Booker Huffman—better known as WWE Hall of Famer Booker T—is still busy wrestling, but this opponent is far bigger than anyone he encountered in the ring. Huffman is combating racial inequality, and as racial tensions continue to flare across the United States, Huffman stressed that Americans, regardless of skin color, need to stand up against injustice.
“If we truly want to make America great, we need to fix this racial inequality,” said Huffman. “We’ll have a never-ending war if we continue to go down this road. One thing that black people need to understand is the same thing that white people need to understand – neither one of us, black or white, are going anywhere. We have to live with each other, and we need to fix this.”
Racism has existed in the United States for well over two hundred years and permeated the air in Philadelphia when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Eradicating the issue is no easy task, but Huffman explained that the remedy begins with a discussion.
“Starting a discussion is a lot better than burning down buildings, trashing police cars, or tearing up your own neighborhood,” said Huffman. “Sitting down at a table, talking about it, and trying to find a solution is the proper way to go about it. We need all sides—blacks, whites, Hispanics, everyone—if we want to eradicate that problem.”
The youngest of eight children, the 51-year-old Huffman was raised in Plain Dealing, Louisiana. No stranger to racism, he has experienced the humbling realities of life due solely to darker skin tone.
“Most people who are not of color, their parents didn’t need to tell them how to act around police or what to do if they ever got pulled over,” explained Huffman. “Never, not once. We are taught that in the black neighborhoods. I’ve been profiled and pulled over, so it’s not like I don’t know. I’ve experienced it, and that’s why I’m speaking up. We listened to Donald Trump speak at the debate about ‘Stop and Frisk.’ I don’t think it’s a good way to go through life. I don’t think that’s going to solve any of our problems. It’s actually going to make racial tension a whole lot worse, and it’s going to make us feel like we’re singled out.”
Huffman was appalled by the way professional tennis player James Blake was treated by officers from the New York Police Department last year, but unfortunately, he was not surprised by their actions.
“James Blake was waiting on his car to pick him up to take him to the U.S. Open, and the cops rushed him and took him down,” said Huffman. “They never even asked for his ID. They embarrassed him to the utmost, and they could have hurt him and they even could have killed him. And the guy did literally nothing wrong except look like, perhaps, someone they were looking for.”
Huffman respects San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepenick’s decision to sit during the playing of the national anthem.
“Everybody has the right of freedom of speech in the First Amendment, and we need to respect that,” said Huffman. “Protesters need to speak up at the loudest time where it’s going to get the most ears and attention. Kaepernick is protesting from a peaceful standpoint, and I’ve got to commend him for that, and he’s putting his money where his mouth is [by promising to donate $1 million to organizations that address social issues and racial inequality]. If we had more guys – the guys who call themselves stars – who were willing to do more than talk, but instead walk the walk like Kaepernick, then the world would be a better place.”
In the same manner Huffman recognizes Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the anthem, he appreciates when people respect his choice to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner.
“I stand for the National Anthem,” said Huffman. “I’m not Colin Kaepernick. That’s enough as far as the kneeling should go, because racial injustice needs to be dealt with, and Colin Kaepernick started the conversation.”
WWE superstar Randy Orton joined Huffman last week on his “Heated Conversations” podcast, and even persuaded the immensely proud and patriotic Orton to take a step back from admonishing those, like Kaepernick, who choose not to stand during the anthem.
“Just for a minute, Randy Orton took a step back and said, ‘Maybe I don’t know what people are going through because I’m not walking in their shoes,’” Huffman recalled. “You can speculate, but until you have walked in those shoes, you just don’t know. People should step back and look at this, even for a minute, from someone else’s perspective—and listen. Then come up with a conclusion after you’ve actually sat and talked about it, instead of making your decision before you even sit down.”
Listening is especially significant when it comes to the sensitive issue of racial inequality.
“Listening starts with our leaders,” said Huffman. “This election season really has racial tensions heightened. Donald Trump has said some inflammatory things, and Hillary Clinton is also not the best candidate. She’s said some inflammatory things, like ‘Super Predators,’ and she passed a bill on ‘Three strikes, you’re out’ and locked up a lot of black people.”
Huffman noted that a common ground between blacks and whites is important for the future of the country, but that both candidates for president are doing more harm than good.
“Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for a long time, but she has trust issues,” said Huffman. “She has also helped a lot of people over that period of time. Look at me, I was a twenty-one year-old kid that went to prison. If someone judged me on the way I was then, then I wouldn’t be in this position today. That was something that happened to me thirty years ago. We need to take a step back and look at things from an overall perspective before casting that ballot of who is best suited to lead us and our kids for the next four years.”
Huffman said plans to exercise his right to vote in November, though he is still researching to determine his choice.
“The election is definitely hanging in the balance,” said Huffman. “Donald Trump has said a lot of inflammatory comments that a lot of people don’t like, but people can sometimes speak from a racist standpoint and not really know they are racist. It’s like when white people want to speak on slavery, maybe they should take a step back and say, ‘Maybe I don’t understand what you’re going through,’ or have the empathy to look at race from a different position.
“Personally, I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. People need to stop focusing on becoming part of a party and instead voting with their mind and their heart. If [Republican] Paul Ryan was running for president, there are some views of his that I like, so I could vote for Paul Ryan. If Bernie Sanders, who is a Democrat, won the nomination, I could have voted for Bernie Sanders. I’m going to vote because it is my duty. People fought for me to have that right.”
Politics aside, Huffman remains active. Although retired from professional wrestling, he keeps busy with his podcast and wrestling promotion in Houston. He prides himself on giving his wrestlers the best to succeed as men and women, as well as responsible adults.
“Reality of Wrestling is a bunch of young kids trying to live out their dreams,” said Huffman. “We don’t have ex-WWE, TNA, or WCW wrestlers. These are young kids who are creating their own story and telling their story. Our wrestling is just secondary, behind producing outstanding young men and women. I try to teach my students a formula, a science. Then they can take the formula and make it whatever they want in the long run.
“I try to teach them to have their own mind, their own creativity, and there is no wrong way of doing it as long as you do it right. I even hold a camp in the summer, where the kids are six-to-twelve years old. My world champion, Gino, started with me when he was sixteen years old. He’s a prodigy, and he’ll make his debut in WWE one day. That’s what I want to do. I want these kids to live their dreams. I wasn’t that kid who went to college, and there are a lot of kids out there walking in those same shoes, just looking for something. I’m working to help kids in professional wrestling, and hopefully they can find something inside themselves.”
Huffman remains synonymous with the WWE Network, and he is grateful for the chance to speak on the pre-show before the pay per views.
“I still try to make it real,” said Huffman. “It’s the same as when I wrestled. When I went out there and performed, I wanted the fans to think that was real for that moment. I wanted to suspend their imagination, and it’s the same thing with the kick-off shows on the Network. I’m going to go out there, spit out some knowledge, and make you think for a moment. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. If the guy shouldn’t be there, and he’s taking the spot of more deserving younger guys, I’m going to say it. No one else wants to say that, but I’ll be the one to say it.”
Although he is content with his career, Huffman remains full of ambition inside and out of the ring.
“I love doing what I’m doing, and it has given me the chance to evolve,” said Huffman. “For me, I want to eradicate the n-word, but I need Jay-Z to come out and help. It starts with discussion.”
Huffman’s next goal—even beyond race and politics—is training his six-year-old twins to become five-time tag team champions.
“More than anything, I want to stay relevant for my kids. I want to play with them for as long as possible, so staying in shape and staying healthy are very important to me. I’ve seen so many guys go down, and I know my time is going to come, but I’m going to push it as far as I can push it and let God do the rest.”