Thursday, April 19, 2018
Features and More

Hulk Hogan apologizes after recording surfaces of him using racial slurs

The Hulk Hogan brand has survived, even thrived, years of bleached hair, fake tans, choreographed fights, chemically enhanced muscles, reality television, a sex tape and a nasty lawsuit with a gossip website.

But on Friday, in an industry that's based on giving offense and hurling insults, a leak of a recorded conversation in which Hogan repeatedly uses the term "n-----" delivered a body blow that may inflict real pain.

As the National Enquirer and RadarOnLine.com reported about the recording from eight years ago, the World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. on Friday scrubbed nearly all references of Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) from its website. The wrestling star said Friday he had resigned from the WWE.

The Enquirer, America's most infamous grocery store gossip tabloid, quoted Bollea on the tape as saying: "I mean, I don't have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, f------ n------."

In a statement later on Friday, Hogan apologized, saying there is no excuse for the "offensive language."

"This is not who I am," Hogan said. 'I believe very strongly that every person in the world is important and should not be treated differently based on race, gender, orientation, religious beliefs or otherwise. I am disappointed with myself that I used language that is offensive and inconsistent with my own beliefs."

Despite the apology, his businesses empire — which includes a beach store and a restaurant in Tampa Bay — will surely suffer, said Steve Kirn, executive director of the Miller Retail Center at the University of Florida.

How much? It's unclear in Tampa Bay, where Bollea grew up and where his star has always seemed made of Teflon.

"If part of Hogan's brand is being outrageous and in your face and provocative and sort of angry, then this actually fits in and, for some people, it will probably reinforce the brand identification," Kirn said. "Kind of like he becomes a different kind of an outlaw."

Outside Hogan's Beach, his popular hangout on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, patrons reassessed the wrestler.

"If he's a racist, I don't really care that much," said Daniel Morales, 20, of Miami, who passed through town on his way to Orlando. "He's a wrestler, so I would say his opinion wouldn't really matter that much."

But as a public figure, Morales added, "I would compare this to what happened with (Bill) Cosby."

Others were more forgiving. "When you're in the limelight, things like that happen," said Jarrod Bishop, a 43-year-old businessman from Fort Myers. "I did not hear the comments, but I imagine they were taken out of context."

The Enquirer did not release a copy of the audio recording, which it said was part of a sex tape involving Bollea and Heather Cole, the former wife of Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, Hogan's old best friend and Tampa Bay's pre-eminent radio shock jock.

The Enquirer reported he was talking disapprovingly about his daughter, Brooke, dating a black man.

The audio tape, if it involves Cole, may be tied to Bollea's other major scandal: the sex tape. It spurred a bitter lawsuit against Gawker Media Co., which owns a gossip website and published Bollea's tape in 2012. Bollea has sued for invasion of privacy and wants $100 million in damages.

The Enquirer and RadarOnline.com claimed to have "five independent sources" who provided the contents of the tape to members of the media. They reported that transcripts of the recording were "filed in a Florida court, under seal." The Bollea v. Gawker trial was set to begin in Pinellas County earlier this month but was postponed.

If the tape was part of official judicial discovery, and if it was supposed to remain confidential, the leak could come with sanctions.

"If parties to the lawsuit revealed this material in violation of a court order, like in any civil case there could be significant consequences," Tampa lawyer John Fitzgibbons said.

During an earlier court hearing in the case, attorneys sparred over confidential videos, one of which carried "offensive language issues." Bollea's lawyer contended that Gawker was trying to create a "sideshow" of a separate investigation and that the videos had been banned from trial. Other details were not released.

The parties are set to appear in court again next week.

While his image online could be erased with a few keystrokes by the wrestling corporation on Friday, Bollea's visage in Tampa Bay is more permanent. He still cuts a substantial wake as one of the area's biggest celebrities. In addition to Hogan's Beach, he owns Hogan's Beach Shop, a souvenir store in Clearwater.

Kirn said it's possible that some outraged opponents "will call for a boycott or some other kind of sanction" of Hogan's businesses, though there was no sign of a widespread anti-Hogan campaign Friday. On the other end of the spectrum, diehard fans will probably stand by Bollea, Kirn said, arguing that he has a First Amendment right and is "a straight talker."

The vast middle, Kirn said, will more than likely denounce Bollea's racist remarks but dwell on the controversy. For them, the scandal will die with the news cycle. Hogan, he said, is not unlike Donald Trump, who is running for president on a wave of salacious remarks that marginalize some people while drawing the adoration of others.

Reaction played out Friday on Twitter, after the wrestler, cryptically, tweeted about 1 a.m.: "In the storm I release control, God and his Universe will sail me where he wants me to be, one love. HH." Fans and critics tweeted with equal force, offering the wrestler their backing, prodding him with jokes and ridiculing him as a racist.

