Weekly Story Recap: Karyn Bryant, Quinton Jackson, Joe Rogan and Sexism in MMA

I have no doubt that this post will be misunderstood in it's intention. The truth is, I found the progression of the story very interesting and representative of the diverse ways MMA stories unfold. On weeks where a single story dominates the news and takes several twists and turns, these weekly story recaps will be published covering the various angles from the week.

This was a situation that saw YouTube, twitter, blogs, forums, podcasts and major media outlets all play a part in a story which built in momentum over the course of a single week. I'm going to add as little commentary as possible here and simply let what has already been done tell the tale. If you don't want to read more about the situation or see how the story unfolded, skip this post, don't waste your time commenting about how you don't care. It won't end well.

Fair warning, this is going to be long.

It started with a video...

Following UFC 130, MMA HEAT's Karyn Bryant interviewed Quinton Jackson. Jackson made some inappropriate jokes and "air motorboated" Bryant's chest:


The Bryant video even found its way onto Jimmy Kimmel's late night show.

Cage Potato was the first outlet of any real weight to jump on the issue discussing the need for anti-sexual harassment training in the UFC:

Now, I'm all for a good laugh, but its incidents like these are partially what is keeping MMA from gaining real widespread mainstream acceptance. Bob Reilly is probably sitting in his office as I type this working feverishly to add the clip to his latest anti-MMA Powerpoint presentation he will be presenting to the New York State Assembly in the coming months. You can bet that the UFC adding mandatory anti-sexual harassment or sensitivity training to the agenda of next year's UFC Fighter Summit, if it doesn't before then.

Brett Favre's incident with Jenn Sterger was the reason the NFL began its anti-sexual harassment training and policy and its safe to say Rampage will likely be the reason the UFC does the same, and so they should.

I followed up with a piece here at Bloody Elbow talking about the need for MMA to increase the amount of respect shown toward females:

Bryant is being a "good sport" about the whole thing and I'm sure some are going to say that her acceptance of the situation makes it all okay. But, we all know that Bryant, who is trying to build up her site, is more at risk than Jackson should she express any discomfort over the idea.

Let's not forget the reaction to Heather Nichols of Cage Potato when she spoke to Sports Illustrated about her experience with Jackson. Jackson "dry humped" her during an interview and, when Nichols told SI that she was uncomfortable with his actions it was met with the expected reactions from the dredges of the MMA world. Nichols was "asking for it" and should be happy that Rampage "put her on the map."

 

...

There are ways to talk about women involved in the sport (even the ones that do sexy photo shoots) that doesn't involve the debasement of their status as human beings. It may not be the difference in gaining mainstream acceptance, but it's one of the things that can make a difference in being evolved and intelligent fans when it comes to more than just muay thai and jiu-jitsu.

Bryant took to her Twitter account to specify that she wasn't offended and as she wasn't it shouldn't be a big deal:

Since every1's asking: if it wasn't already obv, I wasn't offended by @Rampage4real at all. We were clowning around. I thought it was funny!

..I've always been a "guy's girl" type. Not easily offended by sexual stuff.

Seems main issue people have is that I should have been offended b/c I'm a woman. Apparently we are all supposed to feel the same way.

I never claimed 2 speak 4 all fem journos. There are plenty of times when sex talk is not appropriate+is threatening. In my case this wasn't

Sorry to upset other women, but I don't think I've set us back by not being offended. We are allowed to have different opinions, right?

Head Kick Legend's Matthew Roth agreed with Bryant that only the person involved has the right to be upset:

So if she wasn't offended, why are we? In MMA, women exploit their own sexuality and attractiveness to further their own careers. You don't need to look any further than Miesha Tate, Gina Carano, and Felice Herrig who are all using their looks to become more well known. Have we truly gotten so politically correct that we are offended by anything resembling exploitation? I don't know about the rest of you but I'm in agreement with Karyn, it was a joke and there is no reason for any of this over reaction. Instead of looking for reason to kill the man, how about we all recognize that there are short comings in all of us and we should address those first.

During the situation, "Rampage" was on Twitter defending his actions as "alpha," accusing Ariel Helwani of being gay and continuing to joke around with Bryant about the situation as a segment of people grew increasingly uncomfortable with the treatment of the situation.

