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1 year ago today, Terry Bollea, best known around the world as legendary wrestler Hulk Hogan, is fired from WWE after The National Enquirer and Radar Online presented transcripts of a racist rant caught on tape. The tape from which the rant came, dating back to 2007, would be the center of a lawsuit pitting the wrestler against Gawker Media, the parent company of the site of the same name that leaked the tape.
The Enquirer said that the rant stemmed from a discussion regarding Brooke Hogan (Hulk's daughter) sleeping with the son of an African-American music producer who was working with Brooke at the time. The statements, verified by multiple independent sources, included multiple uses of a racial slur.
"She is making some real bad decisions now. My daughter Brooke jumped sides on me. I spent $2-3 million on her music career, I've done everything like a jackass for her."
That was one of Hogan's more benign remarks on the tape, where he also said, "I guess we're all a little racist." The remarks towards Brooke's boyfriend would turn crass:
"I don't know if Brooke was f***ing the black guy's son."
"I mean, I don't have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, f***ing n****s. But then when it comes to nice people and s***, and whatever."
"I mean, I'd rather if she was going to f*** some n*****, I'd rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n***** worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player!"
"I guess we're all a little racist. F***** n*****."
Hogan would get the (and my apologies for the simile) "Chris Benoit treatment", with all his merchandise pulled and his history virtually scrubbed from the WWE website. In addition, all of his action figures currently in stock were recalled, and Hogan was pulled as a playable character from the upcoming WWE 2K16 video game. In addition, Hulk Hogan's Rock ‘n Wrestling, the 1980s cartoon series, was removed from the WWE Network streaming service, though his matches and many of his video specials remain.
At the time of his firing, Hogan was a judge on the Tough Enough reboot and was on a legends deal with the company. WWE issued this statement following his firing:
WWE terminated its contract with Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan). WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.
Reaction of the firing came from all sides, including Booker T, Mark Henry, Big E, MMA fighter Tito Ortiz, soon-to-be MMA fighter CM Punk, Hulk's daughter Brooke, Scott Steiner, The Rock, and comedian Hannibal Buress. Even adult website Brazzers took a jab at Hogan.
A few hours after his firing, Hogan issued an apology in a statement to People:
Eight years ago I used offensive language during a conversation. It was unacceptable for me to have used that offensive language; there is no excuse for it; and I apologize for having done it.
This is not who I am. I believe very strongly that every person in the world is important and should not be treated differently based on race, gender, orientation, religious beliefs or otherwise.
I am disappointed with myself that I used language that is offensive and inconsistent with my own beliefs.
Also in a statement, Hogan's lawyer, David Houston contended that Hogan resigned from the company and was not fired.
A month later, Hogan went on an "image rehab" tour, talking to TMZ and appearing on ABC's Good Morning America and Nightline. A part of the interview:
Out of everything that I've been through, this one hit me probably the hardest.
I was at the lowest point of my life, to the point where I want to kill myself. Yes, I was [suicidal]. And I was very mad at my daughter - for really no reason, I was upset over a situation that happened between her and her boyfriend, and I had no idea I was being taped.
No I'm not. I'm not a racist. I never should have said what I said. It was wrong. I'm embarrassed by it. But a lot of people need to realize that you inherit things from your environment. And where I grew up was South Tampa, and it was a really rough neighborhood, very low income, and all my friends, we greeted each other saying that word. The word was just thrown around like it was nothing.
I would say that is very fair [that he inherited a racial bias]. The environment I grew up in, all my white friends, all my black friends, to hear the word a daily basis when they'd greet me in the morning, that's what they'd say to me, "good morning so-and-so'. I think that was part of the culture and the environment I grew up in.
Oh my gosh please forgive me. Please forgive me. I'm a nice guy. It's not the Hulk Hogan that rips the shirt off and bang-bang-bang slams giants. You know, I'm Terry Bollea, I'm just a normal man.
Everything I've done my whole career, my whole life, was like it never happened. Yeah, like I'd never existed. Oh my gosh, it was devastating.
If anybody, should of disowned me, it should of been her [Brooke]. You know? She should of been the one to throw me out like the trash, but instead, she showed me more love than anybody.
She's been so supportive, she's been the direction of my attack, you know? I was not so mad at her boyfriend, I was mad at her, you know? And she instantly said, 'I don't even need to forgive you, cause I'm not mad at you'.
Just because a person makes a mistake, just don't throw him away. You don't throw good people away. If everybody, at their lowest point, was judged on one thing they said, and all of a sudden your whole career was wiped out today because of something you said ten or twenty years ago. It'd be a sad world. People get better, everyday. People get better.
In March 2016, after multiple delays, Hogan and Gawker finally faced off in court over the sex tape and whether Hogan's privacy was violated and to what degree. The two-week trial ended with a six-person jury finding in favor of Hogan. He was awarded a total $140 million in damages from Gawker, including $55 million in compensatory damages, $60 million for emotional distress, and $25 million in punitive damages (the punitive damages were awarded the Monday after the trial ended). Hogan also sued radio shock jock Thomas Clem, aka Bubba the Love Sponge, along with his Thomas' then-wife Heather Cole. That suit was settled back in 2012 for just $5,000.
Gawker Media filed an appeal in April 2016, claiming that the amount of damages should greatly be reduced and that key evidence in the trial was wrongly withheld. Both motions were denied in late May 2016, a few weeks after Hogan sued Gawker a second time, alleging Gawker was responsible for the racial slur leak that got him fired.
Last month, Gawker filed a motion for a stay of execution on awarding the judgment, stating it could not afford the judgment, nor the bond needed to appeal the case ($50 million). That motion was also denied, prompting Gawker Media to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
In April 2016, the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeals released documents that Gawker tried unsuccessfully to get admitted as evidence, including the racist rant that got him fired. The audio transcript was released by The National Enquirer and Death & Taxes Magazine.
There is speculation that Hogan and WWE are once again on good terms, and his return to the company is imminent. As for Gawker Media, Ziff Davis, the company behind PC Magazine and IGN, agreed in principle to buy the company.