Why My Heart Hurts: A Reflection on Hulk Hogan, Hero Worship, and Racism

My heart hurts today, and I am trying to figure out why. It’s because of Hulk Hogan, but I think it’s more than that, too. 

If you haven’t yet read the transcript of what Hogan allegedly said according to the National Enquirer, his words are indefensible and inexcusable. There is no place for hate speech from anyone regardless of who they are or were.  His comments are hideous, ignorant, shameful, and racist. That needs to be the lead on any and all commentary related to this situation. My intention of this article is not to defend what Hulk Hogan said. His comments represent humanity at its worst, and we as a society need to do better and demand more of each other not only in our words but also in our actions. These words are my first attempt at taking action.

I woke up on Friday morning to a text from my brother asking if I had seen the Hogan stuff. Overnight, Hulk Hogan—arguably the biggest name in the history of professional wrestling and inarguably the face of WWE (formerly WWF) in the late 1980s and early 1990s—had been removed from WWE’s website and removed as a judge on the company’s Tough Enough reality TV program. WWE followed by issuing an official statement that Hogan’s contract with the company had been terminated.

As with most breaking news stories in 2015, my Twitter feed was a mix of speculation, commentary, and memes with the occasional tidbit of actual information sprinkled in. Separating fact from fiction took some time, but one thing was clear: the fact that WWE had severed ties with the Hall of Famer so suddenly and so thoroughly suggested that it was bad, whatever it was. Eventually, after a few rumors, which speculated/suggested/guessed about what the “bad” in question was, were shot down, the National Enquirer broke the story with the transcript of what Hogan allegedly said. The audio, which as of the time I am writing has not yet been posted, reportedly comes from the infamous unauthorized sex tape featuring Hogan.

Maybe my heart hurts because Hogan is also a victim here? Nope.

It’s worth noting, again, that it was an unauthorized tape. Hogan said the tape was made without his knowledge or consent, and it was likewise made public without his permission (Related: Hogan is currently in litigation suing the website Gawker). In Hogan’s mind, he was speaking to an audience of one. Surely, most people have said things behind closed doors that they would not say publicly. Think of the worst thing you have ever said out loud. How many people heard it? What if people judged you as a person based on that one quote? Would that be a fair assessment of who you are as a person?

Let’s assume (and hope) that this was the worst thing Hogan ever said out loud. Our instinct is that even if it was the worst thing he ever said, since he said it once in private (and got caught), there’s a fair chance he said other racist things at some point in his life. But all we have right now, for sure, is this one incident. So, everyone agrees: what he said is foul. It’s disgusting. It’s awful. But how much weight should it hold? And do we even have the right to judge the character of a 61-year-old man based upon a single conversation? Hogan already issued a public apology. Do we believe him? Do we forgive him? Today? Ever?

I don’t know. I think I can forgive Hulk Hogan in time. But I do know that none of what I just wrote in the previous two paragraphs gives Hogan a pass for having said what he said.

Maybe my heart hurts because he was a childhood hero of mine. OK, now we’re getting warmer.

Everyone knows wrestling isn’t real, but the feelings it evokes most certainly are. While Hogan was never in the discussion of the best technical wrestlers in the ring, no one made a crowd of fans feel more than Hulk Hogan did. But today, instead of that childhood euphoria, Hogan fans felt something much different. Learning of the news about Hulk Hogan made wrestling fans across the world feel dirty inside. This wasn’t the first time. From family issues to the aforementioned tape, Hogan’s personal life over the past 10-15 years had already muddied his public image, but most of his fans, myself included, were able to look past his personal missteps or avoid looking altogether to keep up the facade of Hulkamania. That changed today.

I was born in 1984, the same year Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik to claim his first world championship. I grew up on Hulkamania. I said my prayers and took my vitamins just like the Hulkster. I had his poster on my wall, his action figures in my hand, and his T-shirt on my back. The opening lyrics of his iconic theme music are: “I am a real American / fight for the rights of every man.” Today those words ring a little hollow. I’m worried that from now on every time I hear that song the waves of nostalgia that flow through me will be mixed with guilt and shame.