Maggie Hendricks of Yahoo's Cage Writer blog went on the offensive against Jackson's repeated mistreatment of female reporters:

His act is tired and old, yet we continue to interview the man and give him the publicity he needs to further his career, and that's where MMA media is making the mistake. He thinks it's funny to assault the people who cover his fights, who write about his movie, who give him a stage to show off the "Rampage" persona.

Let's stop doing that. Take away his stage. Don't ask him questions in press conferences, don't cover his every move, don't give him another chance to assault reporters. He may think his act is funny and cute, but there is one way to ensure that no one else finds it funny or cute. Don't cover it.

Joe Rogan went to The Underground forums to express his nuanced thoughts about Maggie's post:

I think Rampage occasionally gets out of line, and I think some of what he does in interviews [is] unfortunate. I also think that's a part of his charm. He's not a f*cking dentist, he's a cage fighter, and he's one with a very unique personality. I don't think he should be given a free pass for some of the questionable things he does, but I do think that this woman in question is all kinds of c*nty. The Skywalker broke down everything that's wrong with her and her sh*tty, c*nty brand of writing to a f*cking T.

Cage Potato jumped on the new twist in the story, wondering why no one was talking about Rogan's latest outburst. Speaking personally, it's because I don't read The Underground and hadn't seen it. Once I did see it, I took to my keyboard:

I'm sure we'll hear the usual defenses of Joe's bad behavior. "He's a comedian!" "This is how guys talk!" And the other similarly weak excuses.

But if you really want to take that stance, you can't advocate that people treat MMA with the slightest bit of respect on the level of other sports. While the NBA, NFL and MLB run campaigns addressing the homophobic slurs used by their stars (as well as leveling fines for tens of thousands of dollars) or taking part in the "It Gets Better" campaign against bullying, the UFC embraces this behavior.

We all know from Rogan's treatment of Tomas Rios (calling him a "f*g") that there's no punishment coming. Rogan won't be suspended, fined or reprimanded. Maybe they'll tell him to "say sorry" but it will be as hollow as his "apology" to Rios in which he apologized for calling him "f*g" by calling him "c*nty."

Zach Arnold at Fight Opinion jumped into the fray with a very good recap of the situation, but one of the most interesting aspects came from this angle:

A lot of the sexist remarks made towards women in MMA is old hat. However, ‘old hat' is not a valid excuse for the practice to continue. Banning women from Augusta National as far as reporters goes because ‘that's the way it's always been' is not a valid reason. The end result is that we do have female reporters there now, albeit with some highly-publicized struggles lately.

An even older criticism of the MMA media is just how (generally) sycophantic and ass-kissing it is in nature. Yeah, well, what's new there, right? As I've learned over the many, many, many years I've been an MMA writer, it's never the big events that stir up controversy but always the little, goofy events that trigger long-held pent-up emotions from disgruntled writers who see just how bad the media environment looks right now.

Zach took the time to transcribe some of the talk from a recent episode of Bloody Elbow Radio where those feelings about the media environment came pouring out:

I mean, God, you look at, just look at the reporters that are at the MMA shows and, like, look at their Twitter feeds and stuff. I mean, they talk about hanging out with the fighters and like going to pool parties and after parties. I mean, it's amateur hour all the way around, really. I'm not sure why anybody's surprised by that but I mean you got the people from Heavy MMA talking about how they're bros with, like, Joseph Benavidez and like they're going to the Team Alpha Male after-party and we're going to live it up and it's just like, I mean you can't expect really good professional behavior from people who treat their job not as a job, not as something to report the facts but as a gigantic social gathering and a social party to get their names out there and have fun and get themselves over, sort of speak. It's not about reporting on the event, it's about like being a part of the in-crowd or, you know, being the cool kids, sort of speak. That's what the majority of what the MMA media seems occupied with as opposed to actual reporting. I think Luke Thomas said that, too, like he went to an event recently (UFC 129). ... One of the things he said was he was just taken aback by the absolute kind of party culture that surrounds MMA reporting and like he was like, you know what, I don't care about hanging out with Urijah Faber, I don't care about going to some after party at some hideous club...

Much as I'd predicted, Rogan went back to The Underground to issue an "apology":

My use of the word "c*nty" in retrospect was unfortunate, and more of a symptom of my stand up comic vernacular than what more verbally conservative people would interpret the word as. "C*nty" is just another word for bitchy.

