The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Dana White Loses His Mind (Again)

I suppose I should say something about this…issue? And yet…I’ve just got no motivation. So it’s bullet points time, partly for that reason, and partly because this is one of those issues where there’s either too many or not enough clear lines of discussion.

– First off, it should really be understood that this deal is going nowhere in a practical sense. American public life has a well-designed Kabukiesque method of public expiation of guilt for celebrities who embarrass themselves in such ways. Dana will probably stop short of rehab, but you can expect an apology (“it was never my intention to hurt or stigmatize…”) and possibly some donations to charities and/or activist groups, and then this thing is over. UFC won’t hold anything against him, since he remains far and away a benefit to the company; fans won’t hold much against him since some share these views, others are the special breed of idiot who scream “excessive PC! Speech police!” (see the comments here for examples) when some offensive comment is criticized, and the bulk will probably consider the comments offensive and wrong, but not so much so as to drive them away from the sport. That’s the camp I’m in, for what that’s worth.

– Morally speaking, I have mixed feelings about this. Calling a female journalist a bitch because you don’t like her story is unprofessional and frankly idiotic. I’m not even going to try and defend that one in particular. Likewise with the use of the term “retarded”. Faggot…well. There’s several factors to discuss here, and some of them apply to his first two word choices as well in a broad sense. Er, a general sense….

As the article linked above notes, jock culture is what it is. I’ve been around it enough to know that there’s a lot of positive elements to it- character-building, friendship-forming, productive competition which drives people to perform at their best, etc- as well as the negative. White is obviously substantially a product of that culture, and shows in himself much of the good and the bad: he clearly cares about many of his fighters (if not all) and does have a loyal streak, has developed an almost inhuman work ethic, and is driven by competition to be the best that he can be at what he does which is very much a virtue and should be respected. Much of that I honestly believe is honed by jock culture in some people- like plants, people grow best in the environment to which they’re suited. The negative parts show up in White as rants like this, where you see the virtues turned upside down: character building becoming a recourse to cheap insults when provoked, friendship forming becoming an obsession with loyalty, and productive competition among people inside the group becoming easy hatred of those outside it. Personally jock culture has never appealed to me, and in fact I find its negative aspects particularly appalling; but if we’re going to be honest about what goes on in the minds of White and people who approve of this rant, we should take account of the good and the bad and try to understand why an obviously intelligent guy like White ends up saying these things.

It should also be remembered if we feel up to judging him that he’s a professional promoter. Bombast and balderdash are very much his stock in trade and the mainstay of his profession, and when you take a man like White who was obviously born without a filter between his mind and his mouth and put him in a job for 8 years where his every overblown statement is encouraged and considered productive, you’re going to get things like this. Is it an excuse? I don’t know. I do know that there are times where even I’ve called someone a cocksucker in anger. I’ll feel bad about it afterwards and try not to do it again, but I’ve still done it. Am I better or worse than White? There’s someone I know who’s been a feminist activist, and who once described the shoppers at the Park Slope (a known lesbian-friendly neighborhood at times) Grocery Co-Operative (or some such place) as “grim communist dykes.” Better or worse than White? Sometimes people just say stupid, stupid things, make jokes that fall flat, end up short of their own ideals, fall back in haste and anger on terms they know they really shouldn’t use. People are like that; we should be wary of judging a man fully by his worst moments, especially one like White who lives 18 hours a day with a tape recorder in his face.

And in particular for White’s use of the term faggot, I will say this as well: I’m in my 20’s, and even I can feel in my lifetime a major sea change in this country in the way gay people are perceived, the way they’re treated in society in general, their visibility in the media- even the public understanding of what gay people are, which in the male case has gone from Village People leatherman stereotypes through effeminate stereotypes into now probably the least stereotypical model yet with the rise of gay marriage as a real political issue (imagine what this country will think when they discover bears- but I digress). All of that is change I can recall seeing in my lifetime. White’s 39, and enmeshed as he is in jock culture and his own insane workload, I’m guessing he’s paid very little attention to the ways in which things have changed and words which would have been passed over 10 or 15 years ago are major no-gos today. And in his lifetime, they’ve changed so much more than in mine, even- I mean, the man was born within a month and change of the Stonewall riots. Think about the world he grew up in, and in which his perceptions were shaped. If it can be shown that White is actively discriminating against gay people in hiring practices or the like, then I’ll be as angry as anyone; but if not, if this is him just reverting under pressure to using stupid words that he was taught were ok when he was growing up and which no one has ever really challenged him on before because of the circles he’s run in, personally I’m willing to give him a pass. The world has changed a LOT on gay issues very quickly, and I don’t personally believe that future change will be helped be demonizing people of good faith who are trying to adjust to that change. This is, of course, all predicated on him actually being in good faith, and yes, that does mean an apology or clarification; but that should be for the purposes of helping to establish to the MMA community that things really are changing, not for the purposes of trying to get White to grovel.

