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WWE and Hulk Hogan still haven’t addressed the problem

Premiere Of HBO’s ‘Andre The Giant’ - Red Carpet Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

On Sunday afternoon (July 15), WWE announced Hulk Hogan was reinstated into their Hall of Fame. There remain conflicting reports about his contractual status with WWE, but the news ends a three year banishment from the biggest pro wrestling company in the world for the most famous pro wrestler in the world. Hogan was fired by WWE in 2015 when a tape surfaced which captured him saying, among other things:

“I don’t know if Brooke [Hogan’s daughter] 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!”

The tape was made by Hogan’s then-friend Todd “Bubba The Love Sponge” Clem of Hulk sleeping with Clem’s then-wife Heather. Gawker publishing a different portion of that tape was central to Hogan’s successful lawsuit against the website, but that was never said to be an issue in WWE’s decision to part ways with one of their biggest stars. Instead, the company’s statement on the termination of his contract focused on their own track record of celebrating diversity, indicating it was the racial slur used and racist views espoused by Hogan in the recording which led to their decision.

Since his firing, Hulk has spoken about the tape many times. He’s apologized, and worked with some charities. These are good things. But they still don’t really address the issue which got him fired in the first place, and that’s why WWE beginning the process of bringing him back into the fold is baffling and hurtful to many.

What Hogan hasn’t done is acknowledge his own statement, “I am a racist”. He’s explained the “to a point” part away as an accepted worldview for a person raised in the south in the 1950s and 60s, which is true. But that doesn’t make it okay. And it certainly doesn’t justify a man who traveled the world working with people of all races and ethnicities, and got rich off customers of all races and ethnicities, still holding and sharing a bigoted viewpoint decades later.

The work Hulk has done with Boys & Girls Club is fantastic. Partnered with WWE, he’ll get a chance to do more with them and other great organizations. But if owning his words is part of what’s required for actual forgiveness and healing, some action directly related to alleviating the pain they caused is the other. Why hasn’t Hogan partnered with a racial justice effort to speak out against bigotry and prejudice? If organizations doing that work are too controversial for WWE, can’t his Boys & Girls Club appearances focus on speaking on those topics?

Instead, in being admitted to the non-profit’s Hall of Fame, he again blames circumstances without addressing what’s behind the language he got in trouble for:

“And what’s so cool now is working with the Boys Club, I have a chance to help these kids not make the mistake I made, being at the wrong place at the wrong time or saying the wrong words.”

Couldn’t he say “I have a chance to help these kids see all people as equal, and treat everyone with honor, dignity and respect whether cameras are rolling or not”? Wouldn’t a Real American explaining to young people why he was wrong to have those opinions and use those words, how he came to learn they were wrong, and what he knows now about the worth of all people be a profound message - not only to kids, but to adults who used to call themselves Hulkamaniacs?

People deserve second chances, some say. Hogan’s been punished enough, say others. I agree with the first statement, and even have some empathy for Hulk when confronted with the second argument. But I have much more empathy for black fans who believed The Hulkster represented them, only to find out behind closed doors he only represents African-Americans and other minorities he deems “nice” or rich enough.

If Hogan has learned and grown from his WWE firing, he’s uniquely positioned to influence others and have a real effect on racism and stereotypes. A message of change means much more when it’s delivered by someone who’s changed, as opposed to someone simply telling others they should.

“I’m sorry I hurt you” isn’t the same as “I’ve learned how what I said and did hurt you, and am taking steps to make sure I don’t do it again, and hopefully help so others don’t hurt you either”.

The first is easy. The second is hard work.

Hogan’s return will be promoted to all wrestling fans. He and WWE hope it’ll be met with cheers, and make money for both parties. It’s not unreasonable to expect them to do some hard work for all wrestling fans before that.

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