Hello and welcome to Planet Kayfabe. If I say the name "Hulk Hogan" what do you think of? If I say the name "Terry Bollea" what do you think of? Is the answer the same or entirely different? Some many fans the two have been separated, but over the last decade and a half the lines have been blurred to the point where the real person is morphed with his character for better or worse. I think it all started with his reality show where his family then, and still to this day including his now ex-wife used the work surname "Hogan" to increase their media visibility. If you're a younger fan chances are when you think of "Hulk Hogan" you have similar thoughts to when you think of Terry Bollea. If you're an older fan, you likely think of Hulkamania and the nWo and would rather forget about that over-exposed reality show period where he became a bit of a laughing stock and his personal life and all the ugly warts beneath the underbelly became public knowledge. I bring this up so that you, the readers, know that this column is coming from the perspective of someone who didn't grow up with Hulkamania running wild. Hell, most of my nWo knowledge is from watching old Nitros, DVD's and interviews. I was a full-on WWF kid in the late 90's and to be honest I never even saw a Hogan match live as it happened until he returned to the WWF in 2002. So, anything you see here is not coming from a fan who is blind by nostalgia. As a kid I was giving my classmates the finger and smashing Coke cans on my head. Not cupping my ear and flexing my muscles.
Obviously today this edition of Planet Kayfabe is about the recent reinstatement of Hulk Hogan into the WWE Hall of Fame. What does it mean? Is it right? Is it wrong? Should WWE do any further action with Hogan? Should he be forgiven for his racist remarks? Should fans just focus on the character and separate him from the real person since, let's face it, Hogan wouldn't be the first asshole to get cheered and hailed as a legend in this business? All that I'm going to address with my own personal takes.
In February of 2014 Hulk Hogan made his return to WWE... his fourth return for those keeping track at home. It was his first appearance since December of 2007 and his first big move after his run with TNA who he signed on with in the fall of 2009. Hogan acted as the host for Wrestlemania XXX (30) and considering Hulk Hogan was the face of Wrestlemania during its formative years, there was no better choice and the timing was right for Hogan to return home to the WWE in a legends/ambassador sort of role. One year later Hulk Hogan would be the person to induct "Macho Man" Randy Savage into the Hall of Fame. A long over-due induction that really only happened because Steve Austin had the balls to press Vince McMahon hard on this issue during his podcast. At WrestleMania 31, Hogan did a run-in (and I use that term as loosely Jeff Hardy's ear gauge after Randy Orton stuck his finger in it) as a member of the nWo during the Triple H vs Sting match... because if anyone was going to come to Sting's aid it surely had to be the New World Order, right???
Not long after that in July of 2015 Hogan's contract would be terminated by WWE. Over night they removed images of him on the Hall of Fame portion of their website along with the alumni section which got fans talking online before an official statement was ever really released, so we knew something serious was up, just now what exactly. Upon his release WWE made the following statement in short, "[we]are committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds" I'm not sure how a piece of evidence in an on-going trial was made public, but it was and the WWE had no choice but to release him. You can make the argument that maybe they went too far by erasing his memory, but they had to let him go and they certainly couldn't just leave him on Tough Enough after this video leaked to the public.
Many have spoke in favor of Hogan and many have spoke against him. Jerry Lawler recently said that the release was an over-reaction to "PC culture" and that Hogan doesn't have an ounce of racism in his body. While typical I'd be the first to defend any argument that condemns the current toxic and sometime life damaging PC culture we are in right now, if I were that interviewer I would have asked Jerry Lawler if he watched the video. In the video Bollea is expressing his disgust with black men wanting to be with his daughter and using the "n-word" to describe them. He would then later remark that he is "a racist to a point"... I guess meaning that he's only a little racist, but not wear a white sheet and burn your house down racist. Whatever. Point is, in this private conversation he admitted he was at least somewhat racist so Jerry Lawler, even though he has known Hogan his entire professional life, can't say that he doesn't have an ounce of racism in his body when the words came out of his own mouth.
