Wavell Starr column

In the blink of an eye, the man who transitioned the professional wrestling business from smoke-filled arenas on local television to capacity crowds in pro sports stadiums with syndicated programming on mainstream cable television, Hulk Hogan went from American hero to exposed racist in the eyes of most of society, according to social media. The Hulkster was unknowingly video recorded while verbally unloading a racist tirade that included several mentions of the “N” word. The story was leaked online and the news went viral. Due to this, Vince McMahon and the WWE immediately distanced themselves from the man that started Hulkamania and without a doubt, was essential to the WWE becoming the juggernaut that it has become today.

The comments were absolutely unacceptable and the WWE did the right thing as a publicly-traded company to cut all visible ties to Hogan. Having said that, as a person that has spent close to 20 years in the business, I must admit that: 1) I’m not at all surprised that a wrestler would refer to a race of people in such a manner – the wrestling business has long capitalized on human diversity as evident by the numerous race-based gimmicks (characters) portrayed over the years on WWE programming; and 2) when I first heard of the news when it broke, I wasn’t as alarmed as the rest of society. Again, the comments were offensive and unacceptable. However, my experience of working a race-based gimmick for the entirety of my career has somewhat calloused me to racism and the harsh effects it has on individuals.

When I was a young boy watching WWE programming (then the WWF) every Saturday morning, Hulk Hogan was a hero of mine. He wasn’t my number one hero though, as that title went to the former stars of Stampede Wrestling that I had watched at the Regina Exhibition Auditorium on Tuesdays – the Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith, and Brett Hart. However, given he was the WWE(F) Heavyweight Champion and main event on any card he was on, Hulk Hogan was definitely a hero in my eyes. When you spend a childhood looking up to someone and then spend years in the business, respecting the fact that he helped make it what it is, it is hard not to want to defend him. The harsh reality of the hatred that his words carried however, make that impossible. He is a man and will have to live with the consequences of his actions. Already it has not only tarnished his legacy and shattered his reputation in the eyes of those that grew up “training, saying their prayers and eating their vitamins” as he often advised, it has also caused WWE to remove him from the Hall of Fame section of their website and fire him from their employ.

The reactions of his former colleagues and various performers in the business today range from empathetic, to disappointed, to intolerant.  Most of them took to Twitter to post their thoughts on the issue. Former WWE star Mick Foley tweeted “My heart truly hurts for @Hulk Hogan. I firmly believe he’s a very good person who made a very bad mistake. Pulling for you brother!”  Long time WWE television announcer Jim Ross, in response to a tweet asking his opinion on the matter, tweeted “Sad…unfortunate…will follow him forever”.

Other colleagues weren’t as accepting of the comments. Former WWE star that recently signed with UFC, CM Punk tweeted “Waiting patiently for a Hogan/Cosby meme to further shatter all our memories and innocence from the 80’s”. Current WWE performer Big E Langston tweeted, “Appropriate a culture, pilfer from its dialect, profit wildly from it, and regard its people as subhuman. Makes sense”. Clearly, reactions are varied and social media has blown up due to the Hogan incident.

Regardless of the profound impact that Hulk Hogan made on the wrestling business and the fans that followed him for the length of his illustrious career, he is now faced with a tarnished legacy and will be labeled a racist in the eyes of many. For this group, his accomplishments will now amount to nothing. Though I am disappointed in the words he has spoken, I am admittedly having a hard time turning my back on the man that created “Hulkamania”. At first, I think of the memories I hold of him and the business as a child growing up, idolizing him and other performers of the era. However, like so many other instances I have witnessed from the inside of the business, my disappointment is not at all a surprise.

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