon a time, he actually was as big a deal as he acts. Wrestling as we know it would not exist today, were it not for the game-changing phenomenon that was Hulkamania.
But Hogan has proven himself to be a racist asshole, and I can never truly respect him in the same way anymore. To many people, this kind of thing was a long time coming: the final nail in the coffin of Hulk Hogan as the ultimate role model for kids, and recasting him as a totem of everything wrong with the social attitudes of the wrestling industry as a whole. He brought this on himself.
That being said, was kicking him out of the Hall of Fame and pretending he never worked for WWE really the way to respond here?
I should provide some context. Do you have any idea how many WWE superstars are convicted drug dealers? How many have been killed because of their connections to organized crime? “SuperFly” Jimmy Snuka was accused of murdering his girlfriend. Chris Benoit actually did murder his family, before killing himself. And there’s not enough time to go into all the penny ante charges of drug use, family abandonment, and assaults that have accumulated over the years. Many of the most beloved wrestlers in history have been genuine, dyed-in-the-wool bad people. What is it that makes Hogan so special?
Hogan actually did say all the things he’s been accused of saying, and they are vile and reprehensible. But let’s consider the circumstances here. Hogan said something in private, which was leaked to the outside world, and almost immediately got the hammer dropped on him. (Or the Atomic Leg Drop, if you enjoy the poetic justice of it.) He’s apologized and seems to be sincere, but whether or not that’s true, he’s been completely unpersoned by the WWE. He’s been kicked out of the Hall of Fame and supposedly is no longer considered to have ever been World Heavyweight Champion. (I don’t know if you could call it being stripped of his title, since it’s one he didn’t currently hold, but for lack of a better term, we’ll say he’s been “defrocked”.)
Do I have a problem with him getting fired? No. He should have known better. But the extent to which WWE has disciplined him seems suspicious. I won’t go into how Hogan has burned pretty much every bridge he ever had behind the scenes and McMahon and Triple H were looking for just about any reason to get rid of him once and for all, but consider this: The two most prominent of Hogan’s contemporaries these days are the Iron Sheik and the Ultimate Warrior. Sheik has experienced a huge resurgence in popularity, due in large part to having one of the most hilariously offensive Twitter accounts ever; Warrior (as it once said on his driver’s license, seriously), spent years as a punchline before enough people at WWE just kind of forgot how much they hated him. He’s such a golden boy for the company right now that not only did they put him in the Hall of Fame, but after he died, they named a goddamn award after him! All this, despite the fact that Warrior was a terrible wrestler who couldn’t even work a match well enough to equal Hogan’s own infamous “Five Moves of Doom”. (Though, to be fair, Andre the Giant wasn’t much for actual wrestling either, but if you say anything bad about him in my presence, we’re gonna tangle.) So, yeah, I can get past that part.
Here’s the thing, though. A common occurrence on Sheik’s Twitter is that, completely in character, mind you, he’ll commonly refer to someone he doesn’t like as “fucking cheap Jew son of a bitch”, or words to that effect. He uses “Jew” as an insult is the main takeaway here. And Warrior, when he wasn’t running failed wrestling schools and comic book companies, spent the better part of a decade being paid good money to speak in public about how “queering don’t make the world go ‘round!” Both are things I would argue are just as bad as what Hogan said, but not only were they never punished for their actions, they’ve been rewarded. Hogan spoke his piece in private, and got his legacy taken away from him, but these two publicly said awful things in the name of profit, and WWE didn’t seem to care.
(In the interest of full disclosure, even I’ve moved past a lot of the shit that Warrior pulled, both in terms of harming the wrestling business and the hateful things he said about the LBGT community, but that has more to do with the fact that I’m a firm believer that one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, because they’re not here to defend themselves.)
It’s also worth mentioning that WWE isn’t exactly known for its cultural sensitivity. With a roster that’s included such legends as “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, Junkyard Dog, Ron Simmons, Ahmed Johnson, Abdullah the Butcher, Mark Henry, Booker T, and Dwayne Johnson, there have been a shockingly low number of non-white heavyweight champs*. (There have been plenty of Intercontinental Champions, to be fair.) Or the fact that any time they’ve tried to do an angle about racism or racial injustice, the non-white wrestlers are always the bad guys. Or how the company let one of their wrestlers appear in blackface once. Hell, back in the day, saying the N-word in public was half of “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes’s whole gimmick!
[*It varies depending on how you define “non-white”, but my count puts it between two and five, plus Antonio Inoki’s unofficial win in 1979.]
It’s not that wrestling fans don’t know any of this. I’d say a fair amount of what’s been coming out of the Internet wrestling community (or IWC, for the cool kids) has much more to do with longstanding grudges against Hogan ruining WCW and TNA than the actual words that came out of his mouth.
Also, has there… actually been that much of a backlash against Hogan? I mean, there are all sorts of memes floating around about how he’s been erased from history, but if there’s been a huge outcry from the public, it hasn’t been anywhere near as visible as what’s been coming directly from WWE itself. To be blunt, this really feels more like something they’re telling us that we’re angry about. Almost as if they’re depending on the Internet Outrage Machine to cover what’s very clearly the culmination of decades’ worth of backstage drama, trying to manipulate Hashtag Activism to distract everyone from the naked power play by a bitter, paranoid old man against a bitter, paranoid, slightly younger man over who really made the company what it is.
(Oh, but you better believe that the minute Hogan dies, the company is going to rediscover how much they love love love Hulk Hogan, and have a whole new line of merchandise ready based on what a great guy and friend to all the children he was. Remember where you heard it first!)
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that this ploy doesn’t seem to be working, though I shudder to think just how easily it still could. Hate Hogan all you want. Call him out for his backwards attitudes and the level of hubris that allowed him to think expressing such thoughts, even in private, would never come back to haunt him. But after all of that, you must admit that there’s more going on here.