Aljamain Sterling is preparing for one of the biggest fights of his career at UFC 250 this weekend. But the bantamweight contender admits losing sleep in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the unrest that has consumed the nation over the past 10 days.
Protests have taken place in nearly every major city across the United States following Floyd’s tragic death where Minneapolis police officers pinned him to the ground with a knee in his neck for almost nine minutes. All four police officers involved were fired before being arrested and charged with Floyd’s murder.
“If I’m being 100 percent honest, it’s not easy at all,” Sterling said about keeping his focus on a fight right now. “This fight, it matters, but at the same time it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things in terms of life. This is just something to do for entertainment for the fans, for myself to provide but other than that, there’s just so much more at stake with everything going on in this world today.”
In the wake of Floyd’s murder and the protests that have taken place, Sterling has offered his take on the situation over social media and through interviews as he prepares to fight Cory Sandhagen on Saturday at UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
Sterling felt a responsibility to address the current climate dominating the headlines, even if it wasn’t well received by some fans.
“It’s a little bit of a shame when I see some fans saying, ‘Can you do me a favor and not ask questions to the fighters or the athletes about political stuff, cause we don’t care about their opinions, we don’t want to hear that, this is not that platform, if we wanted to hear that we would turn to CNN or FOX or ABC,’ or whatever the case may be,” Sterling said.
“I do think it’s very, very important, it’s something significant that we should take upon ourselves to use the platform to inspire, motivate and just to preach being a good person. I think that’s really what it comes down to. You don’t have to get into, ‘I’m a leftist or a rightist, I’m Democrat or Republican.’ You don’t have to get into that kind of nitty gritty type of detail, but at the same time to show that you do have a stance is very, very important. To preach the good word of just being a good human being, being a humanitarian.”
The 30-year-old New York native used Michael Jordan as an example of an athlete who went out of his way to avoid speaking on social or political subjects so he wouldn’t offend any part of his fan base.
While Sterling says it’s ultimately an individual decision whether any athlete or celebrity speaks up about Floyd’s murder, police brutality or the ongoing protests, he felt it was necessary to address the situation.
“I think have we just have to peel back the layers and have a conversation,” Sterling said. “They’re tough conversations that not a lot of people are going to be empathetic and understand one another. That’s the situation that we’re having.
“There’s a lot of friction cause we are unable to pull ourselves back and look at the bigger picture and see each other’s point of view from a different perspective, a different lens. Wearing their shoes for a day and seeing what it’s like to be a black man. You would never know what that’s like unless you’re in this body. I think it’s a little unfair when people always try to downplay what certain people are preaching.”
Police have come under heavy fire in the wake of Floyd’s murder, with many politicians shouting for fundamental changes to be made to prevent further tragedies from happening.
Sterling is quick to point out that racism and police brutality are incredibly complex subjects, which is why it takes real time and effort to understand what’s happening and why it’s happening.
“I’ve had negative experiences with cops. I’ve had positive experiences with cops,” Sterling said. “I have friends who are cops today. I’m an FDNY hopeful. So I understand the camaraderie between cops where they always look out for one another. I do think there’s a lot of things that need to be said. It’s like an onion. There’s so many layers that need to be peeled back in order to rightfully get to the core of this.
“I hope we can figure out the reforms, educate and really retrain our police officers. Getting people to understand that just because I grew up a different way and my lifestyle’s different, doesn’t mean that you need to be afraid of me.”
In the end, Sterling hopes that people on all sides realize that we all have far more in common than not.
“I think at the end of the day we all put our shoes on the same way, tie our laces, put our pants on, brush our teeth,” Sterling said. “We’ve all got that same beating muscle in our left chest and I just think that we’re all the same.”