We live in a celebrity-saturated culture. Most people know more about Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber than Sheryl Sandberg and Arne Duncan. Heck, I wrote two separate articles listing my 30 favorite WWE personalities (Hogan was #2) and 30 favorite athletes of all-time, but I couldn’t name 30 scientists or 30 surgeons if my life depended on it. Our society puts athletes and entertainers on a pedestal as if they are superhuman. After all, what child doesn’t love superheroes? Hulk Hogan was a real-life superhero to me. He body-slammed a giant. He stood up for what was right. He represented the “good” red, white, and blue in the triumph over “evil” time after time throughout his WWE career.

As children, we believe our heroes are infallible. Everyday heroes like our parents and grandparents as well as larger than life heroes like Hulk Hogan can do no wrong. We trust them. We believe in the mythology of them. Eventually, there comes a point in everyone’s life when we begin to question things, and we realize that everyday people, even our grandparents and our parents, are humans who are figuring out life one day at a time just like us. And so we are left holding on to a childhood narrative about superheroes. Superheroes are invincible. Superheroes are ideal. But superheroes are also make believe. We hold on so tightly to that last shred of innocence that when it comes crashing down it hurts inside. He was known on screen as “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan, but in reality, it turns out that he is human after all. The champion I looked up to, the superhero I worshipped as a child was, in fact, just a man.

When I was a child, I would have given anything to be more like Hulk Hogan. Today, I came to the sad realization that he is more like me. Flawed. Like we all are.

And maybe that’s why my heart hurts most of all.

Hulk Hogan is not the first nor will he be the last person to say something blatantly racist. Anyone can search through a famous celebrity’s Twitter mentions or a YouTube comments section and find hundreds if not thousands of equally disturbing comments being posted every day. It’s not pretty. And it’s easy to point at those people making outlandish comments on social media or even in person and wave our fingers at them for being such ignorant, narrow-minded, hate-filled people.

However, it is also important for us to recognize that racism is so much more than just that nasty headline we read about or that awful thing that so-and-so said.

My heart hurts because I know that I—a white, male, heterosexual—at the very least exist in a system that privileges my status and oppresses those who are “other” and at my worst may help perpetuate that system. “System” is a key word here. Although I have never said anything like what Hulk Hogan said, that doesn’t mean I’m without fault. No one is.

In a few months, my wife and I will welcome our first child into the world, the same world that produced the hateful comments that inspired this article. As a father, I want what’s best for my son or daughter but not at the expense of others. I want my child to know love not hate. I want my child to be educated about the world they are being born into. For example, I want to share Mia McKenzie’s advice on four things we should all teach kids about racism right now. But in order to teach my child most effectively I know that I must continue to educate myself when it comes to issues that I know not enough about, such as justice and equality, oppression and racism.

I am a husband, a son, a brother, and soon, a father trying to model love to my family. I am a high school English teacher trying to model love to my students. To borrow another WWE superstar’s old catchphrase, I want to rise above hate. I am flawed, but I am trying. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I can start by being willing to ask the tough questions of others and of myself. Perhaps more importantly, I can help by reading and listening to the voices of those who are deemed as “other” and sharing them with the world.

My heart is hurting today because so many others are really hurting (and have been for so long), and I am still learning to know how to show that I care.

30 at 30 List #18: Life Experiences

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Life begins at 30 is a fun slogan to put on a T-shirt, but the truth is that my life before 30 was full of meaningful and memorable moments that inarguably changed the course of my life to make me the person I am today. While a few of my milestone life moments have indeed taken place since I turned 30 last September (and others will happen in the future) the countdown of my top life experiences spans the full range of my three-plus decades of life so far.
Continue reading 30 at 30 List #18: Life Experiences

30 at 30 List #17: Remembering the CRWL

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

It was 1998. I was a few months shy of turning 14 years old, and it was the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I had recently resumed watching WWE programming regularly—it was the heart of the Attitude Era, after all—and I was intrigued by the concept of an “e-fed.” This was the America Online (AOL) dialup era, so I first learned of the concept of an e-fed while browsing messages boards on AOL. There were dozens of posts looking for people to join, but being something of a perfectionist myself, I opted to create my own organization rather than joining one of the established e-feds.

The CRWL logo underwent several revisions during the league's run. Each of them proves that I was an Adobe Photoshop novice, teaching myself as I went and experimenting with different graphic design techniques.
The CRWL logo underwent several revisions during the league’s run. Each of them proves that I was an Adobe Photoshop novice, teaching myself as I went and experimenting with different graphic design techniques that repeatedly confirmed my status as an amateur.