So, where do you go from there? Bollea has apologized repeatedly for his remarks. Its embarrassing that that footage leaked and he was also a victim of a crime being taped without his knowing. You can believe Bollea has changed and his his apology is genuine or you can believe that he's only sorry because he got caught and he's trying to protect his legacy so the lasting memory of him after he is gone is his life's work in wrestling and not for a racist rant he did while banging his buddy's wife drunk off his ass during a time when his wife was trying to suck him dry in a divorce. The truth is none of us, the fans, truly know the man. We can certainly be skeptical. Bollea has made a living working the fans. Almost everything he says is a work. On a more light-hearted note do you remember when Hulk Hogan said he auditioned for Metallica after bassist Cliff Burton died in 1986? I knew it was bullshit, but he just threw it out there and people ran with it. It was on every website and the casual masses just believed it because that's how you work people. The hardcore fans of WWE and Metallica aren't going to buy it but a lot of other people did. I recently came across a James Hetfield (Metallica, front man) interview from 2 years ago where he was asked about this and he said flat out "it never happened". So yeah, once again Hogan was kayfabin' the world. Actually in the wrestling world I'd say Hogan was just working, but Metallica isn't wrestling so what is he? Just a pathological liar? So, I can't blame fans for thinking that his efforts to rehab his public image are just a work, but none of us truly know for sure without reading his mind. You can only listen to those that are there in the WWE locker room and those that have worked with Bollea and many of which are split. Bret Hart, who seemingly has never liked Hogan said he wasn't surprised. Guys like Virgil, Dennis Rodman and the aforementioned Jerry Lawler said they know him and swear those aren't his true feelings.
As skeptical as I am of Hogan's intentions, I'm always in favor of redemption and forgiveness. That's where we come in as fans and even some of the wrestlers who may judge Hogan. None of us are perfect. We live in times where you can say one thing and it changes your life forever and thanks to the internet nothing dies. Hogan's remarks were made just over a decade ago and as long as the video remains out there people will hear it and be hurt by his statements all over again and perhaps keep re-opening a wound before it has a chance to heal. I'm sure most of us have said thing we have regretted in the past, the only difference is we weren't recorded and are not public figures who have a public image to keep clean. Before you judge, think hard. Maybe you never made a racist remark in your life but go back 10, 15 maybe 20 years. Maybe you used a word to describe gay people back then that was casual conversation but would get you in a lot of hot water today if you were in Hogan's position. Maybe you tweeted a word in 2009 that you completely forgot about and then someone brings it up out of nowhere thinking it is reflective of your true feelings when you know that it is not anymore and that you've changed. I'm not defending what Hogan said. Despite Lawler's take, I respectfully disagree. Hogan's remarks were racist. Plain and simple. However, people do and can change. As I pointed out, maybe you said something in the past about gays when it was more socially acceptable to make negative remarks and whether you still feel that way or not you wouldn't want someone rubbing it in your face a decade or more later especially if you have made efforts to change or just naturally changed over the course of time. The reason why I use that as an example is because I didn't grow up during a time or part of the country where racial slurs were casually tossed around. I did however grow up during a time where you were called a faggot if you were a guy who listened to "chick bands" or had outed gay friends and if you were rumored to be gay no one in a gym locker room would want you there because they thought they were going to be gawked at or whatever. Times change and people change and I know for a fact that some of the people I graduated with who were constantly making remarks against gays are different people now over the passing of time and changes in society.
I suppose the glaring difference there is people changing from their teens to their 20's or 30's where here we are supposed to believe that remarks a guy made in his 50's are not reflective of who the man is now in his 60's. I can understand why it would be hard to understand, but I'll throw this out there. I'd rather Hulk Hogan be restored as WWE's legendary face of the 1980's than the Ultimate Warrior.
