Image via UFC.com
For the rest of the world that is bound by decency, and ethics, rape has been the topic of a tragic scandal. Jerry Sandusky, the former Assistant coach of Penn State under Joe Paterno, was recently indicted for 40 charges of sex crimes involving young boys: actions that were enabled by a once respected institution. That number has increased with the addition of two new accusers.
Words like 'oral sex' in this context are vile, and Sandusky's acts seem to transcend disgust. It's what has validated the fog of shame that now proxies for Joe Paterno's once heralded status. The Penn State case was not just about a flesh and blood monster. It was also about corruption. When students idiotically protested the termination of Paterno, it prompted Dave Zirin of The Nation, in contrasting the Penn State protests with the protests that occurred on the campus at Berkeley, to ask the question: "Do you defend the ugliest manifestations of unchecked power or do you fight for a better world with an altogether different set of values?"
That's a fine question for students. And perhaps an unfair one for athletes. But is it too much to ask to be even moderately civilized?
For MMA fighters, the scandal has turned into a sandbox for auditions at the comedy club. During the press conference for UFC on FOX 2 that will feature Phil Davis and Rashad Evans, Evans joked "I'm gonna put my hands on you worse than that dude on those kids at Penn State". This of course, harkens back to another example of brainless behavior when Forrest Griffin tweeted that "rape is the new missionary" (Griffin was also bouncing off the rape cases at Penn State). To make matters worse, Phil Davis is on the record defending Paterno's actions. While we're at it, let's pour another into the comedy stew and add Miguel Torres to the list of fighters who think rape is hilarious.
Inevitably, people will criticize this moral outrage as "too sensitive", and that running "stories" like this reveals the real crime of 'political correctness': a criticism so excessively dumb, it possesses a seat on the stupid branch right alongside creationism. If we take seriously the injustice that is rape, we should take seriously the verbal representation of that injustice when it is mocked, and cheapened.
At this point, I'm not asking for Rashad to be fined, or punished (not that I would be opposed to some form of punishment). But who approves of his words? No one. So where is the disapproval?
This is not like Martin Scorsese or other acclaimed artists dealing with network censorship. "The prohibition against swearing in broadcast media makes artists and historians into liars, and subverts the responsibility of grown-ups to learn how life is lived in worlds distant from their own", explains Steven Pinker. Discouraging Evans' statement is not about censorship. It's a question about moral philosophy, and what kind of culture we're interested in nurturing.
Right now the UFC is looking to the federal judicial system to take action against the ban on MMA in New York. And they've molded for themselves an interesting argument: that MMA is a form of free speech. It's not some parlor trick: it's a clever way of attacking the language used to justify the ban, namely, that MMA promotes a 'message of violence'.
Obviously, this is false, and the ban on MMA itself is unjustified. But it prompts the question, 'if not violence, what does MMA stand for?' This is not a pretentious question. It's a question that will be directly addressed in the courtroom given the argument Zuffa is looking to make in order to get MMA legalized.
What values do we share as a community? What principles should be cherished, either as media, as fighters, or as fans? There are some fantastic individuals in MMA's unique universe. And Rashad Evans doesn't speak for everyone. But the silence feels like a confession: the confession we don't stand for much of anything. Foregoing any sense of community, the silence in response to Evans' statement would appear to out us as a faceless cauldron of indifference.