The wrestling icon's reinstatement was met with skepticism and wariness.
[Updated] On Sunday before the WWE’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view, the company announced that it had lifted the three-year ban of Hulk Hogan from the WWE Hall of Fame. He had been removed because of racist comments made about his daughter Brooke’s boyfriend at the time. “This second chance follows Hogan’s numerous public apologies and volunteering to work with young people, where he is helping them learn from his mistake,” WWE said in a statement. This second chance is also, as David Dennis wrote, “a line in the sand moment for WWE. The correct move was obvious, and they chose to go the opposite way.”
What Hogan actually said matters in this case. In 2006, he said:
“I don’t know if Brooke was f*cking the black guy’s son…I mean, I don’t have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, fucking n——rs. But then when it comes to nice people and shit, and whatever….I mean, I’d rather if she was going to fuck some n——r, I’d rather have her marry an eight-foot-tall n——r worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player!
I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking n——r.”
The rationalizations used to explain away racist remarks don’t apply in this case. Hogan wasn’t raging when he said these things. He was calm, collected, and in bed. They aren’t the words of someone being too familiar with language that wasn’t his to use so casually. He didn’t accidentally find himself in a linguistic minefield. They aren’t taken out of chronological context, acceptable in their day but offensive now.
Hogan’s thoughts are old school racist, driven by racial animus. They’re the one kind of racism that everybody who accepts racism as bad can agree on. Hogan didn’t just use the N-word; he added a derogatory modifier to it and repeated it. He made it about a race and not an individual when he pluralized the N-word at one point. He also revisited the anxiety that launched a thousand lynchings when he couldn’t deal with an African American having sex with his daughter. He couldn’t deal with the thought of a black man sleeping with his daughter—an anxiety that launched a thousand lynchings—and he thought about black men in stereotypes, unable to imagine a black man with money who wasn’t an athlete. He put African-American men on the opposite side of a binary with “nice people,” and when it occurred to him that he and his thoughts were racist, he continued. Being racist wasn’t a drag on his conscience or sense of self until it affected his professional life.
The apology tour in 2015 that followed the exposure of the recording of these words was unconvincing because Hogan made the issue about one word and the media went with him. He explained away the N-word to ABC News’ Amy Robach, saying, “You inherit things from your environment.” He said that when growing up in South Florida, “All my friends, we greeted each other with that word. We teased each other with that word. It was thrown around like it was nothing.”
If Hogan was talking about the habit of white hip-hop fans feeling like they have permission to use a version of the word, then South Florida was ahead of its time since Hogan won his first WWF championship in 1984, two years before the formation of N.W.A. If dudes in South Florida were calling each other the N-word he used in the tape in the 1970s, that’s just weird.
I could go deeper on this, but I’d be duplicating the excellent writing and analysis of others, starting with David Dennis, who wrote:
Let's not forget that a few years ago, WWE exec and wrestler, Triple H said that he couldn't look his daughters in the eye and explain to them how Chyna, a WWE icon, could get into the Hall Of Fame after having been featured in a sex tape. Apparently, Triple H has no problem looking his daughters in the eye to explain to them how he allowed a racist into the Hall Of Fame.
Or Martenzie Johnson, who demonstrated that Hogan’s history of racism wasn’t limited to an overheard moment on a sex tape:
When applied to the video in which he used the N-word, Hogan is arguing that he’s not that person; it’s another person. Despite admitting on camera that he is a racist, Hogan, like during his testimony, is gaslighting us: Someone else entirely is the real racist.
But if the man on tape was not the real Hogan, then who was it? Was it the real Hogan who referred to himself as a “good n—–” in the company of other black wrestlers? Was it the real Hogan who, in 2012, repeatedly used the N-word on a radio show and then, like a roided-out Paul Dawson, questioned why he could not say it? Which Hogan was it that, three days after his firing, liked a tweet on Twitter that likened Hogan’s use of the word to then-President Barack Obama’s?
So far, the WWE talent has been split and generally muted in response to Hogan’s reinstatement. NXT’s Velveteen Dream appears to take credit for it.
The New Day acknowledged Hogan's place in the industry but also the reality of what he said:
How do we feel? Indifferent. We are not happy, sad or resentful. Who WWE puts into the HOF is totally and completely up to the company and from a career standpoint, there is no argument whether or not Hogan should have his place. We have no problem with his re-induction in the slightest degree. It is impossible to even begin to mention the history of the business without mentioning his name and accolades.
On a personal level, when someone makes racist and hateful comments about any race or group of people, especially to the degree 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.
But we also do not respond with more feelings of hate. Instead, we just do not associate with the people who convey or have conveyed this negative and hurtful mindset. This instance will be no different. Perhaps if we see him make a genuine effort to change, then maybe our opinion will change with him. Time will tell.
At first, there were conflicting reports on how Titus O’Neil took the news, but he cleared that up Wednesday with a statement on Twitter, where he said (in part):
As to the reinstatement of Mr. Bollea, I can only communicate that I am a proponent of second and even third chances for individuals that show true remorse, acknowledgement of wrongdoing, fulfill their punishment, if applicable, and otherwise put forth sincere efforts to correct the issues.
Unfortunately, I must echo the sentiment and dissatisifaction expressed by many of my fellow contemporaries concerning Mr. Bollea’s apology and its lack of true contrition, remorse and a desire to change. Mr. Bollea’s apology ‘that he didn’t know he was being recorded’ is not remorse for the hateful and violent utterances he made which reprise language that has caused violence against blacks and minorities for centuries.
I stand firm in my position that Mr. Bollea is entitled to reinstatement; he was and is a role model, hero and icon to countless people. I hope that Mr. Bollea’s missteps in communicating to the WWE talent in Pittsburgh are not repeated to his fans and I expect that he shall pursue an agenda that clearly communicates to all third parties that his language was inappropriate, wrong and should not be tolerated in a civilized and inclusive society.
WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry shared his take as well.
Updated July 19 at 6:01 a.m.
This copy has been revised to add the WWE's statement and to include an excerpt from Titus O'Neil's statement.