The WWE‘s most prestigious championship has made its way into in the hands of a Black man for just the fourth time in more than 30 years. Yet, somehow, on the same night, the people who write the scripts for the WWE theatrics thought it was a good idea to let a racist open professional wrestling’s most famous show.
On Sunday night during WWE’s WrestleMania, Kofi Kingston took home WWE Heavyweight Championship. Prior to Kingston raising the belt, though, Hulk Hogan and his trademark mustache made an appearance and was met by loud applause despite his open and well-documented racism against Black people that should have ended his wrestling career.
In 2015, Hogan, whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea, caught major backlash when tapes surfaced of him using the N-word. In the tapes, which were recorded in 2007, Hogan rants about his daughter sleeping with a Black man and admits to being a racist.
“I am a racist, to a point, f**king n****rs,” Hogan can be heard saying on the tapes. “If we’re gonna f**k with n****s, let’s get a rich one!”
Immediately following the criticism, Hogan apologized and called his words “unacceptable” and “offensive,” and was subsequently fired from the WWE. All references to Hogan were removed from the WWE website and the WWE Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 2005. Then in July 2018, the WWE announced it would be giving the disgraced wrestler a second chance.
“This second chance follows Hogan’s numerous public apologies and volunteering to work with young people, where he is helping them learn from his mistake,” WWE said in a statement. “These efforts led to a recent induction into the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Alumni Hall of Fame.”
Hogan took to social media to express his gratitude writing in a tweet that he was “overwhelmed” by the love and support. And just like that, a racist was afforded the privilege of a new beginning.
Behind the scenes, WWE wrestlers, especially the Black talent, were torn on whether they were ok with welcoming Hogan, back with open arms. Wrestling legend, Booker T, who is Black, said he believed Hogan should receive a second chance. But WWE’s current champion, Kingston, and The New Day expressed skepticism.
“On a personal level, when someone makes racist and hateful comments about any race or group of people, especially to the degree that Hogan made about our people, we find it difficult to simply forget, regardless of how long ago it was, or the situation in which those comments were made,” Kingston said a statement in July. “But we also do not respond with more feelings of hate. Instead, we just do not associate with the people who convey or have conveyed this negative hurtful mindset. This instance will be no different.”
Kingston went on to say that if they see Hogan make a “genuine effort to change,” then they would be open to changing their opinion of him over time.
The fact that Hogan appeared at WrestleMania the same night Kingston, a Ghanian native, took home the ultimate WWE title shows a lot about where the organization stands on race. WWE CEO Vince McMahon does not have a great track record himself having used the N-word carelessly in storylines, so it may come as no surprise that he would give Hogan a second chance. Kingston made his debut in 2008 and is truly deserving to be a champion, but for now, it was unclear if his reign in the WWE will bring about any meaningful change in the department of race.