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MMA Fighters Need to Lose the Homophobic Slurs

Here's a news flash for MMA fighters everywhere: somewhere in your ranks, even at the highest level of the sport, there is at least one gay fighter. Maybe you've trained with him in the past. Maybe you've even faced him in the cage before. Odds are you never knew it, and it never mattered.

I make this point not for shock value, but to remind some fighters to think before they speak – or Twitter – because they don't necessarily know who they're talking to or who they're talking about.

Take Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, for instance, who made headlines in a Los Angeles Times profile piece wherein he worried that acting was too "gay" a pursuit for a tough guy like himself.

Apparently reciting lines and being catered to on the movie set is the kind of thing that "makes you soft," according to Jackson. He also expressed concern that all the time spent filming "The A-Team" in Vancouver, which he described as "a San Francisco-kind of place," might give people the wrong idea about him.

At first glance, the remarks just seem dumb. So much so that I'm more embarrassed for Jackson than ashamed of him.

But then I read the response from GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), which quite rightly pointed out the irony of Jackson equating gay with soft at a time when gays are struggling for the ability to serve openly in our nation's military.

Think about that for a second. Here's a guy who's a prizefighter (at least, when he's not off filming movies and complaining about the lavish treatment), and he's questioning the toughness of people who are willing to wade through all sorts of verbal and emotional abuse just for the right to get shot at for paltry sums of money.

No copyright infringement intended on the UFC's tagline, but that's as real as it gets.

But it's not just Jackson. UFC lightweight Jeremy Stephens recently referred to boxer Floyd Mayweather as a "f----t" on his Twitter, and Michael Bisping casually dropped the same term in the UFC 114 post-fight press conference.

The latter incident was telling, as UFC president Dana White, who knows a thing or two about that particular controversy, immediately interrupted Bisping to assure the media that "he didn't mean that." This got a chuckle, and Bisping shrugged it off before adding, "But you know what I mean."

"They don't," White deadpanned. "Trust me, they don't."

No one in the media rushed to make a big deal out of that moment. If I had to guess why we all left it alone I'd say that it seemed almost innocent. It felt more like a poor choice of words than a legitimately homophobic comment, but it could be just that I don't want to think that Bisping, who seems like a genuinely nice guy, is really that ignorant.

Maybe also it was because, looking around the room at the mostly heterosexual male MMA media, we all understood where a remark like that came from.

In truth, most of us have probably tossed that word around in the company of friends before. Most likely we've tossed it at friends, and had it lobbed right back at us. It didn't seem like a big deal. In a way, it felt like one of the safest insults we could think of, because we all felt certain that there was no truth in it and, as a result, no danger that it would be taken too seriously.

If I call my friend fat, and he really is fat, there's a chance I might hurt his feelings. If I call him an idiot a few weeks after he enrolled in his fifth consecutive year of community college, we might come to blows.

But if I know he's not gay, maybe I feel comfortable using that word with him. Maybe I feel too comfortable. Maybe I never stop and think about what it might mean to someone else until I actually know that someone else.

It's easy for straight men to shrug it off as just a word, and dismiss anyone who gets upset over it as too sensitive. Funny how few of us would make the same argument with the n-word. That's because we recognize what a loaded term it is, bound up in centuries worth of painful history and very real violence.

Using gay slurs and making homophobic comments isn't much different. Both are the kind of thing that tell us more about the person using them than the people he's uttering them about. It makes him look like a bigot, and it makes him look ignorant.

If that's something a fighter is willing to accept, no one can stop him. He can sprinkle homophobic comments in every interview if he likes, and some fans may even come to support him more because of it. But what he should keep in mind is that the only people who are drawn to a bigoted fighter are bigoted fans.

If one of the things that unites them all is their inability to perceive of other people as equals deserving of the same civility and respect they'd want for themselves, then maybe they deserve each other.

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