Paul Kersey, American Renaissance, July 27, 2018
Nothing — unless it’s the swastika — sets off as crazed a reaction as the “N-word.” Using it can end a white person’s career. It is thought to be such an unspeakable insult that a black who hears the word may be held blameless for any reaction, no matter how violent. In modern America, even a private utterance can be ruinous, even for the wealthy and powerful. In 2015, after an illegally recorded conversation was released to the public, wrestler Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea (henceforth Mr. Hogan) saw the work of a lifetime wiped out in a day. His career ended, he was disowned by World Wrestling Entertainment, the organization he took to world fame. Mr. Hogan joined the ranks of countless whites whose lives had been destroyed by a racial taboo.
Yet this story has an unexpected twist: Hulkamania is back. Mr. Hogan was just reinstated to the WWE Hall of Fame after a three-year exile.
The incident that brought down Hulk Hogan was an almost eight-year-old private, post-coital conversation. The act and ensuing conversation were secretly taped, and images were released by the website Gawker. Mr. Hogan sued, and the conversation containing the offensive word became public during the lawsuit. Mr. Hogan won the suit and bankrupted Gawker, but the word destroyed his career and reputation.
The WWE not only ended his contract, it eliminated all mentions of his name from its website, discontinued his merchandise, removed him from its Hall of Fame, and even refused to air any episodes of its program Tough Enough in which he appeared. It would be as though Hulk Hogan had never existed.
The WWE is now flying high, with its flagship show airing on Fox as part of a five-year, one billion dollar deal. Yet the WWE was nothing before Hulk Hogan put it on the map in the 1980s. Fellow wrestling legend Bret “Hitman” Hart recalls in his autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, that he and other wrestlers were grateful to Mr. Hogan for helping them make a living. Most wrestlers at that time did not have salaries; they got only a percentage of the live gate. During one period, Mr. Hart recalls: “The only guys still getting the big cheques were the ones on Hogan’s undercard. Hulk was still as hot as ever.”
Without Mr. Hogan, there would have been fewer fans attending matches and far less money for the WWE to give its wrestlers. “In these glory days of Hulkamania, it was common to see wrestlers walk up to him and shake his hand, thanking him for putting food on their tables,” Mr. Hart writes. “I was one of them. Hulk had a star on his own private dressing room door, a company limo and a Lear jet, but no one thought he didn’t deserve it.” Many of those working in the industry today would not have jobs without Hulk Hogan. His erasure from the WWE was a deeply personal insult.
Since WWE was so quick to distance itself from Hulk Hogan in 2015, what message is it sending with his return? Less than two weeks ago, Hulk Hogan, now 64, was asked to speak to wrestlers backstage before the company put on one of its WWE Network exclusive events. There had been rumors about a comeback, with a WWE statement earlier this year describing his possible return as a way to fight racism. “We have had discussions with Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan) about how he can help others learn from his mistakes, however, he is not under any contract with WWE.”
Still, given what just happened to Papa John’s founder John Schnatter, Hulk Hogan’s official reinstatement in the Hall of Fame is surprising and significant. According to the New York Post, some black wrestlers — who enjoy guaranteed contracts courtesy of Hulk Hogan turning the WWE into a global phenomenon — were upset by his reinstatement. A group called “New Day,” composed of black wrestlers Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods, proclaimed itself “indifferent” to Hulk Hogan’s reinstatement. However, it also stated, “On a personal level, when someone makes racist and hateful comments about any race or group of people, especially to the degree that Hogan made about our people, we find it difficult to simply forget, regardless of how long ago it was, or the situation in which those comments were made.” Mark Henry, another black wrestler, said blacks are split “50-50” about whether Mr. Hogan should be allowed back in the industry.
Hulk Hogan will never wrestle again. He has had too many injuries in the ring, and too many surgeries to piece himself back together. However, a public appearance would be a very important event. Will Hulk Hogan emerge to his signature “Real American” theme song, only to grovel? It would be a typical example of our latest national pastime. But what if tens of thousands of wildly cheering fans leap to their feet instead?
This could happen. Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker was suspended for the start of the 2000 Major League Baseball season for racially charged comments he made in Sports Illustrated. When he returned to play, he was welcomed with a standing ovation by fans in Atlanta.
More recently, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader lived through a Two-Minutes Hate when old tweets from 2011 resurfaced. He also had used the forbidden N-word. After agreeing to go to diversity counseling, he managed to salvage his career, but the press continue to call him a “racist.“ Milwaukee fans, however, gave him a standing ovation only days after the scandal broke.
This is the WWE’s dilemma: A live audience could give Hulk Hogan a delirious welcome. His return would mean money for the WWE but could get a harsh press reception. A sea of shouting, happy fans would show Americans are tired of the shame culture created by the media. Three years of banishment could be washed away in a single ovation, but a revival of Hulkamania could be drowned in media hysterics.
To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, after a white person says the N-word, there can be no second act in American life. Yet, with the WWE reinstating Hulk Hogan, we might just see a second act for one of pop culture’s most iconic stars. More importantly, if the “Real American” theme is met with wild cheers, we will have reason to cheer too. Media gatekeepers may not have as much control as they think.