To be honest, I still haven’t watched that clip with the sound. It hit plenty hard without it, auto-playing on my Twitter feed. If you’re an MMA fan, you’ve probably seen it, too. Jon Jones kissing on his long-time fiancée, then sticking his tongue out at the camera.
Even now, a day later, I am still in the aftermath of having seen it. It’s hard to stay mentally present, as my mind keeps dragging me down my own memory lane. I can feel my blood pressure popping, the sensation of my stomach in a tight-fist clench. Anybody who has dealt with trauma, Jon Jones included, can recognize this experience. But most of all, I am spinning with ideas about how to best write about it.
As soon as I saw the video, I checked Bloody Elbow to see if it had been addressed yet. When I saw no one had written about it yet, I asked my editors if I could be the one to do so, even though I normally only write fluffy pieces about pretend fighting in entertainment.
I love data and statistics, and my first thought was to dig into the numbers on domestic violence and professional athletes. As a devoted fan of both MMA, and, you know, ethics, I desperately want the UFC to change its behavior when it comes to athletes who are abusers. It seems to me that the UFC only cares about its financial bottom line, and so I had some delusions of grandeur that I could produce a powerfully persuasive article, both emotionally and logically compelling.
When my emotions cooled, and I returned to the reality that UFC President Dana White could not care less about what I write, I wondered if I had anything useful to say about this subject. Here’s my attempt at that; in the hope I might reach someone whose mind is open enough to take something away from my own experience.
By the time abuse becomes public—for example, when your youngest child feels compelled to speak up and request the police be called—it is exceedingly easy for outsiders to wonder how on earth things could get to such a state. It is exceedingly easy to hold yourself up in comparison and say, “I’d never tolerate such behavior.”
A friend of mine survived a murder attempt. His wife was poisoning him with arsenic, little by little. She was playing a very long game, and so the sickness came on him slowly, so slowly he didn’t notice it upon onset. Months into it, he had lost 40 pounds, looked like a chemo patient, and couldn’t find a doctor who could diagnose his problem. Had he woken up one day that sick, he would have called 911 and gone straight to the ER.
The sickness of abuse is similar. I did not suddenly find myself in a situation where I would vividly envision my own murder and think to myself, “If he kills me, I will remember this moment right now, where I knew it was coming and I still did nothing. Tomorrow, I have to leave, or I will hate myself as I am dying.”
You know how many tomorrows there were where I didn’t leave? Because I don’t. I lost count.
I would encourage you to consider how absolutely insane I was at that time. I was at a high risk of being murdered, I knew that I was at risk of hating myself while I was dying a violent death, and yet it took several months of being in deep peril before I succeeded in leaving.
Here’s the thing I want you to understand about that—it took a whole hell of a lot of pretending to get to that point.
Here is the other thing I want you to understand about that—precious few people in this world live a life free of pretending.
Pretending is the WD-40 of life. You pretend you agree with your friend’s political opinion just because you don’t want a dumb argument. You pretend you like the same music the hot girl likes. You pretend you’re not hurt by your father’s criticism. You pretend it wasn’t such a big deal when your boyfriend got a bit too angry about the cat puking on the rug.
Little acts of pretending can slowly slide you into your own personal prison. If you’re reading this article, if you’re a person in this world, chances are you are living in or have lived in one of these prisons. A job you hated, a relationship you stuck with long after it was already dead, toxic friendships it took you too long to escape—these are different in form from an abusive relationship, but they are not different in kind. They all require signing off on a series of agreements with which we don’t really agree.
Pretending is also central to those who seek to construct those prisons.
Whether it is an organization that pretends to not know things that are quite obviously true or an abuser who pretends any number of things to maintain the status quo, these prisons can only be maintained in the darkness of pretense.
In my own situation, I had the benefit of having people in my life who were eager for me to stop pretending. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to leave if a person was surrounded by a community that encouraged the pretense to continue. In my own situation, leaving meant a significant improvement in my life, financially speaking. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to leave if I felt financially trapped by my abuser. In my own situation, I had pulled my life away into a tiny corner, with almost no one really in the know. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to leave if I had been in the spotlight.
To this day, despite everything, I do not hate my ex. To this day, despite everything, I have empathy for him. In a post to IG, Jon Jones stated he had experienced too much trauma to be able to handle alcohol. Like Jones, my ex had experienced trauma. I have no idea what Jones has in his closet, but in the case of my ex, he was the product of almost unimaginable trauma.
I believe that most monsters are not born, they are made. In my experience, no one hates the monster more than the monster itself. The very worst malignant narcissist is a creature comprised almost entirely of disgust. It is a miserable existence, and it is an existence that will cycle forward indefinitely unless it is forcibly stopped.
And monsters are not stopped until people—and organizations—stop enabling them.
I know this is an unpopular opinion with some, but I believe people, and their human dignity, is worth more than money. My hope is that one day the UFC treats domestic and intimate partner violence as the abhorrent crime that it is, and stops enabling their abusive fighters.