Few relationships in professional wrestling’s history have been more bizarre than the long-running and extremely fraught one between The Ultimate Warrior and Vince McMahon and McMahon’s wrestling promotion. Over the course of decades, the relationship featured multiple splits and just as many lawsuits, WWE producing a hit-piece documentary about Warrior, and all sorts of other drama in between. And yet the way it ended was perhaps the strangest part of all. Warrior capped his last reconciliation with the promotion by headlining the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony; he was disturbingly purple and winded throughout WrestleMania weekend and died essentially as soon as he returned home. A year later, WWE introduced The Warrior Award as part of the 2015 inductions, lionizing a man aptly described by our own deputy editor as “an insane dick.”
Each year, WWE honors someone—usually some kind of inspirational celebrity or athlete, like the former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand. Every time it does so, people wonder whether an award given to people that embody “the courage and compassion that embodies the indomitable spirit of The Ultimate Warrior” refers to the character or the actual man who portrayed him, and who legally changed his own name to “Warrior.” WWE threw a new wrinkle into that conversation when, last Monday, they announced that the 2019 Warrior Award recipient would go to Sue Aitchison, a longtime WWE office employee and a big part of the company’s charitable efforts. By all accounts, Aitchison is a great person, and worthy of being honored in some form. But that’s not why we’re here.
When Rob Rousseau wrote about Warrior’s awful old blogs for VICE 17 months ago, Dana Warrior, the wrestler’s widow, said in a statement that while she would “not be disloyal to my husband’s memory” or speak ill of the dead, “his heart was changed by conversations with his two daughters.” WWE responded by saying that the Warrior Award and the company’s “Unleash Your Warrior” campaign with breast cancer survivors “recognize individuals that exhibit the strength and courage of WWE’s legendary character The Ultimate Warrior.” (Emphasis ours.) The second part of their statement was more combative, though. “Any attempt to distract from the mission of these initiatives and take the spotlight away from the honorees,” it read, “is unfortunately misguided.”
The problem is that this is a distinction that WWE has long struggled to make. On Monday Night Raw, announcers discussed Aitchison getting the award in a way that strongly implied that WWE honors Warrior the person, not the character. Michael Cole referred to “the late, great Ultimate Warrior;” Renee Young identified Dana Warrior, who presents the award, as “the widow of The Ultimate Warrior”—which is confusing, given that she was married to the man, not the fictional character. The cognitive dissonance escalated later in the show, when WWE aired last week’s installment in the Women’s History Month segments they’re doing with Girl Up, a charity launched by The U.N. Foundation. Asked for an example of “awesome women,” Lauren Yang, the featured “Girl Up Leader,” named Irena Sendler; WWE’s Charlotte Flair went with Serena Williams. As Yang explained, Sendler is awesome because she saved thousands of lives during the Holocaust by smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto.
Jarring transitions are a way of life in WWE, but even by the promotion’s standards, this was a doozy. In less than an hour, WWE’s flagship TV show honored a woman who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust and a man so odious that even his obituary in The National Review said “his views were quite primitive, and he wasn’t the best representative of the political movement.” Given what is known about what Warrior believed and espoused, the problem might more aptly be described as him representing his movement too obviously. The “primitive” part, at least, holds up.
This all goes deeper than the scads of offensive posts that the man wrote on UltimateWarrior.com, which his heirs wiped from the internet. In the early to mid-2000s, Warrior sought to reinvent himself as a conservative pundit. At the time, he worked as a speaker for Young America’s Foundation, the group that co-founded CPAC with the American Conservative Union. As Mother Jones reported in 2013, YAF’s president of four decades, Ron Robinson, and board member/former executive director James B. Taylor also sat on the three-man board of America’s PAC. It was America’s PAC that, in 2004, donated $5,000 to the luridly racist and antisemitic Charles Martel Society. That was the same year that the Martel Society gave its first “Jack London Literary Prize” to Kevin MacDonald, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “the neo-Nazi movement’s favorite academic.”
(As of this writing, WWE has not responded to a request for comment on Warrior’s connection to Young America’s Foundation and its leadership, or why they lauded Warrior on the same show they saluted Irena Sendler.)
