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On Yoel Romero, intolerance, and the discrimination against equality for religious purposes

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Karim Zidan delves into Yoel Romero’s controversial comments on the UFC broadcast and why athletes should be held accountable for their intolerance.

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Not too long ago, a Louisiana judge broke a string of 21 consecutive victories for same-sex marriage when he ruled against their rights in the first major defeat since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. The man responsible for this decision, Judge Martin LC Feldman, believed that same-sex marriage would possibly bring about "unintended consequences" such as familial incest.

It is an argument that many who opposed same-sex marriage vehemently spewed: If gay people get married, what is to stop father and child, brother and sister, and group marriages? Where does the snowball effect stop? In the end, the judge deemed his decision to uphold the ban on same-sex marriage the "beauty of federalism."

That is until the Supreme Court historically ruled 5:4 that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, as it infringed on a basic right guaranteed by law. It was a long sought victory for the gay rights movement, the LGBTQ community, and equality overall. No longer would their basic freedom to love and marry be denied.

Fast-forward 24 hours later in Hollywood, Florida, where the UFC hosted their latest lackluster event in the form of a nine-fight top heavy card that only featured one notable contest worth discussing. Yet even though the night should have ended on a high note - the rise of a new contender at middleweight - fans and pundits were instead forced to sit through a hateful post-fight speak that screamed religious intolerance.

Clearly bubbling with adrenaline, the fighter aptly nicknamed ‘Soldier of God' directed his words at the Hollywood crowd, "What happened to you?! Wake up USA! Go back. Go! Go for Jesus, no for gay Jesus!"

It was a remarkable collapse and a stunningly quick transition from star-making performance to PR nightmare. Romero went from top contender with a growing fanbase, to a simmering reputation as fighter far too wrapped up in his own religiosity to realize it has come at the expense of basic tolerance and acceptance of others who follow a different path.

On the heels of one of the most historic rulings in recent U.S. history, Romero had made the incalculable error of assuming that a call to religion at the expense of equality would garner him sympathy in the Western world.

To add insult to injury, Romero later backtracked at the post-fight press conference, where he insisted that his words were misinterpreted and that his actual reference was to the "American Dream."

"God told Mary Magdalene, you're a prostitute," Romero said at the presser. "Go, and don't sin anymore. He told her with love. Who am I to judge anybody? Even though I didn't refer to that, even if there was a misunderstanding, I will tell you guys something. God made man to be free. Anybody can do whatever they want. I wouldn't be the type of person to critique anybody. I've got to look at myself first, to be a better person."

It may be fair to give Romero the benefit of the doubt, as he is not of English speaking origin and the words could have been misheard. You could have said "no forget Jesus" and there was no direct reference to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. However, following multiple viewings to the recording, his mention of "gay Jesus" and sudden urge to enlighten the American audience less than 24 hours following the ruling, leaves little room to consider this a coincidence. In fact, I find it hard to believe that he could have possibly referred to anything else apart from the lift on same-sex marriage bans.

Let us follow the assumption that Romero's comments were indeed about the Supreme Court ruling. It is appalling to see sports athletes or celebrities of any kind, given their status as role models for the media-driven youth, offer such hateful remarks on personal freedoms and basic equality. Not only is it detrimental to that athlete's personal brand - even if they are too shortsighted to understand that at the time - it spreads a hateful message through a powerful medium that may have unprecedented influence over certain people. Many idolize and draw inspiration from these athletes, so one can imagine the impact such messages could have on them, even if only on a subliminal level.

It also begs the distinction between freedom of speech and hate speech, which is the infringement or attack on a person(s) based on attributes such as gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Romero may have the right to think whatever he pleases, but that does not give him the right to impose his perspective on he thousands in attendance and watching at home. It was insensitive, cruel, misguided and reeked of willful ignorance rooted in a misunderstanding of religion.

For Romero to think he had the right to publicly comment on the historic result of decades of activism, litigation, countless right-related infringements and cruel punishments was a decision that should rightfully stain the remainder of his career and blemish him as a homophobic fighter who besmirches others in the name of religion.

To understand how far the USA has come with same-sex rights, simply trace the history of colonial America, where regulation of sexual practices that were "non-procreative" was strict and stemmed from Christian teachings. It was only by the end of the 19th century that the term "inversion" was coined to refer to those who "sodomize." This would later turn into omnipresent discrimination during the first half of the 20th century, as homosexuals were labeled social deviants and "sex criminals." They were prosecuted, banned from many forms of employment and were treated as though they were of an inferior class.

To question the historic decision to deem same-sex marriage constitutional is to ask for a return to religiously based hateful behavior, sex-based class structures and an overall backwardness that does not befit a civilized nation.

Where does one find the gall to condemn others based on what they believe holds true for themselves?