Hulk Hogan was “humiliated” and left “violently shaking” when he found out he was the subject of a sex tape and it had been made public, the former pro wrestler testified Monday.
Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, is suing Gawker Media, its founder and a former editor for publishing a brief portion of the salacious footage in 2012.
On day one of the trial at the Pinellas County Judicial Building in St. Petersburg, Florida, Hogan’s attorney Kenneth Turkel repeatedly asked questions designed to humanize a man who spent his career engaged in chokeholds and in-ring taunts.
Turkel asked the plaintiff to describe the differences between Hulk Hogan and Terry Bollea.
“Terry Bollea’s a normal person. Wrestling is my job. It’s what Terry Bollea does for a living,” Hogan said.
Describing Bollea, he said, “I don’t argue. I’m not loud. Pretty soft spoken to a fault. Don’t know how really to say no, even though I’m learning how to say no to my kids.”
Hogan, 62, was dressed all in black, including a silver crucifix on a chain and his trademark bandana, when he took the stand Monday.
He said his best friend had been radio personality Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem. There had been a running joke for about two years about Hogan and Clem’s wife having sex, he said.
When Hogan’s wife filed for divorce, he said he called Clem and was “crying like a baby.” Clem told him to come over to the house and when he arrived, Hogan said Heather Clem took him by the hand and led him to the bedroom. Bubba Clem handed him a condom, he testified.
When the sex tape surfaced years later, Hogan said he was so upset his hands began “violently shaking.”
“I was embarrassed by what it did to me as a person, but it was even embarrassing as a character. Hulk Hogan was embarrassed,” he testified.
The ex-wrestler was the first witness after lawyers for both sides made their opening statements.
Hogan’s attorney, Shane Vogt characterized Gawker as an amoral news outlet, guided by the twin principles of “power and profit.”
Former editor A.J. Daulerio, who posted the sex tape excerpts three-and-a-half years ago, is a defendant in the case, along with Gawker founder Nick Denton.
Denton’s editorial philosophy, according to Vogt, is to “level the playing field, to bring down people like Mr. Bollea — entertainers, celebrities, sports stars.”
“What we’re going to prove to you is that they intended to harm him,” Vogt said.
Vogt showed the jurors internal memos, as well as a profile of Denton that ran years ago on NBC News, to highlight Gawker’s obsession with clicks.
He showed a chart indicating that the site enjoyed a traffic spike in October 2012 when the Hogan sex tape clips were published. Vogt also displayed Gawker’s internal chats at the time, in which staffers mocked Hogan.
“This is what qualifies as news at Gawker,” he said. “This is what they’re doing behind the scenes.”
Gawker defended its actions in a statement Monday.
“Hulk Hogan was more than willing to talk about his sex life — including in two autobiographies, a reality TV series and Howard Stern’s radio show — until he didn’t like what Gawker had to say,” the company said in a statement. “Now he wants $100 million as compensation.”
Vogt rejected this idea.
“Their motivation here wasn’t some higher public purpose,” he said. “It wasn’t the truth. It was money. It was power.”
Gawker attorney Mike Berry delivered a decidedly shorter opening statement, arguing that the newsworthiness of the post protects it under the First Amendment. He noted that Hogan had created an image of being a role model, an “American hero,” and wrote in his autobiography that he was “not the cheating kind.”
The sex tape, Berry said, had been the subject of previous news stories in the months leading up to Gawker’s publication, but now Hogan is “asking for lots and lots and lots of money.”
And the tape, he said, had very little sex in it. The one minute and 40 second highlight reel published by Daulerio depicted nine seconds of sex, he said.
“The rest was conversation,” Berry said.
The jury of nine, which includes three alternates, is made up of six women and three men. Virtually all of the jurors are white, with the exception of an elderly African-American man.
Vogt noted that Gawker initially refused to take down the video after receiving a cease and desist order. The video remained on the site for six months until it was removed under a court order. That court order was ultimately reversed by an appellate court, but the video remains off Gawker’s site.
“If they had taken down the video when they got the cease and desist letter, we wouldn’t be here,” Vogt said.