Hulk Hogan Says Racism Was Part of His 'Daily Environment' Growing Up: 'You Greeted Your Friends with the N-Word'

"I realized this behavior and this type of verbiage is unacceptable," Hulk Hogan tells PEOPLE

Photo: Heather Kennedy/Getty

Hulk Hogan, the 12-time world wrestling champion, looks nervous.

Walking into a conference room in N.Y.C., he pours himself a glass of ice water and sits down. He cups his hands together and says that now that “the dust has settled,” he’s ready to speak out about the audio transcript that was released in July that featured him using racial slurs when talking about his daughter Brooke’s then-boyfriend.

Although he openly admits to using the “n-word” and says it was “one huge mistake,” he wants the public to know that before he became the legendary professional wrestler, he was just Terry Bollea from Port Tampa, Florida.

As for his daughter, she tells PEOPLE that her dad “cries at the Lion King, talks “baby” to his teacup Chihuahuas, can grill like nobody’s business and watches the sunset every night.”

But there is one thing she says he is not: A racist.

The Real Hogan

“We are all products of our environment,” the 62-year-old tells PEOPLE one month after the WWE ended its almost 30-year-association with him. “If you lived in South Tampa then, you greeted your friends with the n-word, or if you were mad at your friends, you used the n-word. It was a part of my daily environment.”

When his parents would take him to Sears to buy three new pairs of pants for the new school year, he says there was a water fountain for white people and a water fountain for black people.

“As soon as I broke out of that environment – that small fish bowl – and became the Hulk Hogan wrestling star, the rest of the world wasn’t like the place I grew up,” he says. “I realized right away that I had to reeducate myself.”

He continues, “When you inherit something that is passed on generation to generation to generation, it becomes a practice. You have to be aware of it. I realized this behavior and this type of verbiage is unacceptable. So for me to digress and say something so foul is devastating.”

Looking Forward

Hogan says news of the transcript being released went from being “the worst day of my life to the best day of my life.”

It’s taught him who his true friends are, brought him even closer to Brooke and has given him a chance to teach people an important lesson.

“It’s taken this huge burden off my shoulders because behind this dark cloud is going be this huge shiny lesson, and I’m going to help people with this,” he says. “I’ve always known that I wasn’t put on this world just to be a wrestler.”

And he wants people – especially kids – to know that using the language he did is never okay and “should not be used in any shape or form.”

Family First

At the end of the day, Hogan says the most important thing is having his family by his side.

“If anybody should have kicked me to the curb and been done with me, it should have been Brooke. My anger was directed towards her,” he says. “But my kids have always been there for me with unconditional love.”

Brooke says she forgave her father immediately.

“What he said was not right, but I know that’s not who he is,” the 27-year-old says. “He has told me that he made some really bad choices, but that it never changed that I was his baby girl and he loved me and be would lost without his kids.”

She adds, “Maybe the positive of this whole situation is shedding light on the need to eliminate hateful words from our vocabulary altogether.”

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