Terry Bollea, the wrestler known as “Hulk Hogan,” took the stand Monday in the much-publicized trial versus Gawker Media over covertly recorded sex tapes.
Hogan sued Gawker for $100 million after the company published video clips of him having sex with Heather Clem. At the time, Clem had an open marriage with Hogan’s then-friend Todd, the host of “The Bubba the Love Sponge Show.” Hogan had just learned that his wife had filed for divorce. Seeking solace, the news brought him to the Clem’s house, where he had sex with Heather. Hogan has maintained that he had no knowledge that he was being recorded by the hidden cameras in the Clem’s bedroom.
Central to the case is whether in publishing the clips, Gawker violated Hogan’s right to privacy. The media company has invoked the First Amendment’s freedom of the press tenet in response.
In the Pinellas County Circuit Court courtroom in St. Petersburg, Fla., Hogan, who donned a large silver crucifix that contrasted with an all-black uniform of a blazer, T-shirt and bandana, explained that when he learned that Gawker published the videos in 2012, he was “pretty rocked” and “felt numb.”
“It turned my world upside down,” Hogan said, offering that he was concerned about how it would impact his children and new wife, Jennifer.
Earlier in the day, Hogan’s attorney said that 2.5 million people viewed the clip of his client, noting that Gawker posted it in order to drive traffic.
The lawyer noted that the Gawker’s “editorial policy” is to “bring down” entertainers, and that the video is an example of “bullying” in today’s digital world.
“They have essentially replaced sticks and stones with clicks and phones,” he said.
“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. Now he wants $100 million as compensation,” Gawker said this morning. “A federal judge and a unanimous appeals court have already ruled that this very story — including Gawker’s choice to include the brief video footage — is protected by the First Amendment.”
The trial is being live-streamed by several media outlets, including Gawker, which has also sent a reporter to Florida to cover the case. For Gawker, losing the trial will likely have damaging effects. The media company not only endured a restructuring last year, but it also has been looking for capital in advance of the trial. In late January, it sold a minority stake to Columbus Nova Technology Partners.