MMA has a problem with racism. Of course that is not a problem unique to MMA, but racism definitely has a unique manifestation within the MMA landscape. MMA has a problem with racism because it grew out of a society that has a problem with racism. That doesn’t make the people in MMA especially racist, but it also doesn’t make MMA devoid of it. Because it definitely isn’t that.
But this article isn’t about arguing if racism exists in MMA. It does. This article is about what we should expect from the culture of Mixed Martial Arts.
Now, for the most part, my answer to that last statement (what to expect from MMA) is very little. When applying morality to a sport where people pay fighters pennies to shorten their life span while cheering through beer-teared eyes, nearly guaranteed to forgot the outcome in mere hours, I find myself unable to muster the self-righteousness necessary to implement a moral standard. Yet, even I would claim that some kind of standard should be aspired to, even inside of our community.
We've also got this mike perry gem. pic.twitter.com/yQ5QIlMbKw
— Brent Brookhouse (@brentbrookhouse) October 10, 2016
A basic tenet of fighting has always been a take on all comers attitude. Prize fighting has always asked for society’s tired and poor, the homeless and tempest-tost. From the downtrodden boot-heeled parts of society, we’ve always plucked the toughest from their ranks. Countless people without hope willing to throw themselves into the meat grinder, all for the chance to transcend the struggles of their past. That’s not to say that racism has had no place combat sports. Quite the contrary. I just mean to say that ethnic diversity in combat sports has nearly always existed.
Even while black fighters in America were not given the same opportunities as white fighters, the black prize fighter never ceased to exist from society. Fan support in combat sports has always fell along racial lines. The pervasive myth of wanting to see “your own kind” succeed has been more successful in selling fights than anything else tried in the history of man. Fighting thrives off of racism. Shit, not too long ago you could have be mistaken into thinking that combat sports is one of the last havens for casual racism in America.
After this past weekend, it’s clear that racism has had quite a few safe harbors. Any illusions of racism in this country being fringe have been shattered after Charolettesville. With the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis having a team up at the University of Virginia in 2017 a reality, it’s brought home a finer attention to the casual racism pervasive everywhere in America.
Inside Mixed Martial Arts, racism has always existed. Even the fanbase itself, which grew around a burgeoning internet, inherited the overt racist of the web. The high volume of racist comments on YouTube streams and forums of all kinds are staples of the MMA online experience. Most MMA fans online have grown so accustomed to it, they’ve trained themselves to drone it out. Even recently, two black UFC champions have been critical of the apparent racism of the fan base, and the unconscious racism of management. Tyron Woodley and Demeterious Johnson have both spoken about the racism they endure from both fans and UFC brass.
So, what does Dana White think of the incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend?
Maybe more importantly, why hasn’t anyone asked him? Is combat sports media so entrenched in the sport itself that it can’t imagine the largest fighting organization in the world should make a comment about such a huge event? Is it even the media’s responsibility to those in power? Does the racial aspect inherent in prize fighting necessitate a comment from the organization? Does the President of the UFC have an obligation as an ambassador of MMA to speak out on behalf of the culture? Does the culture truly want Dana White to be our mouthpiece on this issue? Does Dana White’s history of supporting Donald Trump put even more of any onus on him to speak out against racial hate?
The recent accusations by Floyd Mayweather of Conor McGregor being racist only seem to highlight the role that race has in selling combat sports. But does the fact that the UFC (and beyond just them, all promotions in combats sports) actively leverages racial tensions in society to make profitable fights make them obligated to speak up when those same racial tensions manifest themselves in unsanctioned violence and death? I think so.
A statement made by the UFC requires so little effort and is somehow more meaningful than the other sports speaking out. Somehow, the violence inherent to MMA makes it their admonishment carry more weight. Sure, Lebron James can make comments, and The Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Lions basically had to comment. And sure, those will have more widespread attention. But a statement denouncing racism and the notions of white supremacy from the biggest fight organization in the world simply has more impact.
Although I wonder if it is something we’ll ever see.