There is no obvious start or end date for The Ultimate Warrior’s time with YAF, but various contemporaneous accounts of his college speaking gigs, including an interview with him on the conservative Flynn Files website, place him as working there in 2003 and 2004. (YAF has not responded for a request for clarification about the timeline of Warrior’s tenure there.) But even if we discount the significance of Warrior’s ties to YAF and YAF’s ties to the Charles Martel Society, there’s more. James B. Taylor was pretty open about both his views and with his role in the National Policy Institute, which is now run by Richard Spencer. “You’ve got the NAACP and B’nai B’rith,” Taylor told the Chambersburg Public Opinion in 2012. “Why not something for white people?”
Statements like those echoed Warrior’s public rhetoric very closely. His most blatantly bigoted comments have been quoted pretty extensively, including in the aforementioned VICE and Deadspin articles, and if you are familiar with bog-standard reactionary racist bullshit they will not surprise you: Coded comments about New Orleans being better off for having been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, nonsensical homophobic ranting about Brokeback Mountain star Heath Ledger (“Leather Hedger” in Warrior-speak), and so drearily on. Warrior telling an Iranian UConn student to “get a towel” was a lowlight of his lowlight-strewn “queering don’t make the world work” speech. Searching for additional statements has been made increasingly difficult by the redesign of Warrior’s website and its delisting from the Wayback Machine, but there are still numerous un-mined nuggets of awful Warrior bigotry out there. Case in point, a collection of Warrior website screenshots shared with Deadspin.
These include, for example, a rant about Native Americans in which Warrior states that “I consider myself a Native American in the accurate sense” because “I was born here, in America.” Specifically, he took issue with actual Native Americans referring to themselves that way, deeming it “misleading.” How so? Warrior felt that it was immaterial for Native Americans to say “my ancestors lived in a teepee and wore feathers in their hair, or yelp like a hyena or weave blankets or burn smudge sticks and smoke tax-free cigarettes.” A different blog referred to “black leaders who are nothing less than pure-bred [sic] racists.” Those leaders, he wrote, “demand reparations and want to see white people in shackles and hanging from nooses.” At “the p/c [sic] pace we are going now,” Warrior wrote, “it won’t be long before we are all slaves.” This leads into a seeming non-sequitur about “our government subsidiz[ing] so much time and money to the study of primates.” Calling this a racist trope may be giving it too much credit.
But if you really want to know what Warrior, the man, was about, his speech at DePaul University and the postmortem he wrote about it are a great place to start. (It’s one of his few blogs that is still properly archived.) “Homosexuals were offended by my use of the word ‘queer,’” Warrior wrote of the response to his speech, specifically describing “one guy without his husband and two physically-repulsive butch-dykes slurping on one another’s tongues (really) on the front row.” (He suspected they “had a real hard time cozying up to my principled heterosexual obstinacy.”) Warrior would go on to state that the aforementioned gay man enjoyed being “physically thrown out by the masculine security guard” and described the lesbian couple as “speared wild boars” who “performed [a] two-nightcrawlers-in-heat act.” Again, “an insane dick” just about sums it up.
It’s hard to say exactly why WWE decided to honor Warrior at all. There could be a sense that he and his family are owed something, as he had just signed on as a company ambassador before his death. But why elevate him to a saint-like figure, let alone in a way that virtually nobody in company history ever has? Thanks to a near-two-decade-old lawsuit settlement, WWE can’t disparage Warrior, but that doesn’t necessitate a lavish annual tribute. This is doubly true given that Warrior had, during his Hall of Fame induction, actually asked for the creation of a different award that would honor longtime WWE employees who get no public credit. WWE could have honored Warrior’s memory and his wishes by running with that uncharacteristically selfless idea, although doing so likely wouldn’t have attracted the publicity that most Warrior Award winners have received.
The simplest explanation, as usual, may just be that WWE just doesn’t care about any of this—not about what Warrior said and did, who he was and what he believed, and the work he did for the rancid causes he supported. After all, where did Warrior’s Hall of Fame induction take place? At the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, the same city Warrior described as a “pornographic cesspool of decadence and depravity” that could only benefit from being destroyed in a natural disaster. That arena is located next door to the Superdome, which had served as an improvised shelter for those who Warrior termed “unclean” people that he said were “ruined by the bad choices they made over and over.” Warrior’s was an indomitable spirit, all right. It’s a wonder that the WWE can’t bring itself to exorcise it.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, N.Y., who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are available. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.