Thursday, April 2, 2009

MMA Does Not Get a Pass on Discrimination

(Posted previously on

It is getting increasingly difficult for me to support MMA. If it were not for the many great, often times hidden people I know within the sport, I would wash my hands of defending MMA and tear it apart.

Throughout my years as an adolescent and young adult, I have no idea how often I used the words “gay,” “fag,” “pussy,” “retard” and “bitch” in order to put others down, either in humorous or serious fashion, but admittedly, it was a lot. I used these words almost always with other males, generally in athletic, heteronormative contexts. I rarely questioned using them. Nor did most of my peers, nor some of my adult mentors. Using such language was very normalized.

As I progressed through college, I remained in a “jock” culture, hanging out with teammates and athletes from other sports, thereby maintaining my exposure to this patriarchal culture. However, I was also inspired by ethnic studies classes, and after taking a variety of courses in my major of Comparative Culture, I began realizing a few things.

First, minorities can wield power and discriminate (some disagree with this). Being an ethnic minority myself, I realized that by using discriminatory language, even if I did not intend to discriminate against women, the LGBTQ and special needs communities, I was perpetuating very casual, accepted forms of discrimination. Secondly, I learned that not all male athletes accept these discriminatory attitudes and behaviors. In fact, as I think back, there are quite a few of my male teammates who I recall never using such terms. Discriminatory pockets within athletic cultures can certainly shape individual behavior, but they do not have to determine it.

Thus, to hear an adult leader from a major athletic organization in present time use words, such as “faggot,” “bitch,” “retarded” and “pussy” to denigrate another does not just bother me. It leaves me completely perplexed and disheartened, wondering how this can even happen. UFC President, Dana White (pictured above), has his public personality that he likely projects in a way to reflect one image of mixed martial arts – probably the image that sells to the most fans. This in no way excuses the following comments he made, directed at writer, Loretta Hunt.

So I just heard that there was another absolutely retarded story written by Loretta Hunt…. And to write a story that says, “Oh and here’s a quote from a guy who wanted to remain anonymous because of fear of repercussions…” Shut the fuck up. Any fuckin’ guy that won’t put his name on it. First of all, whoever gave you that quote is a pussy and a fuckin’ faggot and a fuckin’ liar....

Hey Loretta, if you’re gonna write a story, you fuckin’ moron, at least make sure it’s fuckin’ true and you have some facts. And if you’re gonna put some fuckin’ quotes in there, get some quotes from some people who at least have the fuckin’ balls to put their fuckin’ name on it…. You fuckin’ dumb bitch...

White’s entire statement can be viewed/heard HERE, beginning at 4:29 of the YouTube video blog (oh, big surprise, it has since "been removed by the user." No problem, see video below; assist to Cage Potato).

Dana Whites Fight Night 18 video blog - Watch more

Imagine if Bud Selig (Major League Baseball Commissioner), Roger Goodell (National Football League Commissioner) or David Stern (National Basketball Association Commissioner) used similar terms to disparage others. Minority activists, politicians, major media outlets (including sports media), and sports sociologists would be up in arms calling for a public apology and major reform efforts for the sporting industry. Yet somehow, at least thus far, MMA has escaped any type of major scrutiny, even after the president of the world’s foremost MMA organization makes this statement.

Some may argue MMA is in its own niche, on the edge of sporting culture, that it deserves a pass, being an extreme combat sport. That is absolute hogwash. MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world. It is hugely popular in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Its popularity is growing rapidly across Mexico, Australia, the Philippines, Germany, and numerous other locales. And the UFC is leading the charge; it has a colossal public responsibility, as does any organization, irrespective of its reach.

Furthermore, arguing that White and the UFC should be given a pass because these terms are not intended to perpetuate sexism, homophobia, or discrimination against the intellectually disabled is flawed. Young people look to and emulate adults from a variety of sources in life (e.g., parents, peers, teachers, media); this is inevitable. When young males hear someone of White’s stature – the public leader of a hyper-masculine sporting institution – verbally abuse another using these words, it legitimizes those words. It legitimizes their use as acceptable slang. And it legitimizes their use for those who consciously intend to use them for discriminatory purposes.

These words legitimize the broader cultural notion that minorities are inferior and deserved of being ridiculed, even physically harmed. As stated by sports sociologist Michael Messner (2002), “…boys and men who reveal themselves as vulnerable are subsequently targeted as the symbolic ‘women,’ ‘pussies,’ and ‘faggots’ on athletic teams” (p. 35).

In turn minorities – in this case girls/women and those from the LGBTQ and intellectually disabled communities – must cope with being constantly ensconced by this language. They are forced to live in an atmosphere that authorizes the verbal and physical discrimination they face. Responsible citizens from any ethnic background would not accept institutional leaders or the average, everyday peer casually using the “N-word” or other racial epithets. But we smirk and waive it off when “fag,” “retard,” “bitch,” and so forth are spewed out within the world of mixed martial arts and other sports.

“It is up to adults to configure spaces that support youths’ variety of gender and sexual expressions. It is also up to adults to protect young people from the vicious teasing and harassment rampant in most modern high schools” (Pascoe, 2007, p. 173). Dana White is an adult. He and others in the mixed martial arts industry bear a responsibility beyond sport.

Messner, M.A. (2002). Taking the Field: Women and Men in Sports. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pascoe, C.J. (2007). Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Update on 4/3/09 - the damage control - a minute of apology to gays and lesbians, nothing re: comments of misogyny or insults to intellectually disabled.

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  1. What are mainstream media outlets saying about this?

    Over on FoxSports: "White's rant sends UFC down dangerous path" ('s-rant-sends-UFC-down-dangerous-path)

    "In the testosterone-fueled culture he has created, White's comments may not be considered over the line. Some insiders will write it off as 'Dana being Dana.' But in the big picture, those aren't the people that matter most.

    "The ones that do? Advertisers that might already be feeling squeamish about being affiliated with an inherently violent product and television executives who don't want to deal with a high-profile promoter spewing hate speech. The sport won't grow without the support of either party. Even with all the strides UFC has made toward mainstream acceptance, the quickest way to head back into the dark ages business-wise is to have a spokesman who sounds like he is still living in them."

    WHAT!?!?!?! In the big picture, it's the advertising dollars that matter most? The people that matter most are those who throw around such language (White) and those minority vicitims who continue to suffer! Capitalism - it's all about the Benjimins.

    (another video link:

  2. "Tactless tirade shows UFC's White just terrible tyrant" by Mike Freeman of
    The comments after Freeman's story are pretty brutal.

    "White sorry for anti-gay slur" on
    "Questions and answers from UFC president Dana White" (the ESPN interview)
    This is actually a pretty good interview. The interviewer appears to be on Dana's side, though she continues to get at the issue of using homophobic language. I'm surprised nobody seems to care about his use of the word "bit--."

  3. The YouTube video was reposted on YouTube here
    The comments are again, very brutal, many laced with a discriminatory tenor. MMA writer, Josh Gross, has an excellent piece that gets at issues of bullying and strongarming reporters not to carry out critical stories on the UFC; see end of the story.

    "White put MMA on the map, but this time he went too far"

  4. Check out the comments under this MMA Weekly post.
    "UFC President Dana White Apologizes in Latest Video Blog"

  5. Finally, a response addressing the sexist comments:
    "Women's media group to UFC boss: Apologize"

    If nothing comes of this, the sad part is female sports journalists have been suffering for years in male dominated sporting circles. It's a widely addressed issue in sports sociology. To have the president of a company call a woman in the sporting industry (a minority) a "bitch" with such gusto to close out the video is meaningful.