Kung-Fu, kickboxing, karate, boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, judo, and jiu-jitsu. All of these incredibly diverse and unique fighting styles can be referred to under the wide umbrella term of combat sports. Many see these niche forms of exercise as ‘violent catharsis’ that turn people into ‘bullies’, however this could not be further than the truth. An underlying message across all of these differing combat sports is the fundamental rule of respect. Whatever hate or anger someone has when entering into these practices is quickly eliminated through the process of education. All of these different forms of combat teach an unspoken understanding of civility, that even if two opponents hurt one another or cause each other to ‘tap out’, it is not out of hate or out of anger, but rather out of a desire to become a more disciplined and trained fighter. Respect of this kind leads fighters to not only have a clear sense of self-respect and confidence, but also a general caring attitude towards all other people, with the honest belief that they do not want to hurt others, and train so that they never have to. With this mentality, most people who are exceptional fighters are some of the most diverse and accepting people in the world, being so comfortable with themselves that they hold no hate or bigotry towards others. So to see characters like Connor McGregor act in such disrespectful ways towards those who are different than him simply because he feels physically superior, it deeply saddens me that he had become one of the world’s top fighters, however along the way, lost that key element of respect.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In order to understand why McGregor’s words and actions are so disrespectful, it is important to understand the history that people of color have with violence, and their association with violence. When the practice of slavery was commonplace and incredibly popular, those who were in charge of selling and distributing slaves had to dehumanize people of color (specifically black people) in a way that would eliminate all humanity from them, and therefore, justify to wealthy white people as to why owning another human being was appropriate. One of the most common ways to do this was through childish and animalistic imagery, stripping black people of their humanity, attempting to argue they were closer physically and intellectually to ‘monkeys’ or ‘gorillas’ than the white people attempting to buy them. With this animalistic imagery came the association with violence, perpetuating fear of free black men and women, due to pseudoscience ‘proving’ that due to their ‘lesser intelligence’ and ‘animalistic tendencies’ they were more prone to rape and kill. Now, even though this was entirely fabricated for the purpose of black oppression and enslavement, given it was ‘grounded’ in what some people referred to as science, the effects of this ‘research’ had waves that passed through hundreds of years of history, and into the modern day.
People of color are still perceived as more prone to violence than white people and are given almost exclusive media coverage in reference to violent acts in order to perpetuate this myth. In 2011, a study across the entirety of Pennsylvania found that of all media mentions of people of color, 86% were in association to some form of assault, murder, or gang-related activity, with only 12% relating to community growth, education, or accomplishment (source needed). Some white-police officers have made racist assumptions towards people of color, either to abuse their position of power in order to feel superior or taking the life of another human being due to bias assumptions about threat perception. Whites and blacks committing the same action will lead to the assumption of good intent for the white person and an assumption of criminal intent for the black person. The most obvious example of which can be seen in the documentation of survivors of Hurricane Katrina convoying supplies back to friends and loved ones, with white people being granted the description of ‘transporting food from a local grocery store to survivors’ while the black man doing the same thing was described as a “looter stealing food from a nearby grocery store.”
How does this relate to Conor McGregor? Well, McGregor has used his position of fame and physical superiority as a platform for his racist tendencies, drawing in a large supporting crowd of those who view this behavior as acceptable. One example of this could be his repeated referral to Floyd Mayweather as ‘boy’ during their pre-fight press conference in 2017, clearly invoking the racist language that was customary after the end of the period of slavery across the world. Another could be McGregor’s islamophobia shining bright during his pre-fight press conference with Khabib Nurmagomedov, where he referred to him as a “backwards c*nt” for refusing to share a glass of whiskey with him due to his religious practices. These are only two examples scattered among his other uses of words such as ‘dirty’, ‘thug’, and ‘terrorist’ while taunting his opponents before fights. Conor McGregor is more than a showman, he is someone who holds a tremendous amount of bias to those who are different than him, and uses his platform to perpetuate these violent and bigoted perceptions of those who are not white. He does not have the foundation of respect that all people engaging in combat sports need to hold when entering into a ring or octagon with someone.
Put simply, this behavior and language, taunting or playful, is not acceptable, especially in the context of a sport where respect and admiration for one’s opponent comes before anything else. To engage in fights in order to determine who is among the worlds most effective fighters is a completely acceptable practice. However, once again, the absence of that respect then leads to the absence of combat sports’ legitimacy as an art form. It is not longer two people trying to improve and overcome challenges and become one of the best. Without that respect and care for one another, especially those who are of another race, sex, or culture, it becomes the stereotype of ‘bullying’ and ‘angry catharisis’ that so many people already see it as.