Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sticks & Stones Break Bones—Words Are More Dangerous in the UFC

By now, if you will ever care enough to be so, you are aware the notoriously porous filter between Dana White's brain and his mouth has gotten the the Ultimate Fighting Championship President in a some rather lukewarm water.

Despite his apparently sincere-though-rough apology, I'd imagine the story has a little more leg left in it.

And, to be honest, it should—just not for the reasons driving its current popularity.

I see no reason for homosexual slurs to be tolerated any more than racial ones. If this reporter from Sherdog happened to be black and monsignor White had dropped the n-bomb on her, seas would've boiled with even more fervor and justifiably so.

But therein lies the rub—heretofore those haven't been the rules of engagement for the colorful language Dana used.

I know not to drop "n*gger" in any sense that could be construed as inappropriate. As a white male, that basically means I can never use the word; there's a decent chance that last one might get me in some trouble (I hope it doesn't since I'm discussing the word and continually referring to the n-word and n-bomb seems unnecessarily childish—we do not live in a Harry Potter novel).

And that's fine—I've got no truck with taking that particular profanity out of my lexicon nor do most reasonable people.

If that's the direction society wants to go with "f*ggot" and its equivalents, wonderful. I'll sign any petition or rally behind any tangible effort, even though I tend to agree with the other side of the argument i.e. the only way to make a word go away is to rob it of its significance by pretending it doesn't have any until it doesn't.

Regardless, you can't just spring a new import on people.

We can't suddenly decide Dana White is the sacrificial lamb that announces to the country, "if you use the word, everyone gets to assume you're a bigot across the board."

Liberal/progressive thought to the contrary—and I put myself in the latter part of that group—only the n-word (I'm not pushing my luck) has raised that presumption before now.

Those based on homosexuality, gender, religious affiliation, etc. have been heavily frowned upon and get you a serious slap on the wrist if you're a public figure caught using one. But a racial slur ups the ante in America (especially one directed at African-Americans) and everyone knows the implication is a more indelible one.

I don't know how you make a similar pronouncement about other slurs, but you can't simply point your finger and say, "you're the one." Especially not when the target is the face of an essentially renegade entity built around revenue from a combat sport.

Let's be clear about this—Dana White is kind of an idiot and he certainly deserves a reprimand of some sort, but this rant alone is not reason enough for me to believe the guy discriminates against homosexuals.

It's just another example of Dana being a fool, playing to the bad-boy CEO image he adores so much.

I generally like him, but I don't believe for a second that the dude's 100 percent on the up-and-up. And this is hardly the first time he's used suspect judgment and/or language. As Irish Mike D pointed out in the latest of his too-rarely occurring masterpieces, this is a guy whose catch phrase is not a hallmark of articulate eloquence.

This is not Roger Goodell nor David Stern nor even Bud Selig. The UFC is not the National Football League nor is it the National Basketball Association nor is it Major League Baseball. And most of its fans hope it never is.

The sport of mixed martial arts is simply too brutal to ever become as popular as any of the big three. Not in its current iteration. Only a much more sanitized version could ever crack into the upper echelons of popular athletics.

For instance, my father and my flatmate (what is the American equivalent because roommate makes it sound like we share a room and we share an apartment) would have to be described as macho men. They both are the rugged outdoors types, love football, guns, fishing, hunting, the whole nine yards.

And neither one will watch MMA—the spectacle of two humans apparently trying to do substantial damage to each other will never appeal to them.

Shoot, I love MMA and was hooked when Gerard Gordeau kicked some sumo dude's teeth into the crowd at UFC I. But even I have a hard time stomaching fights like the ones where Edwin Dewees got opened up or the same happened to Joe Stevenson at the hands of B.J. Penn (and yet I watch every second, what does that say about my mental health?).

Bottom-line—if you enjoy seeing one individual spurt blood all over another, I hope we're friends because I want you on my side.

Yet, opening a gushing wound is a primary goal in MMA for many reasons—it can directly stop the fight, the sight of your own blood freaks some people out, it can reduce vision, etc. Furthermore, any blow with an elbow or knee—legal and effective blows in the UFC—that finds its mark will usually cut/split flesh.

Other MMA "touchdowns" or "home runs" would be viciously knocking your opponent unconscious with said knee/elbow/any of the other four strike points, straining/tearing ligaments via submission (although done effectively, it's merely the threat of such damage), choking him/her into surrender, or simply pounding the other fighter until an impartial observer has seen enough punishment.

No, the UFC and its combat partners are not meant for as general consumption as football, basketball, and baseball. Can you imagine one of those commissioners openly associating with these men?

Those are the executives who started a multi-million dollar business (TapOut) from scratch and the face-paint is standard i.e. it's not coming off for board meetings.

Additionally, they are sufficiently large pillars of the MMA community that the UFC gave a touching tribute to the man up front (Charles "Mask" Lewis) who recently died in pretty horrible car crash.

The UFC is basically a real-life version of professional wrestling minus a good deal of the sideshow. So why is there such profound outcry over Dana White putting his foot in his mouth (again)?

Is this woman even a lesbian? Did White know she was a lesbian?

It seems to me Dana was merely giving over to his typically ridiculous, profanity-spewing character with his usual lack of discretion. Again, it shouldn't be ignored because, as the UFC gains in audience, it should respect the broader consequences of such influence.

But let's try to stay calm, folks. Even our beloved partner, FOX Sports, issued an article by Alex Marvez saying this episode could spell the end of the UFC. How does that make sense?

The gaping wounds, fracture bones, broken joints, and brain trauma are no problem, but Dana's rant? No sir, the advertisers won't do business with that. Which is what I'm talking about.

In order for Marvez' piece to be even remotely possible, we'd have to read serious significance into White's words. We'd have to believe his use of homosexual slurs reflects an inherent bigotry, much like the inference raised by public use of racial slurs.

It's just not true or, rather, the leap isn't fair—show me a red-blooded American male and I'll show you someone who's called one of his friends a "f*g" or some derivation at one time or another. In jest or in the heat of battle.

Hey, I've done it and I've got absolutely no problem with homosexuality.

I used to work out at the Gold's Gym in the Castro here in San Francisco because I lived in the Lower Haight. This is not the place for homophobes, but if you're cool with gay men (there are no women here—ok, there's one for every 30 men), it's great. It was like a two-hour ego boost because, apparently, gay men really like obviously straight ones.

And theirs is a different world, man.

I had a dude hit on me—after asking me to remove my earphones, mind you—by telling me I was putting on weight and it looked fabulous (I'm not kidding in the slightest).

If I drop that line on a young lady, there's gonna be a mushroom cloud of destruction radiating from her and extending to any female within earshot. But this dude—who could have beat the [expletive] out of me, by the way—said it like it was the highest compliment given in his world. Bizarre.

Anyway, the point is we are told as children that words can never hurt you. As we become adults, we learn this isn't exactly true and there are some words that society has decided actually do hurt its members.

Malicious slurs of all kinds fall into this group, but only racial slurs have historically been deemed so injurious as to strictly prohibit their use—no matter the intent or context.

The story should not be what an evil man Dana White is and how his inappropriate language may shake the foundation of the sport. It should be used as an examination of how this country views homosexuality and whether it's time we acknowledge that being gay is no different than being a different race or gender.

It's not something anyone can control so why is it that, historically, people like Dana White haven't been castigated like Michael Richards? Why is it that, historically, we haven't been expected to be as careful with homosexual slurs as racial ones?

Why is it that an unprejudiced man's defective judgment will catch a racial slur, but not a homosexual one?

That should be the story because that is the difficult question and, consequently, the more important one.

No comments: