I was standing around with a few casual acquaintances one day. One of the people in the group happened to be of Eastern Indian descent. A fly landed on that person’s arm and someone asked, “What is that on your arm?” to bring attention to them to swat it away. Without thinking, I immediately replied with what I thought was a darkly humorous joke: “[They’re] used to it, [they’re] Indian.”

Pretty dumb, right? Yeah. What I was implying was that India has its fair share of problems, such as poverty and overpopulation. I was making a dark joke about the fact that many people from that region are so used to the dire living conditions that having a fly buzzing around would be no big deal to them. I was making light of the ugly truths that exist in certain regions of the world, and I was doing so at someone else’s expense.

Now, am I wrong for that? It was inappropriate, politically incorrect and uncalled for, yes, but I used my own sense of humor to make fun of something bleak. I did not do it out of hate for a group of people. Given my intent, does that justify saying something like that?

I wonder, because things such as conservative beliefs or inappropriate humor tend to get MMA fighters in trouble quite often these days.

UFC lightweight contender Josh Thomson has shared his negative views towards homosexuality, comparing it to incest. Those comments came back to bite him in the ass.

UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey shared a Sandy Hook conspiracy-theory video. She narrowly escaped the wrath of the UFC, probably because she cloaked it in a hope that others would look at that situation and think outside of the box of what was being reported on mainstream news.

In some ways, my comment wasn’t much different, by varying degrees, from either of theirs. But that’s where context comes into play. It’s not as though any of us said those things out of hate—maybe some form of ignorance or insensitivity, yes, but not hate—but each person’s statement do anything beyond inspiring feelings of hurt, especially for those affected by such things. Thomson’s statements are a bit more prickly, because he outright said that certain people are morally wrong for being who they are. His slippery slope argument that homosexuality leads to sex with family members is indeed invalid, but if he truly believes that homosexuality goes against his own morals and he wants to vocally share that, then that’s just the price of democracy, baby.

Remember not too long ago when Bellator fighter War Machine tweeted that he was going to rape his girlfriend? It prompted a response from Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, who had personally told me before that he wants his fighters to be provocative and that he shouldn’t be there to be their “speech police.” Yet, there are limits to what a professional fighter can get away with, obviously. And each instance can seem like its own unique or complex case, ones where public opinion can mean more than the actual reality of it. As we’ve learned through others, such as Miguel Torres, joking about rape is like traipsing through a minefield, and it can blow your legs right out from under you (twice in his case) if you can’t seem to let go and stop dancing around with it.

Now, if you’re a professional in any sense, I can see why you’d want to steer clear of joking about a topic like rape. Does that mean that we should only just leave it to our comedians or the equally humorous (but in a sad, indirect way) talking heads on cable news to be able to discuss such topics? Why is it acceptable for a comedian to talk about rape in any form simply because he or she is an entertainer? Fighters are entertainers too, right?

There is a gray area here between the polar opposites of love and acceptance and hate and bigotry when it comes to speech that we should be allowed to explore. Anyone has the right in the United States to discuss a topic such as rape or racism. It might be in bad taste. It could even get you into hot water if you’re linked to others who might suffer from your unwise words—a fight promotion, for example, wouldn’t take too kindly to receiving negative publicity because of what was said. But I don’t want to live in a world where we are afraid to freely talk about, or even joke about, something such as rape or racism.

There’s a lot to be learned about how you go about saying something and understanding how what you say will affect others. Again, that’s the cost of freedom and our learning experiences that come with it. You might get sore about hearing or reading such things, but we still have the right to say whatever we choose, whether it be an inappropriate joke or a certain view of a segment of people.

Two events occurred in the news last week that really brought the polar opposites of the freedom of speech issue to light. First was The Ultimate Fighter: Nations competitor Tyler Manawaroa, whose Instagram was discovered to contain a meme with a black child in a shopping cart with the caption “Get used to looking through them bars little n****.”

Manawaroa is a dark-skinned individual, mind you, and is someone who likely has experienced prejudice based on his ethnicity. After reading his and his manager’s public apologies for the incident, I’m inclined to believe that he likely posted the picture because he thought it was funny and also because it highlighted how black people are jailed in disproportionately larger numbers than other ethnicities. I think the real problem here is that the picture contained the “n-word” to describe the child. If it didn’t, would this whole thing be less of a big deal? Would the impact and the humor be brought to a higher understanding without that word?

I’ve got to say that it’s unfortunate he chose to put that picture up, because he likely didn’t mean any harm past the intent of pointing out that black children are likely going to have to understand that they have a higher chance of being put behind bars. Humor towards something that is an ugly and very real atrocity.

The result of his choice is that he lost his chance to be involved with the biggest promotion in the world. It was for something that he did as a teenager, something in hindsight that was petty and preventable, but could this not be a chance for him to grow from a choice like that? Why shut him out from the UFC for good over this? Can he not learn to better conduct himself online and perhaps be a spokesman for others? Instead, he is now branded with a scarlet “N” and will be looking for employment that provides much smaller paychecks for stepping into a cage and getting punched in the face.

Suddenly, none of it is very humorous. But if he truly wasn’t intending to bash black people and meant it to be funny yet honest, then this whole thing has been blown out of proportion simply because others are offended by that kind of humor.

Recently, in our great state of Oklahoma, an Enid man, a restaurant owner, proudly claimed that his establishment would not serve “faggots, African Americans, freaks,” et cetera. You want to talk about overt racism and bigotry, you’ve got it right there. The crappy thing about it is that he has the right to refuse service to whomever he chooses as a business owner. And he proudly runs with that freedom as his platform to spread his brand of bible-belt conservative hate.

This case is very different from any of the other fighters I’ve discussed. This man is most definitely coming from the greatest extreme of the freedom of speech. That puts the others I’ve discussed into perspective. Sure, they shared something that is unpopular, hurtful and disgusting to many, but I wouldn’t put them near the same category as the man from Enid.

In the end, the UFC has the right to cut or refuse any fighter employment if that fighter says something inappropriate, the same way that the Enid man has the right to refuse customers by choice, which we know is based on their color, identity or personal beliefs. But we’ve got to admit to ourselves that these are two very unfortunate, but more importantly, different expressions of speech. And Manawaroa was an unfortunate casualty of treading in the gray area.

Some things don’t need to be said or shared, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be. What matters is the intent behind them. We are all complex individuals surrounded by our cultural differences. Sometimes it shouldn’t be an open-and-shut case that if something is said that offends a majority of people, then the person saying it deserves to have the collective’s back turned on them. Perhaps sometimes we deserve the opportunity to learn and grow from such instances, and to be forgiven.

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.

  • DB

    Good article. Dana White has double standards and everyone knows it. Hopefully Tyler gets his chance.