On MMA Fans, Backlash, and Hate Speech

MMA fandom is a complex beast. The intelligent, reasonable members of the fanbase have to deal with an overwhelming number of fans who rabidly defend their favorite fighters in every case. Recently, a rash of troublesome comments have been made by MMA personalities, including both fighters and managers.

Josh Thomson, a top UFC lightweight contender, recently took to twitter to ask his followers, “Should you be allowed to marry whoever you want? Before you answer that, should u be allowed to have more than 1 wife?” Thomson then reeled off a list of things that he believes could happen if people are allowed to be happy by marrying the person that they love, including incestuous and pedophilic relationships. For a good argument as to why this line of “reasoning” does not hold water, read Brent Brookhouse's take on the issue.

Thomson's public relations representatives then released a statement meant to clarify the comments made by Thomson. Rather than issue an apology for the blatant homophobia, the statement framed Thomson as misunderstood and suggested that he was simply raising questions and fostering discussion. There are several reasons why this is a load of garbage. First, the open ended question format of “where does it end?” intrinsically implies that there is something wrong with gay marriage. If he thinks that allowing gay marriage could lead to other things that he believes are bad (incest, pedophilia, etc), then he is implying an inherent badness in gay marriage. Second, as Brookhouse mentioned in the previously linked piece, there are consent laws (and other laws) that prevent these hypothetical scenarios that Thomson outlines. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, Thomson is not fostering any sort of discussion, he's spreading hateful ideas. When a person has a platform as large as Thomson does (over 20,000 twitter followers as of this writing), you can disseminate a discriminatory opinion and further the hate that is already far too rampant in this world.

This is where those blindly defensive fans come in. They insist that Thomson has a right to his opinion, which is true, but they also get mad at the backlash that he receives. If Thomson can have an opinion and express it publicly, anyone who is upset by his opinion can reply in kind. The fans who claim that MMA writers are making stories out of nothing do not realize that these kinds of social issues are incredibly relevant and newsworthy. Social issues often form a demarcation line between generations with antiquated ways of thinking and forward thinking people who understand how to be decent humans.

And that brings us to the next issue, which is manager Mike Kogan posting a tweet and vine video that repeatedly makes use of the word “fag.” Now, Kogan made news last month when he defended Nate Diaz's use of the same word by claiming that where Diaz is from, that word means “bitch or pussy.” There are so many problems with that statement that it is mind boggling. Words have meaning and intent rarely matters. It is not acceptable to ignore historical context and claim that your use of hate words is okay because you meant something else by it. That is not even getting into the issue of assuming that “bitch” or “pussy” are insults that are free of connotation themselves.

Fans once again jump to Kogan's defense, claiming that MMA writers are too sensitive and that there is nothing wrong with his use of the word. This is a systemic problem with the fans themselves who believe that homophobia and hatefulness are not a big deal. When a hateful word is used, anyone who hears it is affected in their own way and it is not for MMA fans to decide that suddenly the word “fag” is not offensive.

In the same vein, Roy Nelson's use of the term “uncle Tom” is not only incredibly racist and insensitive, but the fan reaction to stories about his comments is arguably worse. Noted idiot, Front Row Brian claimed that Brookhouse misquoted Nelson and that it was taken out of context. There is no context in which Roy Nelson can call Daniel Cormier an “uncle Tom,” directly or indirectly, that would not be offensive. To claim otherwise is to ignore the vast historical context that comes with using such a loaded term.

MMA writers and level-headed fans on twitter and elsewhere are not being “too sensitive” towards these issues. When MMA fans promote a culture where hate speech is permissible and oftentimes even encouraged, it perpetuates a cultural stereotype of MMA fans as ignorant bros. This is a problem that is rooted well beyond the circles of MMA fandom, but there is no reason that it needs to spread among MMA fans. If MMA fans refuse to foster a culture where hate speech is acceptable or encouraged, there is a chance to make genuine progress and improve the reputation of the sport and its fans.

As a final point, certain types of people who take negative press about their favorite athletes personally and see fit to make vile, personal assaults on sportswriters should consider the impact of their words. The internet is a powerful tool that can grant anonymity to the masses, which allows people to hide behind their lack of identity, but that does not obscure how terrible it is to threaten sportswriters for reporting the news.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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