Since Hogan was released by the WWE, they have decided to fully lionize Ultimate Warrior who said some of the most disgusting things I've heard in my life. How it is even worse is that Warrior said them publicly. They weren't private leaked drunken conversations. They were true public opinions that he let out there and we are lead by WWE to think instead that Warrior was the personification of hard work, loyalty and over coming adversity. This got even worse this past year when WWE started their "Unleash Your Warrior" campaign to raise money for breast cancer research while completely ignoring the remarks Warrior made when Bobby Heenan was diagnosed with cancer, in short, pretty much saying he deserves it, karma's a bitch and he should die. I get WWE is trying hard to separate the character from the real person, but it is just funny to me how they are willing to ignore Jim Hellwig's real remarks when everything this company does now is micromanaged and pin pointed to make sure they had a great public image and pander to every demographic possible. Another thing that bothers me is whether you believe him or not, Hogan has apologized repeatedly over the last few years and has most recently met with the WWE roster backstage at Extreme Rules to apologize face-to-face. Whether you believe him or not, he has at least apologize and stated that those remarks aren't reflective of who he is today. With Ultimate Warrior all we have is his widow saying "he changed his views before he died". Really? Did he? I have a hard time buying that someone as outspoken as Warrior was for YEARS suddenly changed his views without so much as a peep coming out to the public to where he would publicly retract or clarify previous statement. Unless if while he was dying he said "tell my family I love them....and also... IwishBobbyHeenanacleanbillofhealthandgaysarealright" So, I guess if I had to pick my poison I'll be just fine if they start phasing out all this Warrior fanfare and slide Hogan back in that role.
Mark Henry recently did an interview with TMZ which I will leave a link for below. He was asked about his feeling and the feelings of the African American talent in the WWE right now. One mistake I think a lot of fans make or people in general when it comes to these situations is that they assume one person can speak for an entire group of people as one voice as if they aren't all individuals with their own thoughts and feelings. So, if you assumed Hogan was shunned in the locker room after some of the apparently exaggerated rumors about Titus O'Neil were put out there then you were mistaken. Kofi Kingston would also release a statement on behalf of The New Day saying they're pretty much indifferent on the topic in a lengthy statement.
Henry stated that the black talent in WWE are split 50-50 on Hogan returning to the WWE. He said personally he feels Hogan's apology was genuine. Mark has been outspoken about this issue in the past. Does that mean you as a fan or perhaps as a black person yourself need to forgive him? No. It also doesn't mean Mark Henry is wrong to feel Hogan is genuine. This is for all fans. I saw a comment on the recent NoDQ Review that tried to paint the panel as being low key racist because they support Hogan returning to WWE and getting a 2nd chance. To me that's an incredibly damaging mindset. You shouldn't be bullied into having a different opinion and you shouldn't be so casually called a "racist" when racism is a very real and serious issue. If you're black, you shouldn't feel guilty if you want to give Hogan another chance and if you're not black you shouldn't feel racist if you're willing to accept his apology. I understand, especially if you're a fan of Hogan, it hurts hearing the real person say the things that he said and I'll never blame you if you never buy his apology, but if you do accept his apology and accept his chance to move forward and feel his efforts to better himself are genuine then no one should stick a finger in your face and tell you that you shouldn't because if you feel that strongly that people should feel the same way as you, then you can get in Mark Henry's face and tell him he shouldn't accept Hogan's apology either.
Where do I stand? I'm willing to see how far Hogan is willing to go to show he truly has changed. Being back on good business terms with WWE isn't the end of him having to prove himself. On the contrary, it is just the beginning. Like I said before, none of us, myself included are perfect. Hogan with all his money could have pulled a Michael Richards and hid inside his beachfront mansion for the rest of his life and died comfortable. Instead he is out there apologizing to faces. He's not just having his manager or publicist send out generic form letter apologies. He is out there saying he's sorry trying to make an effort. Whether that effort is enough is up to you as an individual to decide. As I stated earlier, I'm skeptical since he has spent his life working fans and telling a lot of tall tales of bullshit, so I'm not sure what to believe, but I do like a good redemption story. If Hogan truly shows he has changed it's pretty inspirational for anyone who maybe feels they are stuck in their ways and make no effort to evolve their mindset. However on the flip side, if any new remarks come out then that's it. His lasting legacy will be that of a racist and a liar on top of it. I don't have to love the idea, but business is business and the name "Hulk Hogan" is synonymous with not just WWE but pro-wrestling in general and if no for Hulk Hogan who knows if there even is a WWE today.
