I grew up watching professional wrestling.
Every Saturday morning, I got to see a Samoan, a Russian who hated America, a man from “Deepest, Darkest Africa” and a man who says he was from a place called “Parts Unknown.”
I still watched NWA, WWF, ECW and WCW even after my mother had the “You know it’s not real” conversation with me and my sister.
Even back then I knew that pro wrestling had racially-based storylines along with characters based on racial and ethnic stereotypes.
Remember the Nation of Domination? That was a Black Panther Party knockoff.
Remember Kamala? Or the Slickster, who had a theme song that called him a "Jive Soul Bro." Or the pimp named The Godfather? How about Michael P.S. Hayes and the Fabulous Freebirds’ use of the Confederate flag?
Hulk Hogan, the most famous wrestler of them all, was let go from WWE yesterday for using multiple racial slurs when describing a man his daughter Brooke had dated, according to TMZ.
WWE released a statement that all mentions of Hogan would be erased from their website:
“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.”
I found the statement hypocritical, since they made their bones off of playing up racial stereotypes that many of their fans believed. It was typical of them to distance themselves from Hogan.
However, pro wrestling was always on the forefront of polarizing issues that played out in real time. I still remember the heat the Iron Sheik used to get. There was a lot of anti-Arab sentiment there. After all, this was during the Iran-Contra stuff. Pro wrestling plays up on racial stereotypes.
Earlier this year, I read a graphic novel called, “Andre The Giant: Life and Legend.” I was excited to read it because I watched Andre as a kid. The novel was a cliff notes biopic of his life. The thing that surprised me most was an interaction he had with a black wrestler named “Bad News Brown.”
According to the book, Andre got drunk and called Brown a nigger. One of the people who was in the background with a shocked and appalled look on his face was a caricature of Hulk Hogan. Somewhere down the line, Hulk Hogan may have started to believe the storylines he was involved in. Or maybe he always felt this way.
At any rate, some of his fellow wrestlers weighed in on the recent news.
Even Booker T weighed in:
I am shocked by the statements made by Hulk Hogan. It's unfortunate, but that's something that he's going to have to deal with.— Booker T. Huffman (@BookerT5x) July 24, 2015
After all, Booker knows a thing or two about saying the wrong thing at the absolute worst time:
Hogan has since apologized. He told TMZ, “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. I am disappointed with myself that I used language that is offensive and inconsistent with my own beliefs. It is not who I am. I continue to work every day to improve as a person, and this matter is an important learning experience for me in that regard.”
In all honesty, I’m not shocked that Hulk Hogan had these thoughts. Maybe he bought into the stereotypes pro wrestling put into the storylines. Or maybe he saw how his daughter, Brooke, began to appropriate black culture to jump start her fledgling singing career. After all, she did a duet track with Houston rapper Paul Wall, a white rapper known for making grills.
At this point, you may be saying to yourselves, wrestling is scripted and the storylines are false. That’s obvious, but sometimes people will believe whatever you tell them. Pro wrestling is all about showmanship.
At any rate, he needs to get out in front of this. Hogan’s comments came at the worst time. After all, many of us who watched pro wrestling growing up often have tears in our eyes when we hear that another wrestler from our youth has passed away.
In some cases, we find out they weren’t the men and women we thought they were.