I named my e-fed the Chat Room Wrestling League (CRWL). The concept was simple. Each member would get three wrestlers. I would create the card of matches in advance and use a simulator program called Rassling 2.01 that I had downloaded to simulate the matches. Depending on my schedule I would simulate the matches on a Wednesday or Thursday night (I called the shows Wild Wednesday Wrestling and Thursday Warfare, respectively) and simultaneously post results in an AOL chat room (hence the name of the league). Members of the league would read the results in real time and be able to comment and chat with one another about the results.

When I launched the CRWL I had 16 members. In the four-plus years that I ran the CRWL, more than 200 members came and went, although there were typically between 20-30 members at any given time. Because everything was conducted online, I have no way of knowing for sure, but suffice it to say that not everyone in the league was as young as me. I understand that some people might look back on this experience and shout NERD! However, when I look back on it, I am pretty impressed with my barely-teenaged self. I started something of my own, built it from scratch, and managed the personalities of complete strangers who all wanted their wrestlers to be successful.

Looking back, it’s clear to me that the CRWL was one of my earliest formative writing experiences. Every week I was writing and producing a substantial newsletter that went out to everyone in the league. Plus, I was creating a card of matches with the hopes that it would intrigue the audience of members. Additionally, as time went on, I shifted the structure of the league to include role-playing aspects in addition to the simulations. I and other members in the league sent emails to each other written in the voice of our various wrestlers—in essence cutting our own promos the way they do on WWE television—to set up feuds and talk trash on opponents. Eventually, I began to weight things so that those who were better rpers (roleplayers, which meant that they wrote better) had better odds of winning their simulated matches. We also began working our own storylines and angles that sometimes took precedence over the simulator for the sake of telling an entertaining story. Long before I decided to major in English I was exercising my creative writing via the CRWL. In fact, I once wrote a four-part interview for my character “3-D” Devious Devon Dawson that totaled nearly 17,000 words. To this day, I’m not sure that I’ve written anything longer, and considering that I wrote it when I was 15, it still holds up pretty well.

I have managed to stay in contact on Facebook with a few people who were involved in CRWL. And it puts a smile on my face to hear that even one or two people remember the CRWL fondly as I do. Aside from those few exceptions, all that I have from the others who I have lost touch with over the years are their old AOL screen names, which are now dead ends. Nonetheless, the memories that I have of them remain. If any of them should happen to stumble upon this retrospective piece, please send me an email to say hello and let me know how you’re doing all these years later.

Being the organized person that I am, I saved a lot of information from the CRWL. Unfortunately, much of it is saved in old, unreadable file formats, or as AOL emails that I can only view now as plain text files. Unfortunately I don’t have any of my old emails from that era nor do I have any definitive documentation of when I finally shut down the league for good, so I’ll have to guess based on the old cards and newsletters that I have saved. In addition to dozens and dozens of old cards and newsletters, one of the documents I found was particularly helpful in trying to jog my memory. It’s a timeline that I made in commemoration of the CRWL’s two-year anniversary. That helps with the first half of the league’s existence. I will have to piece together everything from after July 2000 and after, but the key events of the first two years of the CRWL are all there. So, on this, the 17th anniversary of when I launched CRWL, here are 30 key dates to help me remember one of the most unique aspects of my childhood: running the Chat Room Wrestling League from 1998 to 2002.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #17: Remembering the CRWL

3. John Mayer

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 3 is John Mayer.


John Mayer’s personal life has often overshadowed his ability as a musician and a singer/songwriter. From a series of failed high profile celebrity relationships to his occasional forays into the world of TV comedy to his infamous interviews with Playboy and Rolling Stone that turned the court of public opinion against him to health issues with his vocal chords, Mayer’s music has been mostly backstory throughout his career. Interestingly, the shift in focus seemed to coincide with a conscious decision by Mayer to shift his music from the acoustic rock/pop sound that first got him fame to a more blues-inspired sound that he felt passionate about.

Although there were some hints of Mayer’s musical direction shifting as early as 2003’s Heavier Things, Mayer made waves in 2005 when he formed the John Mayer Trio with bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan to play blues/rock music that was a clear diversion from what a large segment of Mayer’s pop audience was listening to on the radio. The band released a fantastic live album Try! that was adored by my dad and people like him and generally ignored by my sister, who is 6 years younger than me, and people like her.

