As MMA continues to grow, every little negative can be labeled as "bad for the sport." Although I hate terming every slip-up as such, Michael Bisping's comments during the UFC 114 post-fight press conference fit snuggly under the "bad for the sport" banner.
Answering a question about a cutman accidentally putting Vaseline in his eye, Bisping responded that he didn't want to "look like a faggot" and not fight. What's worse is that many attending the press conference could be heard laughing following the comment and during a quasi-apology by UFC president Dana White, who, like Bisping, laughed the whole thing off.
The comment was turned into one big laughing matter, with no one seemingly grasping the true gravity of Bisping's remark. Here is the conversation:
BISPING: He put the Vasoline on and got a real good (bit) of it in my eye there and I was standing there and there's thousands of people and millions at home on TV and I'm like, 'I don't want to look like a faggot like I don't want to get in there...'"
WHITE: He didn't mean that, he didn't mean that word. Learn from my mistakes.
BISPING: You know what I'm saying.
WHITE: They don't, trust me.
The whole thing seemed to be a source of comedy to many there. The fact things like this are tolerated and supported by many people is a complete and utter embarrassment to the sport.What's worse is that this isn't White's first rodeo with this particular remark.
White made mention to Bisping to "learn from my mistakes," referring to the fact that he himself was in hot water last year for using the same term. He apologized to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLADD) and to the public on a video blog, saying "the last thing I would ever want anyone to think about me or think is cool is to go out and attack somebody because of their sexual orientation."
Today, that apology rings hollow.
For Bisping to use that term mere days after calling out a Sherdog.com reporter for criticizing his fighting skills shows a great disconnect. Fighting is Bisping's identity and he was not pleased with the criticism, opening his workout with "F--- Sherdog.com." For him to blast someone else's identity days after being so gravely offended shows just how wide that disconnect really is, both in language and perception.
To me, things like this is what sets MMA far behind other sports. If someone did drop a homophobic slur (or racial slur, or anything of that ilk), they would be torn apart not only by the media, but by the fans, as well. Groups like GLADD would be calling them for an apology - one they would quickly get - and the league office would be investigating.
An issue such as this is taken so seriously in other sports that running back Larry Johnson, formerly of the National Football League's Kansas City Chiefs, was first suspended and then cut from the team in October after calling one of his Twitter followers a "fag" and then repeating the same slur in the locker room the following day. The team cut him in response to a series of indigents, the slur being one of the leading factors. The New York Times reported the Chiefs were "unimpressed" by Johnson's apology, which did not apologize to the gay community.
This came after WWE Chairman Vince McMahon got himself in trouble in August when his "Monday Night Raw" show was in Las Vegas. He called the masks some Cirque du Soleli performers were wearing "really gay" on live television. I cringed when I heard that. He later apologized.
The list goes on, and it surely will be added to in the future.
My point, however, is not that other sports don't do this. It's that they simply are not tolerated when they do happen. It's that actions like Bisping's are condoned and almost encouraged by many people in the room laughing (including people who should know better), the president almost jokingly apologizing for the comment and Bisping not being reprimanded or called out by anybody for the comment. In doing research for this, I typed in "michael bisping faggot" and "bisping faggot" into Google News search to see if this had been covered elsewhere. Zero results. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. A return for the more modest "bisping slur" yielded three results, none of which pertained to the issue at hand.
I'm not sure if I look at this differently because of my university background, but these days, hearing these comments make me sick. I remember walking into my college newspaper on my first day as a freshman and hearing that you simply do not use gay slurs in the professional world. At the time I was coming straight from high school where gay slurs just flowed like it was nothing. It always was that way. So this was quite the radical change. But you know what? I liked it. It wasn't a hurtful atmosphere anymore. It baffles me to this day that smart, educated people still turn to such words.
Because I had the opportunity to attend a university with more than 45,000 students, I gained a very diverse group of friends, including many gay friends. Terms like "faggot" or "homo" or any other type of slur hurt these men and women. I've seen it first hand and quite frankly, I'm embarrassed for humanity when I see it. When I see it pop up with zero consequences in a sport that I love, I'm sad.
You can say it's just words, but it's not. Words have meaning, they have connotations. It's the whole point of language. Imagine if Bisping said the N-word in that tone and sense on that dais. Would people be laughing? Absolotely not. And would the man sitting next to him, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, be laughing? I would bet the farm he wouldn't be. And the outrage that should be present over this comment would be in full effect, even further.
Comments like Bisping's combined with the follow-up laughter and lack of a serious reprimand highlight a bigger problem: A high school mentality. For professional athletes, which is what mixed martial artists are pushed as, it's unacceptable. The fact that it seemingly is condoned and enjoyed shows that this sport still has a long way to go.
Matt Bishop is an MMAForReal.com reporter and pens "Fight Rewind" at least once each week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.