The Athlete as Role Model debate is one which is well worn and tired. The inevitable by-product of being a fan and living and breathing sports is a natural affection, associate or fandom of certain individuals and teams. When you’re young, athletes are your heroes and whether this is appropriate or not, you’re going to get your heart broken at some point.
Our heroes fail us.
I’m 31 years old. I don’t acquire sports heroes anymore (or at least I try not to, hi there Kristaps!). But I do have some athletes and individuals who have a piece of my heart – who’ve inhabited a quiet corner since childhood – and still give me a feeling of excitement, elation or nostalgic glee when I recall a moment, see a highlight or re-watch an old match or game.
They say losing your first love always hurts the most. Hulk Hogan was one of my guys. I fell for professional wrestling the first time I saw it like I’d been hit with a big boot to the face. Watching with my older cousin, we were able to completely suspend disbelief and enter into the intrigues of matches and feuds – fixated by the signature moves, inflated physique’s and wild promos.
Wrestlemania V was the first card I can remember watching, and like so many big events from that time, Hogan stood tall at the end of the match, championship belt in hand. On that occasion he vanquished a misogynistic and deranged ‘Macho Man Randy Savage’. Hogan, like he did for most of his early career, played the good guy.
Well, Hulk Hogan is a racist asshole. Filmed unleashing a hate-filled diatribe on a hidden camera sex tape (just look at that sentence) Hogan’s stock has completely fallen. His erstwhile resurgence of popularity and re-installation as a WWE fan favourite and frequent TV guest has been cut short and he’s floundering to get any semblance of sympathy or credibility back.
Looking online for commentary on this exceptionally strange situation, it appears I’m not alone in my inability to process what’s going on. Hogan, more than most, was popular due to his force of personality – we almost liked him despite ourselves; his over the top, gimmicky schtick a throwback to more innocent, black and white, times when good guys were good and bad guys were either foreigners or cheats.
He represented for many of us a connection to our youth – a time when we uncritically believed what we read and watched without our own emotions and moral compass there to colour our reactions. When life was Kayfabe.
Most of us have had our heart broken by athletes before. Eric Cantona kicking a fan when I was 11 comes to mind as my first ever impossible to process moment of incongruousness – a hero in shame. We see our favourite players leave our favourite teams. We get incensed and we feel betrayed. But that passes. We’re ultimately ‘rooting for laundry’ as the saying goes and the pull of the jersey will always outweigh the pull of an individual player, coach or manager.
But when someone you fell in love with 24 years ago turns out to be so objectionable, you feel like you’ve been leg dropped. It takes a serious leap of faith to invest yourself in a man who pretends to fight for a living, even as a kid, which makes the betrayal of trust somehow even worse.
I’m 31 years old, I really shouldn’t be feeling like this, Hulk.
James Wright is an editor at New Albion.