WWE is Whitewashing The Ultimate Warrior's Bigoted Past
The Ultimate Warrior once wished Bobby "The Brain" Heenan would die of cancer. Now the late wrestling icon is the emblem for WWE's cancer awareness campaign.
Megan Elice Meadows/Creative Commons
When WWE brought back Jim Hellwig a.k.a The Ultimate Warrior after a long and often contentious absence from the company in order to induct him into the Hall of Fame in 2014, it was a heartwarming story of triumphant redemption that could only ever take place in the squared circle. The day after his induction, he delivered a now-legendary promo on Monday Night RAW where he seemingly foreshadowed his own death… and then a mere 24 hours later, he suffered a massive heart attack and was gone.
If it had been left at that, you could almost forgive WWE for leaving out the not-so-heartwarming part of the story — namely, a series of homophobic and racist remarks made in speeches on college campuses and since-deleted blog posts in the mid-late 2000's during Warrior's stint as a conservative commentator.
Only, it wasn't left at that.
In the following years, WWE proceeded to make Warrior a centerpiece of their burgeoning corporate philanthropy efforts, creating the Warrior Award, to be given out at an elaborate ceremony every year to a recipient who "exhibited unwavering strength and perseverance, and who lives life with the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of the Ultimate Warrior." This year, the company merged its Warrior branding into its longstanding partnership with the Susan G. Komen Foundation with the #UnleashYourWarrior campaign. Various WWE Superstars and several breast cancer survivors have been sporting the likeness of the Warrior on television all month as part of the campaign and the company has been relentlessly promoting it on social media. Unleash Your Warrior.
Now is probably a good time to quickly go over a few of the things this man said during his stint as an aspiring conservative firebrand in the 2000s. All of these blog posts have been deleted, but through the magic of internet archiving, we were able to track them down.
Anyone who expresses sentiments like "How could they let this hurricane come here and do this to our lives?" is a kook as far as I am concerned. Those that somehow believe people are directly to blame for the happening of a natural catastrophe don't deserve to be heard. In fact, they should to be told to shut the hell up. These kinds of people contribute nothing toward repairing things to a better state. Truth is, these people thrive on despair and disarray. Chaos -- mentally and physically and in the way they conduct their lives -- is nothing new to them. They forge their whole lives in and around it. This hurricane to them was nothing more than like rearranging the furniture. If we could be shown what general conditions they lived in before the hurricane, we would see that had little respect for what they did have. We would see just how unorganized, unclean and dysfunctionally they lived. They never gave a care for order, cleanliness or function before, but now that they can get someone's attention who will possibly take over the responsibility of their life for them, they go on these tirades about how their life has been ruined. Their lives were already in ruin -- self ruin. Ruined by the bad choices they made over and over.
Beginning with the choice to sit on their ass expecting someone else to hand them a wonderful, beautiful, healthy and wealthy life. And excuse me for being the one to say so, but if you have a dozen kids and no husband to be a father, there are some 'holes' in your life plan that should be sewed up.
In case it isn't abundantly clear just who "these people" were, this article on the demographic makeup of Katrina victims should clear it up. Warrior is referring to "poor, mostly black New Orleanians without cars."
Martin marched a few times from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL. It's only about 40 miles and he walked along paved roads with security escorts and modern comforts and conveniences. He wrote a few jailhouse letters, plagiarized a great many speeches, and played up his last name "King" as if he was ONE. He led his best rally amid the monuments of Washington, DC. He preached proper, righteous behavior while he at the same time committed adultery many publicly verifiable times — oh, and he had "a dream." One to see a race of people freed completely from discriminate oppression.
On his speech on "Queer Studies" at a Conservative Alliance event at DePaul University:
One guy without his husband and two physically-repulsive butch-dykes slurping on one another's tongues (really) on the front row had a real hard time cozying up to my principled heterosexual obstinacy. So, in an act of pure selfish pleasure the guy got himself physically thrown out by the masculine security guard, unmistakably loving every single masochistic, man-handled moment of it. And the dykes, well, they ran out screaming and yelling like speared wild boars that I was a homophobe for making my remarks. Rumor has it that they decided to exit more because I was not getting stimulated by watching their poorly performed two-nightcrawlers-in-heat act. Ah, the incredible, selfless sacrifices the liberal loons will make on behalf of their cause...warms my heart and makes my whole body laugh.