...

The term "bitchy" to describe the style of the writer in question and her take on things is both accurate and appropriate.

...

My apologies to Maggie Hendricks for calling her "c*nty," and I truly hope I didn't hurt her feelings. My forum post was honest and off the cuff, and I didn't think out the possible reactions to it. I don't know the woman, and I'm sure she's probably a nice person in real life, but if I have a point with any of this it's that when you put negative s*** out there in the form of bitchy blog posts, that shit is going to come right back at you, and you better not be surprised.

Rogan's apology of "sorry I said 'c*unty' I meant 'bitchy'" was enough for Mike Fagan, but not for Yahoo's Kevin Iole. Iole stunned some with the strength that he showed in slapping the UFC's "what do you want us to do?" attitude down:

Rogan's words were extraordinarily inappropriate, particularly as the very public mouthpiece of a billion-dollar company. The UFC needed to make a strong, public condemnation of Jackson's behavior and Rogan's choice of words, but has thus far failed to do so.

Instead, late Thursday UFC spokeswoman Caren Bell privately called Hendricks and issued an apology. And while it is commendable that the UFC offered any kind of apology at all, it was made privately at a time when Hendricks was under heavy siege publicly because she stood up for what was right. A public apology would have meant more and carried far more weight.

Bell also pointed out to Hendricks that Rogan, who failed to respond to a text message seeking comment, is an independent contractor and doesn't speak for the UFC. It's a similar point White made to Yahoo! Sports during a very brief interview about it late Thursday afternoon.

"Joe Rogan is an independent contractor and he wrote his opinion," White said. "And you are free to write your opinion of Joe Rogan's opinion."

In this case, though, the opinions that counted were those of Fertitta and White and they chose to keep their thoughts to themselves. They can't allow Rogan to host UFC weigh-ins, tape promotional materials and do television commentary on UFC fights and then so simply distance themselves from Rogan's objectionable words.

Larry Brown, radio host, voice over guy and columnist (and a fine gentleman whose show I appeared on several times), chimed in on his site:

What's sad is that there are so many females who face the issue of respect in the locker room. Some players feel like females shouldn't be in locker rooms. Moreover, many females feel pressure to acquiesce to their boss' demands, many of which can be construed as sexual in nature. Having someone accept and enjoy the behavior does a disservice to females who really are victims of harassment.

Brown's article actually led to a bit of a nasty back-and-forth with Bryant on Twitter:

Brown: Amazing that UFC doesn't credential @JoshGrossESPN and @lorettahuntmma but approves of females getting motorboated

Bryant: @LBSports I've actually been covering combat sports since 2006. But thanks for watching one clip out of the hundreds that I have.

Brown: @KarynBryant It's disappointing to me that you would find that behavior acceptable. I would hope everyone would be sensitive to harassment

Bryant: @LBSports It's only harassment if you feel harassed. Some might, I didn't. I know him, I like him. I also know how to stand up for myself

One of the sad developments of this entire situation has been seeing some people give up on the sport. Candice Mackinnon has covered MMA for outlets as large as the Vancouver Sun and wrote a letter "ending her relationship" with MMA on her website:

But MMA, it isn't all about you. I can't wait any longer for you to grow up and treat me right. It's not just the sexist comments on fan sites, it's not just the homophobic slurs made by the athletes, and it's not just the misogynistic crap spouted by the figureheads of the sports biggest organization - it's all of these things. I can't respect myself as an adult bisexual woman and support a sport whose leaders, stars and fans think it's just business as usual to objectify and belittle me and my ilk. If I was able to make elbow room at a dinner table where everyone was talking shit about me, but the food was great, I wouldn't do it. My hunger for respect is greater than my hunger for entertainment. I want to end this letter, and our relationship, on a positive note and wish you well, but that would be insincere. What I really want to say, MMA, is this: F*ck you, too.

It's been a week where we've seen every outlet used by MMA media and personalities used to advance a story. We've seen an increased divide in those who cover the sport over the course of a few days. The split between those who want to cover the news and those who want to count fighters as "fans" has grown. The treatment of female journalists has taken center stage in an predominantly male dominated sport.

And it all started with a video...

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