WWE’s reinstatement of Hulk Hogan may have been announced on Sunday, but it was inevitable long before that. Released in 2015 from a Legends contract and the payday that came with his not-infrequent TV appearances, WWE began incrementally reintroducing Hogan in the past few months. HBO’s documentary Andre The Giant documentary provided WWE an outside party in mainstream media to soften Hogan’s image enough for a return.
Hulk Hogan’s racist tirade, revealed as part of the discovery process in his Peter Thiel-backed defamation lawsuit against Gawker, placed him on a short list of influential wrestlers scrubbed from the company’s history. Others include Chris Benoit, whose 2007 murders of his wife and child and subsequent suicide set off the most serious drug scandal in WWE since the early ’90s federal steroid investigation (of which Hogan was at the center); and Jimmy Snuka. A 1983 murder investigation of Snuka re-opened just weeks after Hulk Hogan’s dismissal when details of Nancy Argentino’s death published in Snuka’s biography did not align with the wrestler’s statement to police. Charges were dropped last year on the grounds Snuka was “incompetent to stand trial.”
Another name Hogan joined in 2015: Joanie Lauer, better known as Chyna. The first (and still only) woman to participated in the Royal Rumble, the first (and still only) woman to win the Intercontinental Championship, and an undeniable forerunner to today’s more progressive portrayal of women’s wrestling in WWE, one could argue Chyna ranks among the five most influential American wrestlers of the last two decades.
Chyna also struggled with personal demons like depression; also a common refrain from Hogan’s defenders and Terry Bollea himself as to why he slept with friend Bubba Clem’s wife, Heather, and unleashed a racist diatribe at some point in that tryst.
Chyna’s depression led to substance abuse, and in the aftermath of her post-wrestling career, Joanie Lauer transitioned to pornography.
Lauer’s former romantic partner, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, said on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast the following about Chyna’s disappearance from WWE history:
It’s a bit difficult, though, and this is the flipside of the coin — and this is the side nobody looks at — I’ve got an eight-year-old kid, and my eight-year-old kid sees Hall of Fame, and my eight-year-old kid goes on the Internet to look at Chyna. What comes up?
Levesque made the above comments in the winter of 2015, shortly before Hulk Hogan’s ouster and a year prior to Lauer’s death.
In the three years since Hogan disappeared from WWE lore, the severity of his comments seem to have been softened. Consider an eight-year-old now Googles “why was Hulk suspended?” Here’s what they’ll find. Read and really digest what Hulk Hogan said.
“…I don’t have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, fucking niggers…I mean, I’d rather if she was going to fuck some nigger, I’d rather have her marry an 8ft tall nigger worth a $100 million! Like a basketball player!.. Fucking nigger.” – Reinstated Hulk Hogan https://t.co/uxqihFIU8G
— Diamond Dallas Beige (@CeeHawk) July 15, 2018
In his apology, Hogan said “This isn’t who I am.” Meanwhile, a common defense others have made for him is that he didn’t know he was being recorded when saying those things. I posit intimate settings — say, speaking with ones incarcerated son, or in bed with the wife of your friend — provide a pretty damn good indicator of who a person is.
But I am not writing to retry Hulk Hogan; my objections nor the protests of others will change the decision. It was on Hogan’s back Vince McMahon placed the World Wrestling Federation’s expansion from regional territory to national (and eventually, international) juggernaut. The message sent and received is that those millions of dollars made, and the foundation for WWE to sell its broadcasting rights for 10 digits, outweighs the hatefulness Hogan expressed.
And make no mistake, hate is exactly what permeates from Hogan’s words. Those are also the words of a man who, at the time, was in his late 50s. His tepid defense that “this isn’t who I am” rings hollow at that age. It’s a somewhat different situation compared to Tuesday’s firestorm over the hatefulness Josh Hader put out on Twitter as a 17-year-old.
A series of the Milwaukee Brewers pitcher’s tweets from 2011 surfaced around the same time he blew an eighth-inning tie for the National League All-Stars. Hader himself chalked up tweets declaring “white power lol” and quite literally “I hate gay people” to youthful indiscretion. However, in his apology, Hader perhaps unintentionally revealed much about pervasive mindsets:
when you’re a kid, you just tweet what’s on your mind, and you know, that’s what’s on.
Three moments in my life shaped who I am today more profoundly than any others: the death of my brother when I was 13; becoming a parent for the first time four years ago; and going away to college at 18.
Had I had social media in my teens, I would not have expressed thoughts as hateful as those Hader tweeted. However, thinking of some of the ideas I had — or, more accurately, aspects of life to which I was simply ignorant — makes me cringe. I think of being in my late teens myself, an ardent consumer of aggressively edgelord turn-of-the-millennium media like Attitude Era WWF and South Park, and my own maturation as a person.
Hulk Hogan at 64 years old, while being rewarded with a triumphant comeback, can only find the motivation to change from within. It’s not going to come from cancelled WWE Network subscriptions — though if you choose to do so, I am not attempting to dissuade you. I did.
If any good is to come from moments like his reinstatement to WWE, or the resurfacing of Josh Hader’s tweets, or Papa John, however, it’s the impetus it provides for self-reflection.
Deadspin’s Drew Magary wrote a thoughtful column last fall on coming to terms with past beliefs. Much of it resonates with me, because he cites moments in his own immaturity that I can hear a younger version of myself saying verbatim. I am not proud to write that, and I hope I am nowhere near growing as person. My problem now is less erroneously believing others need to lighten up, man! and more the resentment that comes from working in a tumultuous, competitive and oftentimes unfriendly industry.
A recurring issue in our culture today is that many of us seek to affect change at a macro level and feeling powerless to do so. Making micro-level shifts in empathy, willingness to listen, and self-improvement may be the greatest tool for larger scale change.