My Favorite Bittersweet Memory

I vividly recall March 18, 2003 being a Tuesday — and I remember being forced to leave work early that night due to a horrible migraine. The day was physically and emotionally draining, and I was simply not up to the task of unloading a Best Buy merchandise truck. A co-worker graciously drove me home, but it was only an hour, or so, later that my then-girlfriend took me right back to work.

Picking up my car wasn’t as important as making sure I didn’t lose what was in the backseat.

I woke up extra early that morning to take the LIRR into Penn Station. My red and yellow bandana got a few curious looks, but the oversized tri-fold poster board I was carrying was probably the bigger tipoff. It was a rather nice day out, I had only a handful of blocks to walk, but the amount of nervous energy inside of me was unreasonable. When I finally made it to the ESPN Zone in Times Square, the end of the entrance line was just shy of the corner. There were many hand-drawn signs on display — each made with the hope of being one of five lucky fans selected to land a front-row seat for the WrestleMania XIX press conference that morning.

A camera crew of three noticed my sign almost immediately (or, more accurately, as soon as I had the courage to fully display it), and I was pulled out of the line and quickly ushered inside. That impossibly surreal morning, I ended up talking to Shane McMahon before shaking his father’s hand. I was able to meet stars like ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Triple H, Booker T, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, and Eric Bischoff… but, honestly, I was there for one reason only:

I wanted to meet my childhood hero, Hulk Hogan.

This past Sunday, the WWE announced that Hogan — arguably the biggest name in the history of the business — was being reinstated into their Hall of Fame following the end of a three-year suspension. While my hero was guilty of both ‘past’ steroid use and awful acting, his departure from the company was due to a far more troubling issue.

Mainly his real-life disgust for black people.

To his credit, Terry Gene Bollea earned his place in wrestling history. Hulk Hogan wasn’t just a successful character, though; he was a legitimate role model and inspiration to millions of kids who were glued to their television sets every Saturday morning. Hogan was the larger-than-life figure who overcame the odds and was the long-standing centerpiece of a cultural revolution. He helped MTV explode onto the national scene. He bodyslammed Andre, and was the driving force behind the pay-per-view boom. He ignited a second ‘golden age’ of professional wrestling, nearly a decade later, by joining the nWo. And, on a Tuesday morning some fifteen years ago, in the then-greatest moment of my life, Hulk Hogan hugged me after I told him how much he meant to me.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe Mr. Bollea has changed much, or is sincerely sorry for his hateful words. Terry’s apology this week to today’s locker room of WWE stars seemed to be more concerned about being exposed for who he is (as well as the desire for future paychecks) as opposed to what he feels in his heart — and that is something that hurts me deeply.

But I’ve been here before. With Michael. With Cosby. With Louie. Maybe this is just another sad reminder why we shouldn’t put entertainers on pedestals, and maybe this is simply our new reality. People are human, and we make mistakes… and many of us DO deserve a second (or third) chance. To be honest, I am always going to love the Hulkster, and, yeah, I will probably ‘pop’ the next time he appears in a WWE ring. I no longer own the autographed poster I drew of him, but I will never forget the day I finally met the Immortal Hulk Hogan.

But I can’t forgive Terry.

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