It was early 1985. I was 5 years old sitting on the floor of my living room in Detroit.
My dad had gotten a tape – Betamax to be exact – of this pro wrestling show from the then-World Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE). The event was held in Madison Square Garden and it was called “The War to Settle the Score.”
I had no damn clue what I was watching. It wasn’t boxing but it was weird and fun and exciting. It was taped from MTV – we didn’t have cable at the time – and it had all these stars there, including Mr. T from my favorite TV show, The A-Team.
But the star of this show didn’t have a mohawk and wasn’t dripping gold chains. The star was a 6-foot-7, 300-lb tanned and blonde dude who, when he entered the World’s Most Famous Arena, made the crowd go crazier than they would for Bernard King, Patrick Ewing, or Michael Ray Richardson.
That man was Hulk Hogan.
That night, he was facing the evil loudmouth Rowdy Roddy Piper for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Hogan hit the ring to thunderous cheers as “Eye of the Tiger” blasted in the speakers.
Before entering the ring, he dapped up Mr. T at ringside. He had on a yellow shirt with “Hulkamania” emblazoned in red across the front before ripping it off and immediately throwing hands with Piper.
I was hooked on wrestling from that day forward and Hogan, who told kids to “take their vitamins” and “say their prayers,” was the God M.C. in the ’80s. For years, he could do no wrong in my eyes.
Thirty years later, Hulk Hogan, the hero was dead to me. All that was left was just another racist white man named Terry Bollea.
“I Am A Racist, To A Point…”
The two words cut like a knife.“F**king ni**ers.”
I was at work in Philadelphia on July 24, 2015. I was a Friday morning and I had decided that I was going to finally do it. I was going to buy a Hulkamania t-shirt.
Of all the offbeat graphic tees that I have, including pro wrestling shirts, I had never been able to find a genuine 1980s Hulkamania shirt. I had been looking for one of those motherfuckers everywhere and WWE had finally released them.
I hit the buy button and for a hot second, my 35-year-old ass was a kid again. Then, 20 minutes later, I wander onto Twitter and saw Hogan’s name trending…and there it was.
Not that we haven’t gotten used to our childhood heroes – especially pro wrestlers – being revealed to be damaged frauds in real life. But this one hit me and so many other ’80s babies particularly hard.
It was another stiff, brutal reminder of when Ice Cube famously said, “Here’s what they think about you.”
Thirty years after his coming out party at MSG, here was Terry Bollea, a hapless, pitiful, shameful middle-aged shell of a man caught on tape grousing about his daughter Brooke dating a black man named Yannique Baker, better known as Miami-born rapper Stacks.
Baker’s dad, Cecile, was helping Brooke attempt to get her failed music career off the ground when she hooked up with Stacks.
But to Terry Bollea? He was just a “black billionaire” whose “ni**er” son was having sex with his daughter.
“I mean, I’d rather if she was going to fuck some ni**er,” he says almost matter-of-factly, “I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall ni**er worth $100 million. Like a basketball player.”
Here’s professional wrestling’s icon, essentially Bill Russell in yellow tights, who spent years embracing men like Mr. T, Shaquille O’Neal, Dennis Rodman, and The Rock, openly admitting that he’s a racist.
“I mean, I am a racist, to a point,” he says, before capping it off with two words for you: “F***ing n***ers.”
WWE, a publicly-traded company which had in recent years been working to distance itself from its racist past, fired Hogan immediately and took the extraordinary step of booting him from their Hall of Fame and wiping as many references to him as they could from their TV and video libraries.
It was a stunning and necessary move by the company. But, knowing WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon’s history of bringing wrestlers back into the fold who have either wronged him, disgraced the company, or committed heinous acts, that wouldn’t last forever.
I honestly thought he would’ve been back much sooner than this and this month, it finally happened. Hogan was “reinstated” into the Hall of Fame and showed up in Pittsburgh prior to WWE’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view to address the locker room.
Mark Henry, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April, told SiriusXM on Monday that he had spoken to Hogan and said that he felt Hogan was trying to make amends with everyone.
