This column should’ve gone up the moment the news broke that Hulk Hogan had his contract terminated by WWE.
But, it’s been difficult to write. There hasn’t been any writer’s block or lack of time. It’s just the amount of disgust and disappointment that has been welling up inside of me over the past few days has made it difficult to professionally assess and critique the situation at hand.
Like many people my age (I’m 33 going on 34), Hulk Hogan was one of the pop culture pillars of my childhood. He, like the similarly (but much more) disgraced Bill Cosby, was a paragons of virtue. Cosby was the shining example of what a hard-working father should be, while Hogan espoused the ethos of ‘training, saying your prayers, eating your vitamins, and believing in yourself.’ Hogan embodied the American spirit to us — the big muscled guy who fought what was for right, fighting for the right of every man. He stood up to giants and monsters, and he valiantly vanquished them despite taking an unmerciful beating.
Hulk Hogan was bigger than life. I can remember 26 years ago crying, openly weeping, when Hogan lost by count-out to The Genius on Saturday Night’s Main Event. I was heartbroken – how could the ‘immortal’ Hulk Hogan lose to one of the worst wrestlers out there? How could my hero be defeated by such an underhanded tactics? How could The Genius, and his cohort Mr. Perfect do this to The Hulkster, and then have the audacity to smash his world title belt?
26 years later I shake my head at how far this once mythic being has fallen.
Wrestling is scripted, we all know that. The men portraying the characters you see on television are usually not the men they are in real. Yes, some are amplified versions, but for the most part what you see on TV is not what you get in real life. It’s that distinction that has lead myself, and probably thousands of other wrestling fans to forgive and forget when it comes to Hulk Hogan.
Whether it was his admitted steroid use, the countless rumored tales of his political maneuvers, his inane reality series, his divorce from longtime wife Linda, the death of his son’s best friend (and his comments afterwords), and his sex tape — there has been a lot out there that has taken the shine off the once pristine red and yellow of Hulkamania.
But, somehow we could forgive and forget. We could divorce Terry Bollea, the man portraying Hulk Hogan, from Hulk Hogan the character. When his music hit, whether it was Rick Derringer’s ‘Real American,’ or Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile (The Slight Return)’ you still got some of those childhood chills. Those chills put aside his personal issues, and made up for his physical inability to wrestle anymore, or the fact he sounds like a grandpa trying to sound hip and cool in his promos. (I died inside every time he used the phrase ‘cray cray.’). But still, hearing the music, seeing the red and yellow, and just hearing the crowd roar washed everything away.
But not this.
Racism isn’t acceptable. It’s just not. No theme music, no shirt ripping, no posing, or even a classic Hogan promo can make this go away. We can’t forgive him because he’s Hulk Hogan, and we certainly can’t divorce Terry Bollea and the Hulk Hogan character anymore. This was bad. The words he used, are not words anyone should be using. Granted, as some have pointed out, he was not calling for death, or violence, or anything bad to happen by using these words. But, there are some words that just, no matter the situation, can’t be used anymore.
Was WWE right in distancing themselves for Hogan? Absolutely. This is a multi-million dollar company. They cannot support an employee, and such an iconic one at that, who uses language like this. If they did, they’d be sending the wrong message to their employees, to their fans, to their partners, and to the world. Wrestling has never been perfect and has a history of playing on stereotypes and prejudices to tell a story, but this is different. This isn’t a story, this a statement made by a member of their company. He’s gotta go. And they did the right thing by ending all potential merchandise that included Hogan, and pulling Hogan from the majority of their programming and content.
Can WWE erase Hogan? Absolutely not. Hogan is one of the most important individuals in the history of professional wrestling. He was the driving force in wrestling (for good and bad) for more than 30 years. The WWE can leave Hogan on The Network, but just not promote him. There are matches still featuring Chris Benoit on the WWE Network, and his actions are more atrocious and horrific than anything Hogan did. The WWE just doesn’t mention or call to attention anything related to Benoit.
Can Hulk Hogan ever be forgiven? Absolutely. Should Hulk Hogan be forgiven? Yes, but only if he shows some sort of contrition. He has to come out and makes visible efforts to say that he was not only wrong, but he’s working to improve himself. Then he has to provide evidence he is improving himself. We all make mistakes. We all do dumb things. We’re not all pure saintly individuals. Hulk Hogan needs to admit this, pay the price, turn himself around, and we, as a society, need to forgive. If we don’t forgive, what lessons are learned? How can we move on?
In the end, it’s just sad to see how far Hulk Hogan has fallen in the 26 years I’ve been a wrestling fan. No longer can we divorce the man playing the character, from the character itself. Hogan’s words have finally fused the two together and it’s hard to not think of all his faults and failures before thinking of all his days of glory.