stranger than fiction

hulk-hogan

St. Petersburg – When Hulk Hogan, the former professional wrestler whose real name is Terry Bollea, took the witness stand Tuesday in his $100 million civil trial against the gossip site Gawker, there’s a good chance he wasn’t expecting to have to admit under oath he doesn’t have a 10-inch penis.

But, on the other hand, in this suit, who knows?

Maybe lawyers had prepped him.

Hogan: “Can I admit my penis is only 8 inches?”

Lawyer: “I wouldn’t go that far.”

Hogan: “Seven inches?”

Lawyer: “I didn’t mean literally.”

Hogan: “Nine inches?”

Lawyer: “Add an inch. It sounds more believable.”

Hogan: “Ten?”

Lawyer: “You’re the Hulk. The jury will buy it. Your penis is not ten inches, as hard as that is to believe, but you’re still The Loch Ness Monster.”

Hogan: “Got it, bro.”

If you’ve been following this trial and reading the clips-on-steroids that claim freedom of the press in the Internet age may very well hang in the balance, it sure doesn’t feel like a trip through the Bill of Rights if you’ve been listening to the testimony.

It’s like watching mud wrestling.

And both guys are out of shape and wearing thongs.

Bollea is suing Gawker for posting a video, in Oct. 2012, of him having sex with the then wife of radio shock jock, and, in those days, best friend, Bubba the Love Sponge. Gawker attorneys claim the video was fair game because Hogan is a celebrity and he’s been bragging about his sexual endowment and prowess for years.

He jokes that his member is the third leg of a tripod.

He calls it… The Loch Ness Monster.

Still, the wrestler says, it’s one thing to boast about your monster on radio and TV and in two auto-biographies, but it’s quite another to have a tape of you performing cunnilingus and having sex – “naked before the world,” his attorney, Shane Vogt, said in his opening statement – in a canopy bed, posted on the internet for 203 days.

It was an invasion of privacy, Bollea testified. It turned his world upside down. “I was completely humiliated,” said the wrestler who once appeared in his reality TV series, “Hogan Knows Best,” sitting on the commode, with his pants down to his ankles.

Gawker attorney Michael Sullivan tried to shake the wrestler’s story Tuesday during cross examination and reveal him as a shameless self-promoter who had long ago surrendered any right to privacy in his sex life. If you’re going to talk about Loch Ness, Sullivan essentially said, then the world deserves to see the monster.

Sullivan played several radio and TV interviews of Hogan talking about his sex life and equipment, including a 2006 radio interview with Bubba the Love Sponge in which the two of them joked about the size of the wrestler’s penis.

“I’ve seen it before,” said Bubba. “Hard, you’re probably seven or eight inches.”

“Dude,” said Hogan. “I’ve got size 15 (shoes). I wear a size 15 ring…figure it out. A man’s penis is two thirds the size of your feet and hands.”

“So, Hogan, you’re claiming, you’re claiming to maybe have a 10-inch cock?”

“I’m not claiming. Those are the facts, Jack.”

Sullivan then asked Bollea about the interview: “Did you hear the reference to the length of your penis?”

Bollea said that he wasn’t sure he did. Not those exact words, anyway, and the recording wasn’t all that great. Could he play it again?

Sullivan waved his hand, never mind, and rephrased his question:

“Do you have any doubt that you were discussing the length of your penis?”

“It’s not mine,” said Bollea, as all motion in the courtroom froze and you could feel a slight tremble as the world wobbled on its axis. “We were discussing the size of Hulk Hogan’s penis — because Terry Bollea’s penis isn’t 10 inches.”

Sullivan had violated the rule lawyers say you should never violate: Don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to. If you’re going to ask a man about a penis, then, by God, make sure he doesn’t have TWO of them.

The media room in the Pinellas County courthouse, where I was watching, erupted in laughter. A TV reporter whooped: “Who’s going to lead at noon with that!” None of them did, of course, not that explicitly.

Ten inches is not family entertainment.

But, in the world of tabloid New York media, the exchange was in the wheelhouse. The New York Post ran this headline – “Hulk Hogan Is Asked the Question Every Man Fears” – in Wednesday editions.

The story began:

“Hulk Hogan cut himself down to size on Tuesday — testifying that his real-life manhood doesn’t measure up to the boasts of his ​larger-than-life character.

“Day Two of Hogan’s $100 million invasion-of-privacy trial against the Web site Gawker saw the pro wrestling legend admit that while his professional persona claims to have a 10-inch penis, he is really more modestly endowed.”

The New York Times played it straight.

Absolutely no pun intended.

Under the headline “Hulk Hogan Exudes Calm In Second Day of Sex Tape Trial Against Gawker,” the story began:

“On the witness stand for a second day, Hulk Hogan was far from the chest-thumping, T-shirt-tearing champion wrestler admired for years by his fans for his braggadocio and his swagger.

