When Ultimate Warrior body slammed my campus

When I met the Ultimate Warrior as a freshman and campus conservative activist at DePaul, he was retired from professional wrestling. He had traded in the ring for a podium and was making the rounds for Young America’s Foundation, a youth outreach organization aimed at introducing students to conservative and libertarian ideas.

In the lead-up to the talk, I watched a YouTube video of a Warrior appearance at the University of Connecticut, with him facing down a hostile crowd, and got excited. DePaul liked to pretend conservatives didn’t exist, but Warrior could fix that. If liberals could host the likes of Ward Churchill, we would host a rabble-rouser of our own, and blow the roof off.

“I’ll work real hard to entertain you,” Warrior told the capacity crowd that April day in 2006, “but instead of using my body, I’m going to use my mind this afternoon.” Some of Warrior’s speech was indeed incendiary (“queering doesn’t make the world work”) and entertaining, but most of what the former WWF champion had to say was about big ideas.

Warrior was a bit like a second-coming of Ayn Rand, except he believed in God (a point he took Rand to task over). Warrior’s blunt Objectivism came as a shock to systems of many in the audience. The intensity in which he delivered his speech may have also had something to do with it.

For almost an hour, Warrior railed against political correctness, moral relativism, post-modern diversity, equality of outcomes, and excuses. He said he cherished the rationality, potential, responsibility, and creativity of the human person. “The greatest reverence for God,” Warrior said while admitting he was not into organized religion, “is shown by respecting the Creation that you are.”

Warrior said he was there to give out “practical life advice.” Young people ought to “find out what you believe and stick to it — have conviction,” Warrior urged. “The best that you can do is meet somebody who has the same philosophy of life that you do, and then have a big family. And raise them that way.” This is what you can do that will live forever, Warrior said.

The Q&A lasted almost two hours. Warrior was sometimes defensive, but mostly conversational, often asking interlocutors about their own aspirations. He was also incredibly candid. One young man stood up thinking he had him and asked if Warrior had ever taken steroids. Without delay, Warrior answered, “Yes.” Isn’t that a shortcut to success, the student asked. “No. Steroids don’t make champions,” Warrior said.

The questions from students ranged from jabbing Warrior on his use of the word “queer” to the war in Iraq to whether he thought the world was overpopulated. To questions Warrior didn’t know the answer, he said so. To questions that didn’t make any sense, he said: “Your question does not make sense.” Some in the audience shouted that they were “offended” by what Warrior had said and argued that he should not be welcome on a college campus. Warrior would have none of that: “If the truth is offensive, so be it.”

That “offensive” word would stick around on campus for some time. Students, professors, and administrators denounced the event as “hate speech” and “injurious.” The event with Warrior sparked a much-needed campus debate about free speech — a debate we conservatives welcomed. The event helped expose how terribly ill equipped the university was in dealing with controversial speech and how deeply unfriendly it was to conservative ideas.

One questioner asked Warrior how he’d like to be remembered, which is suddenly relevant as he passed away this week at the age of 54. “My greatest mark will be on my kids,” Warrior said. This isn’t too far off from what Warrior told his daughters eight years later when he was inducted into World Wrestling Entertainment’s Hall of Fame. “Although I’ve done some pretty incredible things in wrestling,” he said, “the most awesome thing I will ever do is be your father.”

After Warrior’s speech on my campus, we developed a friendship. He became an early mentor to me and we’d talk often. He’d write to update me on his latest endeavors, but he was mostly curious about what I was doing and where I was going.

During one conversation about the importance of family, he wanted me to say hello to his five-year-old daughter Indiana. She got on the line and very politely asked how I was doing. I said, “I’m good, Indiana.” Well, that was enough for her. She passed the phone back to her dad. Warrior laughed and said her abruptness was because of my poor grammar. “I’ve taught her the proper response to that question is ‘I’m well,’ not ‘I’m good.’ You should know better, Nick!”

Warrior genuinely cared about someone he only spent a day with on a college campus that wasn’t all that friendly to him. He once wrote a letter of recommendation for a scholarship I applied for. Warrior sent me a courtesy copy. I’m reproducing part of it not because of what it says about me but to show what a genuine man and mentor he was:

A few years ago at a high profile Summer conference for young conservatives, held right there in Washington, D.C., on George Washington campus, I mentioned “destiny” in my speech in the same vein as Ronald Reagan always used it when talking about this country and its future. Surprisingly, I got many glazed-eyes looks from most of the young people in attendance; and later that evening, during what they call a “bull session,” many took me to takes for using it. Ronald Reagan, they all claimed, was their all-time favorite conservative hero, but destiny? They thought that was silly.

I, also, had a “bull session” with Nick after the event that night; and have had many long distance ones since then. Different than the others in his group who cowered to the politically correct pressure to make nice, and thereby compromise the beliefs they claimed they espoused, Nick wanted to keep talking conservative ideas, Great Book ideas, classical liberal ideas, Founding Father ideas — conservative ideas that make the world work. When I talked to him about destiny, his eyes didn’t glaze over, they sparkled.

He lauded me as a possible next Reagan to the scholarship board. It was a bit much but the kindness will never be forgotten.


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