The recent controversy surrounding the racist remarks made by Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk “Hollywood” Hogan, came to a full boil last week when World Wrestling Entertainment cut all ties with the famous wrestler.
On Thursday, WWE removed all mentions of Hogan from its website, including his listing on the website’s WWE Hall of Fame, and all related merchandise from its gift shop. The following day, the organization issued a formal statement announcing its termination of Hogan’s contract.
The WWE’s move follows the recent surfacing of excerpts from a sealed transcript related to Hogan’s sex tape lawsuit against Gawker Media. Published by both National Enquirer and Radar, the excerpts feature Hogan making racist comments and repeatedly using the n-word.
Hogan’s initial response to the crisis was adequate from a PR perspective. Shortly after the WWE’s termination statement, Hogan released an official apology on Friday via People.com, where he admitted his fault and apologized for his “unacceptable” use of offensive language.
“This is not who I am,” Hogan said. “I am disappointed with myself that I used language that is offensive and inconsistent with my own beliefs.”
Although far from being a panacea to such a difficult crisis, a sincere and heartfelt apology can soften the effects of misconduct in the court of public opinion. The key in such a case is to be sincere and remain consistent with your words and actions.
However, Hogan’s initially mindful response to the situation was short-lived. Just two days later, he re-tweeted some Twitter messages shared by his fans. One message said: “Bi-racial President Obama uses N word, is applauded and keeps his job. @HulkHogan uses N word, is vilified and loses his job.” The tweet referred to a comment President Obama made during a podcast interview, in which he talked about the on-going problems of racism in America.
By re-tweeting this message, Hogan effectively undercut the credibility of his earlier apology and put himself right back into the hot seat. He went from being apologetic and remorseful, to being defensive and ignorant, unable to see the difference between Obama’s commentary on racism and his own racist remarks.
Successful crisis management requires more than well-put together public statements and promises to do better standing on their own; it requires a clear understanding of you own misconduct and a sincere and consistent effort to improve. In Hulk Hogan’s case, this understanding wasn’t reached, and until then, his reputation will remain in a painful chokehold.