“The first thing I thought was I’m hoping he is able to address everybody and voice some concerns,” Henry told Busted Open Radio. “He made an announcement. He apologized. He’s done a lot of stuff with the Boys and Girls Club. But I didn’t want to lose track of the fact that there’s more work to be done and I think that’s going to happen.”
When asked if all the other black wrestlers in the company were on board, he very quickly said no.
“It’s 50/50. I’ve talked to guys that are like, ‘To hell with him.’ And I’ve had guys that were like, “You know what? If you’re willing to make the change and try to help out, and go and speak up, be a part of the answer rather than a part of the problem, then it’s all good.’”
Except, it ain’t all good. Count me as being apart of the group that says the hell with him. Am I surprised that WWE brought him back? No. Should they have done so? Hell no. If you want to keep him in your Hall of Fame, go for it.
I wonder what wrestlers like Sasha Banks or Cedric Alexander truly think of this? Will someone ask my frat brother Apollo Crews, the son of Nigerian immigrants who is married to a white woman, what he thinks if Hogan comes his way and says, “that’s not the real me, brother.”
But black wrestlers like Kofi Kingston and Titus O’Neil have already spoken up. “We find it difficult to simply forget, regardless of how long ago it was, or the situation in which those comments were made,” Kofi Kingston said in a statement. O’Neil echoed, saying that Hogan’s apology had a “lack of true contrition, remorse and a desire for change.”
— King T’Kofi (@TrueKofi) July 18, 2018
My TRUTH!! pic.twitter.com/3HgsmXOOEg
— Titus O’Neil (@TitusONeilWWE) July 18, 2018
To make the public announcement that he’s “back in the family” rings as a slap in the face to not only them but to the legions of black fans who have made pro wrestling the cultural phenomenon that it is.
The Rap N’ Wrestling Connection
Wrestling has always had what would be considered a “complicated” relationship with race, particularly with African-Americans.
While there have been legendary black stars such as Bobo Brazil, Ernie Ladd, The Junkyard Dog, The Rock, and others, the “sport” itself has routinely pandered to racist stereotypes. It also is shown in who they showcased as champion.
In the company’s history, only three African-Americans have held either the WWF/E or World Heavyweight Championships: The Rock, Booker T, and Mark Henry.
My frat brother, David Dennis, often notes that no black male wrestler has had a one-on-one match for any of WWE’s main roster world championships since Henry lost to John Cena in 2014. Of note: two black women, Naomi and Sasha Banks, have won Women’s Championships since then.
Despite all of this, pro wrestling has been as much a part of black culture and hip-hop culture for decades.
Whether it was Run-D.M.C. performing at WrestleMania V, LL Cool J name-checking The Undertaker in EPMD’s 1990 classic Rampage, the multitude of pro wrestling references made by the Wu-Tang Clan – “Rap vandals/Stomp ya ass like Wahoo McDaniel,” to Method Man’s 1999 “Know Your Role” that he performed with The Rock, to Snoop Dogg’s multiple WWE appearances, or even WCW’s ill-fated 1999 partnership with No Limit Records.
The most popular pro wrestler in hip-hop is the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, the innovator of pro wrestling swag. His influence on rap has been mimicked for decades.
From Ghostface sporting Flair’s “Big Gold Belt,” to Pusha T using Ric’s legendary 1986 “Spilled Liquor” promo in the open to 2011’s “What Dreams are Made of” to Offset and Metro Boomin bringing that “Ric Flair Drip” to the streets, pro wrestling is as much a part of the culture as anything.
So, for WWE–which, like so many others in this country, has profiteered from and off of black culture–to welcome back a man who openly admitted on camera that he “is a racist” and is spitting out n-words like Migos bars, is insulting and another gut punch to so many black wrestling fans.
With the political and social climate what it is, WWE needs to think long and hard before they go parading Terry Bollea’s ass back on their TV talking about “all is forgiven” because it damn sure isn’t.
As for the t-shirt, I ordered that day: It arrived five days later. To this day, I have never worn it or even taken it out of the plastic. It’s just a collector’s item now sitting in my closet and relegated to history like my respect for Hulk Hogan.