'I don’t have a facade': How Kane went from WWE icon to elected office

Glenn Jacobs, also known as WWE star Kane, speaks at a political event. (Photos courtesy of WWE)
Glenn Jacobs, also known as WWE star Kane, speaks at a political event. (Photos courtesy of WWE)

For two decades, Kane was one of the most recognizable and popular figures in professional wrestling. The hulking, red-clad man was a pivotal character in WWE’s heralded “Attitude Era” in the late 1990s and, more often than not, inspired fear in opponents and fans alike.

After 25 years in the squared circle, it was time for Kane to take on a new endeavor: introducing the world to Glenn Jacobs, the man behind the iconic mask and successfully campaigning to be the next mayor of Knox County, Tennessee.

“About four years ago, I literally woke up one day — as weird as that sounds — and if I say I’m going to do something, I have to do it,” Jacobs told Yahoo Sports about his decision to run for mayor. “The mayor at the time was term-limited, so I was able to run for an open seat. I loved the idea of the mayor’s position because you have a lot of influence at the local level. An idea and plan started coalescing in my head. I talked with my family, prayed over it and finally decided to do it.”

Although Jacobs describes his decision to run for public office as a bit of a whimsical one, the truth is the nearly 7-foot-tall professional wrestler had developed a passion for politics and had been dipping his toes in those waters for a while before he made the call.

“I started getting more and more interested in government and politics right when I got out of college and then as I got a little bit older,” Jacobs said. “I never looked at myself as someone who was going to run for office, but I started to dabble with the idea about 10 years ago. I started paying attention to things more, started to meet people.”

Despite being someone who primarily played a heel (bad guy) character on WWE television, Jacobs admits there was some hesitation about further entering the public light, this time as a political candidate. While professional wrestling is one of the most scrutinized forms of entertainment, Jacobs was simply playing a role on television and there is rarely any reference to personal matters or family life in the world of WWE.

Politics, and campaigns in particular, however, are an entirely different beast.

“I had initially decided I was never going to do it because unfortunately, elections and politics in general, it can be dark,” Jacobs said. “Putting your family out there and that sort of thing. For me, I was already somewhat in the public eye, so that wasn’t that big of an adjustment as someone who isn’t. It is in a different way in WWE. We take our criticism, but in politics, people just want to say things for whatever reason.”

Jacobs isn’t the first professional wrestler to enter government. Jesse “The Body” Ventura served as Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, in the 1990s and eventually parlayed that into a stint as Minnesota's governor from 1999-2003. Terrence “Rhyno” Gerin ran for a Michigan state legislative seat in 2016. Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon twice ran for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut and later served as the head of President Trump’s Small Business Administration.

Despite this shared crossover history, Jacobs opted to carve his own path.

“People always draw the comparison between me and Jesse Ventura, but we’re a lot different, our personalities are a lot different,” Jacobs said. “I have a great amount of respect for Linda McMahon, but I knew my path was going to be different. I had to figure this out on my own.”

Jacobs ultimately ran as a Republican, but he is a well-known libertarian. Not strictly bound to either of the major political parties, libertarians traditionally believe in more civil liberties and limiting the size and scope of government at all levels. Jacobs’s beliefs have led him to support former presidential candidate Ron Paul and his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who wrote one of the forewords for Jacobs’s new book, “Mayor Kane.”

Describing himself as a “nonconventional candidate,” rather than running from his past as a WWE star, Jacobs felt he needed to embrace it to a degree. But popularity as a television star alone wouldn’t win him elected office, so Jacobs was adamant about combining his celebrity with political substance.

Cover of Glenn Jacobs's new book, "Mayor Kane." (Photo courtesy of WWE)
Cover of Glenn Jacobs's new book, "Mayor Kane." (Photo courtesy of WWE)

“When the actual campaign started, that was completely different,” Jacobs recalled. “I had to walk the line between using the wrestling stuff to open doors and get attention, but also have substance so people would go, ‘Oh, the guy is kind of smart, too.’ I couldn’t rely on the wrestling stuff to win the campaign, but we could use it to do some really neat stuff.”

WWE was fully on board as well. As Jacobs’s campaign ramped up, his appearances — already somewhat limited — became more sporadic. Since winning the election in August 2018, Jacobs has made only a handful of appearances on WWE programming.

“WWE has been very supportive of me,” Jacobs said. “One of the first people I spoke to was Vince McMahon because professionally and personally, he’s been a very large part of my life. Throughout the campaign, they lessened my travel demands. They worked so hard to accommodate my schedule. Being mayor is my first priority and they worked to make sure it stayed that way. I’m very grateful.”

WWE star Kane chokeslams Braun Strowman during an episode of "Monday Night Raw." (Photo courtesy of WWE)
WWE star Kane chokeslams Braun Strowman during an episode of "Monday Night Raw." (Photo courtesy of WWE)

In the 15 months since he’s been elected, Jacobs has learned the ins and outs of serving the constituents of Knox County. Despite being semi-retired from the ring due to his position, the 52-year-old has managed to draw on his professional experience in both his personal business and his time in WWE to better understand his role as an elected official.

“People may think I’m the boss of Knox County, but I have to make sure that everybody has a voice,” Jacobs said. “I’m not always going to do what some folks want me to do, but they have to have a voice and I have to be able to hear that concern. Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t the most popular thing in politics. In wrestling, you want to do the thing that people are going to want to see the most. In politics, it’s sometimes the opposite.

“The most important thing is still being able to relate to people. I don’t like the word 'politician,' but the best ones are like Shawn Michaels was in wrestling, they’re the ones who have connections. I don’t have a facade, I am who I am, I’m just Glenn. I’m honest, straightforward and tell it how it is. I want the same thing everyone else does. The emotional connection has to be real and you have to be who you are. The thing that happens to a lot of people in elected office is they forget who they are or were.”

While many career politicians aspire for higher office almost immediately, Jacobs — right now — does not have any plans to pursue a higher post when his term runs out.

“I’ve had a really good time. I want to do the best job as I can as mayor,” Jacobs said. “One of my favorite sayings is one that Mike Tyson said: ‘Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.’ Life just has a way of changing. This is a very important job. We’re a community of five hundred thousand people, and in our metro area, over a million people. The things that I do and the decisions that I make have some sort of impact on all of those people.”

Still, the difficulties of governing hundreds of thousands of people is somehow less daunting than the physical and travel demands of Jacobs’s former profession. Despite his new position, Jacobs admits he’s still a fan and that he does his best to keep up with his former colleagues in WWE.

“I want WWE to do well because I still have an interest in the company and in my friends who work there,” Jacobs said. “It’s a difficult job and it’s not glamorous. I remember one time, Taker and I, we were sitting in a roadside diner in Jefferson City, Missouri, on our way from St. Louis to Kansas City. It was like 2 o’clock in the morning and Mark looks at me and goes, ‘Ah, the glamour.’ I know what those men and women are going through, so I hope it goes really well.”

On sale Tuesday, November 26, “Mayor Kane” is the surprising and inspiring story of how former WWE Champion Glenn "Kane" Jacobs became the mayor of Knox County, Tennessee.

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