World Wrestling Entertainment announced Friday it had fired Hulk Hogan, presumably after learning that the National Enquirer was in possession of a court transcript featuring the wrestling legend launching into a lengthy racist diatribe.
“WWE is committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds,” the company said in a statement, “as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”
To further demonstrate that commitment, WWE also erased Hogan from its website entirely, removing him from the WWE Shop, the ongoing reality competition Tough Enough and even the Hall of Fame, a curious move, considering Donald Trump – a man who knows a thing or two about making racist remarks – remains enshrined in the Celebrity Wing.
And therein lies the problem with WWE and its claims of championing diversity and inclusion: Despite making advancements on both fronts in recent years – on its roster and its programming – and giving Hogan the big boot (sorry, it had to be done) over his remarks, the company’s track record when it comes to race in storylines is spottier than Seth Rollins’ title reign.
In a statement, WWE pointed out that “Surely, everyone would recognize these segments and storylines were outlandish and satirical skits involving fictional characters, similar to that of many scripted television shows and movies.” And, fair point…this is fiction, after all. Still, there are still plenty of those segments to be found on its subscription-based service (along with a preamble that “some content or insensitive dialogue…does not reflect WWE’s corporate views”). In fact, here are 5 awkward, race-related moments you can watch on the WWE Network right now.
Vince McMahon Says “Nigga”
Where to find it on the WWE Network: Survivor Series, 2005
After a match that featured Booker T and Chris Benoit – the man who had his entire wrestling existence understandably erased by WWE after he murdered his wife and son then took his own life in 2007 – Vince McMahon talks to then-WWE champion John Cena. In character, he lays some very awkward jive on Cena, then calls him “my nigga” before strutting off, in what I’m assuming is his homage to the late Sherman Hemsley. He then walks past Booker and his wife Sharmell, who drops his catchphrase “TELL ME he didn’t just say that?!?!” The fact that Vince himself looked wholly uncomfortable saying it to Cena, who had already dropped the “white rapper” gimmick that propelled him to stardom, and the absolute silence of the announce team going into the next segment makes this one of the most awkward moments in a company that has had a lot of them.
Meet the Mexicools!
Where to find it on the WWE Network: Great American Bash, 2005
In June 2005, lucha legends Psicosis, Super Crazy and Juventud Guerrera debuted as a stable by riding down the ramp on John Deere – sorry, Juan Deere – tractors. They claimed they were tired of Mexican stereotypes and apathy towards Mexicans in general, and were going into business for themselves against the gringos, renaming themselves the Mexicools. A little self-parody isn’t the worst thing, but this is wrestling…subtlety isn’t exactly a strong suit. Not mention the whole “give the Spanish announcers a brand new rake every time they came to the ring” thing.
One Man Gang Becomes Akeem, the African Dream
Where to find it on the WWE Network: Survivor Series, 1988
As the One Man Gang, George Gray was a leather-clad biker badass with an accomplished career in wrestling’s territorial promotions. He went to work for WWE in 1987, under the tutelage of Slick, a streetwise pimp who revealed that the former biker/behemoth was actually an African named “Akeem, the African Dream.” The character (who spoke in a blaccent) was meant as comedic relief, but that didn’t stop him from getting a pretty sizeable push, teaming with the Big Boss Man as the Twin Towers and main-eventing Survivor Series ’88 against the Mega Powers (led by the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hogan himself). The character was ultimately short-lived, but it’s yet another reminder of the frustratingly weird and inappropriate history of race and ethnicity in the WWE.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper Goes Half Blackface
Where to find it on the WWE Network: WrestleMania VI, 1990
Before his match against solid hand and serviceable heel Bad News Brown, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper cut an odd promo that insulted his opponent’s “bugging eyes” and “wide nose,” while half covered in greasepaint. Did we mention Bad News Brown was a black man? The entire promo is weird, and at one point Piper even hits a little two-step and mimics Michael Jackson before having a forgettable match. Not sure how much of this was scripted in advance, but damn. When asked in a 2012 interview why he chose to go half-blackface, Piper gave a rationale that’s downright head-scratching. “First of all, you know, I was born in Saskatoon. There are no Black people that I know of that are dumb enough to go to a place that cold.” Uh, OK then.
Hey Triple H, What Do You Mean, “You people?”
Where to find it on WWE Network: WrestleMania XIX Pre-Match Promo, 2003
On March 3, 2003, Triple H managed to do the impossible and make me stop watching wrestling, albeit for a short period of time. Former WCW wrestler Booker T had recently become the Number One contender to Triple H’s World title. And H, a preening franchise player in the vein of Ric Flair, cut a promo basically stating outright that Booker wasn’t capable of being the champion. Notable quotes: “Somebody like you…doesn’t get to be a world champion. People like you don’t deserve it.” and “You’re not a competitor, you’re an entertainer.” And sure, it was all a storyline, but I was young, I still had the capacity to believe! In later weeks, HHH gave Booker T the option of being his limo driver and carrying his bags into the building. The whole thing was brushed off as HHH making note of Booker’s past run-ins with the law, but anyone with two ears and a fourth grade education could tell that the implication was that HHH was being RAYCISS. The whole experience left some fans sour, but the two apparently shrugged it off and had a decent match at WrestleMania…a match that Triple H won, of course.