On the death of actor Heath Ledger (who had played a homosexual character in the film Brokeback Mountain):
By today's standard, though, I do have to agree that he was a great father. Perhaps even greater then the father of the year, Hulk Hogan. After all, Leather Hedger did what it took to kill himself. His kid is without a father, yes, but the negative influence is now removed and his own child has the chance for a full recovery.
On famed WWE Announcer Bobby "The Brain" Heenan (who had recently been diagnosed with throat cancer at the time):
"As for you, Booby Heenan, it's just too difficult to keep a straight face talking about the pure two-faced bag of sh– you are (and have always been), what, with you also actually wearing one as a piece of body jewelry. You are dying, dis-eased on the inside, and no more time is left to get back any of the integrity that matters the most on death's bed. Imagine what it will be like, lying there taking in your last breaths, knowing you whored yourself out your whole life, and had to, in your final years, be faced with emptying your own personal sh–– bag affirming to you the true value of what you achieved in your life. Not even Vince could come up with a better finish than this. Karma is just a beautiful thing to behold."
This one is particularly relevant given that, by sheer coincidence, Heenan's recent death coincided with the launch of the #UnleashYourWarrior campaign. It's unclear whether the Susan G. Komen Foundation is aware of Warrior's past statements — they declined to comment on this story.
The purpose of bringing this up now isn't to drag a dead man's name through the mud, or to simply stir up controversy for no reason. It's to ask why WWE thinks it is appropriate to use this man's likeness as a pillar of their inspirational, altruistic corporate philanthropy branding. After his return to WWE, much was made of the bridges that Warrior had burned and the reparations he had made in the wrestling business, but neither Warrior or WWE offered any acknowledgment of—or apology for—his comments going beyond the wrestling business.
His widow, Dana Warrior, said in a statement to VICE Sports that Warrior had become a different man before he died.
"I will not be disloyal to my husband's memory or speak ill of a man who is not here to defend himself. I can, however, tell you his heart was changed by conversations with his two daughters. The true testament of the man behind the character is his ability to evolve. My husband did just that."
But there was no public sign that he had any change of stance.
It's also important to point out that these speeches weren't given by Jim Hellwig, they were quite literally given by Warrior—he legally changed his name during a copyright dispute with the company—so the idea that WWE can simply make a distinction between the Ultimate Warrior, a fictional character, and the actor portraying him doesn't really hold much water. Also worth mentioning: WWE banished Hulk Hogan, their biggest ever star, down the memory hole when his own ugly, racist comments were made public in 2015.
If the WWE Hall of Fame was occupied only by paragons of moral virtue, it would be a fairly lonely place. Donald Trump is in there, after all. And Warrior was unquestionably an iconic WWE character, who had a profound impact on the wrestling industry. One could make the case that, regardless of the horrible things he had said during this period (a period where he was not under contract with WWE and had no affiliation with the company) he still deserved to be recognized for his significant achievements inside the wrestling ring.
But the same company that banished Hogan has poured millions of dollars into a quasi-philanthropical marketing campaign promoting the image of a person who made vastly uglier comments.And make no mistake—these initiatives are marketing. This is a notion endorsed by Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon in a tweet from WWE's Business Partner Summit in 2015 (the first year the Warrior Award was given out),
It's obviously not a bad thing that the WWE is making an effort to do community outreach, help with breast cancer awareness, and get involved in other philanthropic efforts. But their insistence on not only welcoming Warrior back into the fold, but completely whitewashing his past and elevating his likeness to a bland symbol of corporate altruism is shockingly tone-deaf, especially for a company that's at least outwardly trying to appear progressive, inclusive and diverse. When asked about this, WWE released the following statement to VICE Sports:
"WWE's 'Unleash Your Warrior' breast cancer awareness campaign and annual 'Warrior Award' recognize individuals that exhibit the strength and courage of WWE's legendary character The Ultimate Warrior. Any attempt to distract from the mission of these initiatives and take the spotlight away from the honorees is unfortunately misguided."
Either they were unaware of Warrior's past statements or they were aware and just thought they might sweep them under the rug like many of the other uglier parts of their corporate history. However it happened, the company has now spent years devoting significant resources to promoting a reactionary who is on record saying things that would make Rush Limbaugh blush, as a heroic figure of inspiration and redemption. It appears that they will continue to do so. This version of the Ultimate Warrior would be nice to believe in, but ultimately it's as fictional as any other wrestling storyline.