“Under quiet but relentless cross-examination Tuesday by a lawyer for the website Gawker, which he has sued for invasion of privacy, the wrestler was subdued, even melancholy. Referred to in court by his real name, Terry G. Bollea, and wearing a cross on a silver chain around his neck, he appeared intent on keeping calm under the onslaught, with only the occasional trace of irritation in his responses. Even then, he consistently addressed the lawyer, Michael Sullivan, as “sir.”

“I’m not the same person I was before all this stuff happened,” said Mr. Bollea, 62, and retired from the ring. “I don’t have my guard up anymore.”

When we broke for lunch I ran into Bollea in the elevator, dressed, as always, as the Hulk – black bandanna on his head, black T-shirt, and biceps bulging through a black sports jacket, and Fu Manchu mustache.

He looked weary.

“Been up there a long time,” I said.

He looked at me and smiled. “Yeah,” he said.

Other witnesses took the stand in the afternoon. Who could remember who they were, what they said, or why? I guess the jury listened. The press reported it in Wednesday’s editions. But the story had taken the elevator down and left the building.

Gone up the street, with a slight limp.

On the witness stand they were adding elements of fact and lawyers were making $500 an hour to dicker about them.

But did they matter?

This case was supposed to be about the First Amendment, and the Right to Privacy, and where does one end and the other begin if you’re a celebrity who, by law, doesn’t have as much right to privacy as the rest of us who are without publicists.

But you ask yourself: Does either side in this case even have the right to breathe air?

Hogan’s reputation, such as it was, as a professional wrestler, was destroyed last summer when it was reported there is a recording of him using racist epithets. Here’s one of the quotes published, and not disputed by Bollea, in the National Enquirer.

“I mean, I don’t have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, f*cking n*ggers. But then when it comes to nice people and sh*t, and whatever.”

As for Gawker, it’s a gossip site that routinely uses the words “fuck” in news stories, and whose founder, Nick Denton, says what really motivates him is telling the unvarnished truth, telling the uncomfortable stories people like to talk about.

Like – an aging professional wrestler having sex with his best friend’s wife.

There’s really no high ground here in St. Pete.

This case is a gutter ride from the bay to the Gulf.

The legal story is far less interesting, probably even non-existent, compared to the story of Terry Bollea: the man trapped inside of Hulk Hogan to the point that even he has difficulty articulating where Hogan begins and where Bollea ends.

Dressed as the Hulk, Bollea tried repeatedly on the stand Tuesday to untwin himself from Hulk.

“If they ask a question about Hulk Hogan, I will answer as Hulk Hogan,” he explained to Sullivan. “If they ask me about Terry Bollea’s life, I will answer as Hulk Hogan. You will never go down to Terry Bollea.”

Got that?

I tried to get a couple of lawyers to answer whether they’d ever heard of such a legal strategy, claiming that when you say one thing, in character, you’re not responsible if it contradicts what you say when you’re not in character.

They wouldn’t bite.

Nobody asked the obvious question: Well, you’re dressed like Hulk now, but you’re testifying as Terry Bollea, who the hell are you? A few of the press reports called the scene surreal.

Both sides hired PR firms. They work the press corps and send out releases explaining to reporters what they really heard and what that testimony really meant. On Tuesday, Hogan’s publicist issued this statement:

“Terry Bollea has clearly set forth that Gawker has violated the rights of the private person, Terry Bollea. After today’s cross examination it is clear even though he is a celebrity playing certain roles, he is deserving of privacy in his personal life. It would seem Gawker is suggesting if a celebrity plays a sexual role in a movie it would then be appropriate to post a sexual video of that celebrity taken in their private life. Being a celebrity in no way shape or form occasions the loss of right to personal privacy.”

Gawker’s PR firm had this to say:

“Today in court we heard Terry Bollea state that he’s in character as “Hulk Hogan” virtually 24 hours a day (whenever he’s not home in the way he put it) – also acknowledging that as “Hulk Hogan” he regularly takes “artistic liberty” and does not tell the truth.”

Maybe.

Maybe not.

I left in the middle of the afternoon. The testimony was dull and I didn’t have the daily deadline I could see etched in the brows of the guys in the media room. It was a beautiful afternoon, temperature in the mid-70s, and sunny, and I thought, heck, I’ll go for a walk, maybe stroll over to the Dali Museum, just a few blocks away.

They’ve got a good collection of crazy, weird stuff over there, but not too perverse.

I could use a break.

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Jeffry Scott

Jeffry Scott

Jeffry Scott is a former staff reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where, over the course of 24 years, he covered two of the biggest trials in the city's history -- the racketeering trial of former mayor Bill Campbell, and the trial of courthouse shooter, Brian Nichols -- and wrote features on travel, food, politics, movies, TV and advertising, and covered breaking news on the metro desk. He left the paper two years ago and is living, quite happily, in St. Petersburg, Fla., as a freelance writer.