"Freedom of speech is the foundation of democracy, because without it citizens can't share their observations on folly and injustice or collectively challenge the authority that maintains them" - Steven Pinker.
The concept of free speech shouldn't be difficult to understand. You have the freedom to say what you want, just as others have the freedom to respond. The intentions of free speech are bound by provocation, and interaction. receiving criticism for the freely spoken word is an element of free speech more than just a consequence.
The UFC has been relatively active when it comes to free speech, what with rewarding fighters for being creative, and interesting on Twitter. This would always be a disaster waiting to happen, and now that disaster has a face: Forrest Griffin.
"Rape is the new missionary", Griffin tweeted just yesterday. On one hand, I failed to laugh because I don't have a sense of humor. But on the other hand, I failed to laugh because I'm also moderately civilized. Perhaps the worst part about Griffin's joke were the amount of retweets it got: 86 and counting. Forrest even retweets an even lamer joke comparing rape to "surprise sex".
There's no hypocrisy to mocking these people as genetic failure piles in an incurable sadness bowl of MMA fandom. This is the give and take in the context of free speech. You're free to be an idiot. I'm free to mock your idiocy.
Forrest is free to consider the tragedy of rape, territory for a punchline. But we are free to ask Dana to discourage such obscenities. It's not just the ethical thing to do: it's the prudent thing to do.
When I ask for "punishment", I'm not asking for a termination of Griffin's contract. That's ridiculous. But whether in the form of a public apology, or a fine, action needs to be taken. It's not a matter of being politically correct. That objection is nonsense. It's a matter of highlighting the type of behavior worth discouraging.
As kids, the proverb that "stick and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt", makes sense. When we're young, we know little about the complexity of ideas. But the unique assembly of words is what models the idea, and in turn, those ideas can inform your religion, your politics, and they allow you to communicate to others your identity which in turn, displays who you are to the social word.
In his essay What Shall We Tell the Children?, theoretical psychologist Nicholas Humphrey writes about the importance of words to children: how harmful ideas are designed precisely to take away a child's ability to attack, and question them. And so words, more than being shadows of thought, are precisely what gives them weight in flesh and bone: they are the weapons of indoctrination.This is precisely the point that sailed completely over Joe Rogan's head when he argued the word "fag" was not denigrating because to him it was a synonym for "weak". But certain words carry with them history, context, tragedy, and emotion. And they can't be stripped away at will.
So when Forrest Griffin jokes about rape he's not challenging any authority. He's not challenging injustice. In fact, his words mock the power of free speech. That's the irony some people just don't get: this freedom of speech can simultaneously be the source of injustice. But there's nothing descriptive, or poignant about his obscenity.
This might seem a pretentious digression, but the culture of MMA has been far too lenient with its open displays of prejudice. In fact, this has been the very thesis of the Culinary Union who argue that the UFC means 'unfit for children'. I'm not sure giving them more ammo is the proper response.
Forrest isn't a terrible person. My point isn't to compare him to the real scoundrels of polemic. But if we consider rape a tragedy, then his attempt to cheapen it in the public spotlight demands action. Whether Forrest likes it or not, he has responsibilities as an athlete, and a former champion no less. Dana White would do well to remind him of those responsibilities while Zuffa's adventure into the larger public spotlight looms.