It should perhaps be noted that for all the swearing and ranting White does, and as much as he’s infamous for having no filter, this is the first time White’s put his foot in it this badly by choosing the wrong words. It’s just hard for me to see him as a committed bigot.

– I’ll throw this out there as well, since it does influence my thinking: MMA is a growth sport. Neither you nor I know how large it’ll eventually get, but it’s already capable of drawing interest from several millions of people- predominantly young men. If gay rights and a generally more accepting and less identity-category-hateful way of life are going to progress in this country, these are the sorts of people who are going to need to be convinced. They’re going to need to be exposed to the utterly boring reality of homosexuality as lived in America in 2009, they’re going to have to give up the terror of being seen in the shower by a gay guy, they’re going to have to be convinced slowly that calling someone a faggot is honestly just kind of lame, and really makes you the asshole. That’s a long term process. When the first MMA fighter comes out- and yes, some are almost certainly gay- that will go a long way; but that day is a long way off. In the meantime I don’t think the goal is served by going nuts over White saying dumb stuff- it becomes too easy for people to dismiss White’s critics as “PC Nazis” or some such, and in many cases there’s not going to be anyone there to argue with them if that’s what they keep saying to all their buddies. What I always go back to is the simplest of rules- don’t be an asshole. Calling one person a bitch and another a faggot makes you an asshole. If you apologize, and you mean it (which in a way I expect Dana will), then you’ve acted appropriately and that’s probably where it should end.

– And finally, context check: White often gets compared to Don King, given that both have been rumored to have had ties to organized crime in their youth, both are ridiculous loudmouths and natural talkers, and both have been the most dominant promoters in their respective sports in their golden ages. If this little rant is the worst thing White’s done, he has some catching up to do to get into Don’s league.

All in all this is a lot of noise about nothing of consequence.

EDIT: I will say this though: the people who really do shine through as knuckle-dragging intellectually deficient subnormals in this whole thing are people who pull the “oh noes! PC!” card. At the risk of wandering too far away from the sports profile here, let’s take an example. From the comments here, from “Andrew the Raider King”: “The problem Maggie is not what Dana White said, the problem is all these people who forgot the golden rule. That is you Mags. You learned it in Kindergarten “sticks and stones”?…Dana offended homosexuals by saying F@gg0t? They offend me everyday by wanting to get married, but I am not allowed to say it outside of the internet, because somebody would be offended.

Am I wrong, or is this hero of take-no-prisoners masculinity and strength essentially saying that he’s too scared to express his real opinion except under a pseudonym on the internet? Is he really saying in the first section that people ought to take abusive language in stride because it won’t really hurt, and in the second saying he’s too afraid to do precisely that in the face of disapproval and criticism? There’s a tragic sort of stupidity in this, worse than mere ignorance. Ignorance can be cured- you can speak to the open-minded but uninformed, talk to them about historical contexts and the way others’ lives differ from their own; encouraging the natural faculty of human empathy can work wonders in the open-minded and big-hearted. But this…I mean, what must it be like to go through life unable to recognize when one half of your paragraph contradicts the other? To treasure your hatreds, secreting them away until you can achieve the great thrill of disgorging them under a fake name on the internet? To be so obsessed with the conduct of other people’s lives? To fall so wildly short of even the meager ideals which you espouse? One of the ironies of this situation is that while Dana White catches all the heat, the really scary people like our friend Andrew here are having a field day coming out from under their rock to bask in the sun for a brief moment before their own fear drives them back into hiding and stewing in the dark. And yet, and yet…

The cosmic joke of the gay rights movement is that 40 years of activism have taken gays out of the closet only to put bigots into it. The sheer virulence and incompetence of this sort of comment says it all about which way events are moving. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy for me to shrug off White’s rant- the numbers and quality of the people who seriously believe the things he stupidly said have never been lower. In the end, all you can do is laugh at them.


April 3, 2009 - Posted by | MMA

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