"I think most people are more moderate than that and the result is that these types of private utterances that become public really have a very negative effect," said Chester A. Schriesheim, a professor of management in the University of Miami business school. "I suspect it's going to hurt his business."

Ron Howard, manager of Hogan's Beach Shop in Clearwater, declined to comment Friday morning. He said Bollea is a "great guy."

"People love him, I know that much," Howard said.

Abraham LaBoy Jr., 33, of Tampa, was among the Hulkamaniacs who backed their idol Friday. "I've been supporting him since I was a kid," LaBoy said. Everyone makes mistakes, he said, and it's unfair to judge Bollea for a conversation that should never have been public in the first place.

"He's an icon," LaBoy said. "I think Hulk Hogan is Americana. He's pop culture."

Times staff writers Anna M. Phillips, Katie Mettler, Justine Griffin and Zack Peterson contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804.

     
Comments
The Holocaust connection that makes the Florida Orchestra’s Verdi ‘Requiem’ concert special

The Holocaust connection that makes the Florida Orchestra’s Verdi ‘Requiem’ concert special

The Florida Orchestra puts another exclamation point on its 50th season with Verdi’s Requiem, this weekend’s concert series, a major presentation of an iconic work. Composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Requiem debuted in 1874 but took on a new layer of signif...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Tampa Bay disciples of 'Wild Wild Country' guru remember Oregon commune

Tampa Bay disciples of 'Wild Wild Country' guru remember Oregon commune

SPRING HILL Joe Lemieux sat on the cream sofa near several relics from another era in his life, out of place in this retiree’s pastel-tinged living room and brought into the morning light specifically for this occasion. There was a beaded nec...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Persall: Upon retirement, a look back at a star-quality career

Persall: Upon retirement, a look back at a star-quality career

Do you see what I did there? The comma and extra "E" in my byline? One last pun, just for fun. It’s the end, fin in French, and something unfortunately ruder in Swedish. Time to retire, nearly 25 years to the day after starting work as the T...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Freefall flavors 2018-2019 season with comedies and a pair of musicals

Freefall flavors 2018-2019 season with comedies and a pair of musicals

ST. PETERSBURG — In the coming season, Freefall Theatre is rolling out a world premiere, a different take on Christmas, a sharp comedy and a recent work by Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage. The theme for the 2018-2019 season, "A Brighter Tomorrow," color...
Published: 04/19/18
Bar review: London Heights British Pub in Tampa

Bar review: London Heights British Pub in Tampa

As a person who has no intention of ever going into the bar business, I spend a good amount of time thinking about what makes bar concepts work. I think about themes, branding, menus, location and myriad other factors that ultimately play into a bar’...
Published: 04/19/18
Richard’s Rockin’ Birthday Starfruit Lambic, Ulele

Richard’s Rockin’ Birthday Starfruit Lambic, Ulele

To celebrate the birthday of its owner, Richard Gonzmart, Tampa’s Ulele restaurant tapped its most ambitious brew yet (with a name to match): Richard’s Rockin’ Birthday Starfruit Lambic.Unlike traditional Belgian lambics — sour ales spontaneously fer...
Published: 04/19/18
Tampa’s 60-year-old Housewife Bake Shop may not be closing after all

Tampa’s 60-year-old Housewife Bake Shop may not be closing after all

For nearly 60 years it was breads, cakes and pastries, up before dawn for the Perrone family in Armenia Garden Estates. For a minute it looked like Tampa’s Housewife Bake Shop was going to close, but third-generation owner Tena Perrone said on Wednes...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Four new restaurants in Tampa Bay: Brazilian steakhouse, Chinese, juice bar and more

Four new restaurants in Tampa Bay: Brazilian steakhouse, Chinese, juice bar and more

TERRA GAUCHATerra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse, a classic churrascaria-style Brazilian meatery — you know, where the guys in South American cowboy attire walk around with the swords of meat until you capitulate in a carnivorous haze — has opened a loc...
Published: 04/18/18
This is a week to spring clean instead of hitting a movie theater.

This is a week to spring clean instead of hitting a movie theater.

It’s a spring cleaning weekend at multiplexes, with studios vacuuming every dollar from current releases before the Avengers and Amy Schumer drop in next week. If you’ve seen A Quiet Place, Ready Player One and Black Panther, this is probably a good ...
Published: 04/18/18
Desi Oakley savors pie making in ‘Waitress,’ orchestra does Verdi’s Requiem

Desi Oakley savors pie making in ‘Waitress,’ orchestra does Verdi’s Requiem

HEAD WAITRESS: DESI OAKLEYThe blue collar mother who drives the plot of Waitress never thought she could win a pie-making contest, let alone start a business."She doesn’t even have the capacity to understand that she could do this," said Desi Oakley,...
Published: 04/18/18