When I was a kid I loved WWF wrestling. It was the mid-1980s, when my deep and abiding love for Cyndi Lauper led to me being interested in whatever she was doing, and she was hanging out with wrestlers. Tampa Bay’s own Hulk Hogan was the king of the muscled and oiled shouting men back then.
Over the years we’ve watched all manner of ridiculous and sad scenarios play out in his life. A nasty divorce; he and his ex-wife hooking up with their grown children’s friends; the time his son crashed during an illegal street race, leaving his best friend with a horrifying traumatic brain injury; and, in 2007, Hogan’s friend and local DJ, Bubba the Love Sponge, decided to share his wife, Heather, but not share the fact that their sex would be recorded. A sex tape was born, complete with racist comments about a black man Hogan’s daughter was dating, which ultimately got Hogan fired from his WWE (formerly WWF) gig. (Editor's note: Hogan also used the n-word repeatedly during a 2012 interview, while asking why it was OK for black guys to use it but not him.)
Fast forward to 2012. Gawker.com got a hold of the video and posted it — claiming that, ya know, it was “newsworthy,” meaning that watching Hogan have sex with Bubba’s wife needed to be made public because journalism’s role as the fourth branch of democracy means informing the public so that they can better make decisions about self-governance in a democratic society. (At least, that’s what they taught us in J-school.)
In actuality, calling what Gawker does real journalism would make Walter Cronkite spit. But the digital age of journalism is much different than in Cronkite’s day, and it poses many new questions about the limits of the First Amendment.
Now Hulk Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, is suing Gawker for $100 million, citing loss of privacy and emotional stress. The big question in the case has to do with a public figure’s privacy rights vs. the newsworthiness of the video, and often in cases dealing with public figures, they are not entitled to the same privacy rights as non-public figures.
Did he bone Heather Clem as the Public Hogan or Private Bollea? Does it matter? Because for real, everyone knows Gawker just posted that video to get visitors to the site. Ain’t a damn thing newsworthy there.
And while his racist proclamations on that video were a huge disappointment, they also suggest that it was a very private Terry that night. Terry Bollea, the wife-sharing racist, whose privacy was indeed breached.
Now all this embarrassing behavior has blossomed into something that could be a landmark case for how it applies to the First Amendment, and news outlets’ rights to publish versus celebrities’ rights to privacy. Which is so ironic, because seeing Hulk Hogan "do it" is about as appealing as watching one of my dad’s friends’ home sex tapes. I mean, just ew.