Now that' he's back what do I think WWE should do with Hogan? My answer is simple and would apply whether his racist rant leaked or not... Very little. Focus on the current talent. I'm fine with Hogan being reinstated into the Hall of Fame. He belongs in there arguably more than anybody. Does he need to be a regular character on TV? No he doesn't. Does he need to be Velveteen Dream's manager? Hell no. Actually I think that would be a terrible move. Just use Hogan for the occasional appearance at a big show like Wrestlemania. Use him for WWE Network pieces. Use him at the Hall of Fame if you want him to induct someone else. There's really nothing left for Hogan at his age. He's not going to wrestle another match. I also don't want him to be in an authority figure role. Last thing I need to see is "The Immortal" Hulk Hogan being Stephanie McMahon's bitch every week, plus his appearances should be rare and special. Use him in an ambassador role. Don't hide from the controversy. Have him speak to inner-city youths and admit the error of his ways and try to inspire a generation to not make the same mistakes that he made. Again... even if you think he's faking it, at least the message is still a good one and if it changes one person you can call it a victory. Hogan has value to WWE. I'm sure they'll use him on TV, but his true value isn't getting someone over as a manager or doing a job for Roman Reigns or whatever. His value is in using him to make a difference assuming he truly has changed. The character Hulk Hogan inspired kids by taking his vitamins, saying his prayers and overcoming the demons of the WWF. Now its time for Terry Bollea to show people of this generation that he has truly overcome his own personal inner demons and inspire by making good on the errors of his past ways much more than just going on TV to spout 35 year old catch phrases and pose for a few pictures.
There's my thoughts on Hulk Hogan's current situation and recent welcome back to WWE which has been lukewarm at best. Its going to take a lot of effort for him to change some minds and some people will never forgive him and he has to live with that. Even though he was the victim of a crime by being recorded and the footage leaked, it leaked and we heard it. It can't be taken back. All he can do is move forward and dedicate the rest of his life to proving that he truly has changed. Some welcomed him back with open arms. Some never will. Others like me as skeptical but still willing to let him prove himself.
While a totally different issue, when Shawn Michaels first announced that he found God, a lot of people snickered and chuckled thinking there's no way he could change. Yet, here we are in 2018 and there's not one instance where you can question since 2002 that he truly dedicated himself to his faith and changed who he was entirely from the guy we saw in 1997. Today people remember Shawn Michaels as one of the greatest turn-around stories ever. He dropped a life of lying, cheating and drug abuse to be a dedicated Christian, husband and father. So, changes do happen. For all we know if Hogan is still with us 10 years from now and he's fully dedicating his time to the community and spread a message of acceptance then maybe people will look at Hogan the same way people look at Shawn Michaels today. Who knows. It's going to take A LOT of work, though and even though Hogan is back on good terms with WWE, his road to redemption has just started and he's clearly not out of the woods yet.
Thanks for reading everyone. The intention of this piece was not to change anyone's mind. They're just my thoughts and as you can see even I am not exactly diving in head-first on the idea of Hogan being a genuinely changed person, but if his apology was good enough for Mark Henry its good enough for me to at least keep an open mind and see what Hogan does going forward with his life. Remember there's a HUGE difference between forgiving Hogan and defending Hogan's actions. I'm willing to forgive, but there's no defending what he said. If you are strongly in your stance of not wanting to forgive Hogan, I can only hope that you are accepting to fans who are willing to forgive because even though I am treading lightly with caution on Hogan's road to forgiveness, I don't blame anyone if they'd rather not risk following him only to fall into another trap.
Follow me over on Twitter @PlanetKayfabe Once again, thank you for reading Planet Kayfabe. For NoDQ, I'm K.C. Enjoy your weekend, everyone.