Caught in between were people like me. Suddenly, my ears were opened to a new style of music. Previously, I had appreciated blues but it was not something I would seek out on my own or listen to over more genres that were more contemporary and popular at the time. Mayer’s decision to go against the grain probably cost him from becoming a top-level pop star, but it also cemented his status as a legit music guy. While his personal life may tell another story, professionally, Mayer was less concerned with being a star and more concerned about making music that mattered to him.

Since forming in 2005, the John Mayer Trio released just that one live album. They never produced a studio recording, and the group has only appeared together for a handful of appearances since 2006. Nonetheless, the influence of the group was felt on Mayer’s career moving forward.

Starting with 2006’s Continuum, Mayer’s solo albums have sounded significantly different than his 2001 debut Room For Squares. In addition to the blues influence, Mayer has also infused folk and country-rock in recent albums.

Without a doubt many people hear the name John Mayer and first think of the person, often in a negative way. That’s unfortunate for John Mayer the musician because at age 37 he already has an amazing discography that rivals anything anyone has produced this millennium. John Mayer the musician is one of the most influential performers of my lifetime, and I cannot wait to see how his legacy continues to evolve as he continues to mature and let his music speak for him in the years to come.

Continue reading 3. John Mayer

30 at 30 List #16: Poetry I’ve Written

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

I graduated from Mercyhurst College (now Mercyhurst University) in 2007 with a BA in English and a dual concentration in writing and creative writing. I know that sounds redundant, but “writing” meant professional writing/business writing/nonfiction whereas “creative writing” meant poetry and fiction writing. In the time since I graduated, I have done well exercising the “writing” portion of my degree. Working as a temp at Erie Insurance, a copywriter for Tungsten Creative Group, a graduate student in the secondary education program at Mercyhurst, and a blogger for Blog Talk BayHawk and D-League Digest—not to mention the occasional freelance project, I have remained consistently active in some way or another as a writer.

However, I have fallen short in my post-graduate years in the realm of creative writing. My Senior English Project at Mercyhurst was a poetry portfolio consisting of 20 poems. As I wrote as part of my academic preface:

…I hope to accomplish a few objectives in my poetry. Through a combination of persona poems and self-portrait poems, I intend to depict a complex depiction of myself (Matt). By speaking about Matt from various perspectives, including that of family, friends, impersonal observers, and myself, I plan to complicate and fragment the notion of a unified self. As one progresses through the compilation, one experiences a variety of opinions, viewpoints, snippets, segments, stories and thoughts, but has no definitive way of knowing the truth. Which speakers are reliable? Are any of the speakers reliable? Going on the assumption that at least some of the information presented in the poems is truthful, how does a reader construct an image of Matt based upon that information?

While the unknown answers to these questions help to complicate any concrete understanding of self, they also lead to the reader to draw conclusions. While they may be incapable of painting a definitive picture, certain themes and motifs resurface in multiple poems allowing the reader to attribute certain qualities and characteristics to Matt. Therefore, the ultimate goal of my poetry is not for the reader to find out the answer to the age-old question: Who am I? Instead, the compilation of poetry functions in a way that urges the reader to render a version of myself in their mind. Since no two readers’ minds are the same, each is likely to form a slightly different final product from his or her perceptions. Thus, the title rings true as this compilation of poetry creates Renditions of My Self.

The persona and self-portrait poems that made up Renditions of My Self were written more than eight years ago. When I began compiling this list of my favorite poems that I have written, I had two surprising realizations. First, I was impressed to realize that I have written and saved nearly 200 poems dating back to my senior year of high school. I am sure there are dozens more that were lost over the years. The second thing I realized was that since that Senior English Project I have written less than 10 poems on record.

It is understandable that I would not write at the same prolific rate that I did in high school and college when the muses of love and dating and teenage angst produced some stereotypically bad teenage lines of poetry. Still, writing less than a poem per year is disappointing to say the least, especially since I think my more recent efforts—rare as they may be—show a more mature, developed use of language.

Having said that, there are a lot of gems that I found while reading through my old poetry archives. My hope is that this act of re-reading and sharing some of my past work will also inspire me to exercise my creative writing poetry muscles more as I progress in my 30s. Continue reading 30 at 30 List #16: Poetry I’ve Written