The line is fine between ignorance and racism – but the line exists


Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group/TNS

WWE’s Randy Orton, right, hits Seth Rollins during WrestleMania at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, March 29, 2015 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Darius Melton, Opinion Editor

Editor’s Note: The following article repeatedly refers to the usage of racial slurs. While the writer does not insert the terms into the article itself, links contained within this article may feature uncensored usage of these hateful remarks.

WWE superstar Randy Orton said the “N-word.”

It is an indisputable fact. The evidence is available online, so you can listen for yourself. On Oct. 3, 2019, Orton, while live-streaming Call of Duty gameplay with fan and friend Brad Radke on Twitch, used the racial slur to emphasize the effect of an explosion on-screen.

Some have tried to lessen the blow by saying that he used the “Soft A,” or have argued that he gets a pass because he is otherwise a cool guy. Others are refusing to let it slide, calling him out any time his name has been mentioned online in the past week.

I personally do not feel that Orton deserves “a pass.” This controversy is something that now comes to mind whenever I see him on my television screen. The word he used has hateful roots, and while black culture has appropriated the word and made it acceptable to many when used in certain situations, this is clearly not one of those situations.

However, I cannot stress this enough: I do not think that Randy Orton is a racist.

I do not claim to know Orton and his heart, nor am I aware of how he acts behind closed doors, but whenever I see people compare him to the likes of Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair, two fellow wrestlers who have had their own run-ins with racial controversy, I think it is time to draw the line.

Hulk Hogan did not just say a racial slur. He admitted multiple times that he was a racist, implied that black people were only worthy of his daughter if they were rich, stated that “we’re all a little racist,” and said a racial slur.

Ric Flair did not just say a racial slur. While his outbursts were not nearly as clear and lengthy as Hogan’s, former WWE and World Championship Wrestling employee Teddy Long has said in candid interviews that Flair, along with others in the locker room, would refer to him using the slur and that “I don’t think it’s ever changed.”

I am not defending Orton’s actions, but when those who are outraged try to compare Orton’s words to Hogan’s deep-seeded hatred and Flair’s bold, in-your-face approach, it harms their argument a bit.

Going off the stories presented above, it appears that Hogan and Flair voiced straight-up racist views, whereas Orton comes off as ignorant.

Plenty of tweets were made during the days following this incident in support of Orton, with some saying “he meant no offense or harm” or that there “was no racial connotation behind this.”

In the face of such arguments, there were still people reading it all and concluding that they “still can’t let that pass.” Many comparisons have also been drawn to popular YouTuber PewDiePie and his own controversy with the same slur from back in 2017.

Whether or not you feel the same about Orton as you do the others is up to you. There is no right or wrong way to feel hurt, so if Orton’s usage of the “N-word” bums you out, it bums you out. What is not okay is telling someone else how to feel about it.

Saying that you laughed at Orton’s remarks does not cancel out another fan’s hurt feelings. The common argument that it is “just a word” also does not fly when that word and all of its variations have hurt people for centuries. The word has power, and even with the passage of time, you cannot expect that power to dissipate so easily.

That being said, if you try to start a “Randy Orton is over party” and you fail to gain support for it, you have to accept that this will not be the story that gets him “canceled.” Feel how you feel about him, but that sentiment just will not be shared by everybody.

I believe Orton has done many things that deserve all of the criticism in the world—allegations that he defecated in a coworker’s duffle bag in the mid-2000s and sexually harassed new writers backstage in the 2010s come to mind. If this recent story fails to get him punished via the court of public opinion, however, I personally will not be too upset.

Randy Orton is many things, a lot of them bad, but I do not believe that he is racist.