The mantel of hero has always been heavy. In the comics, Spiderman is told that with great power comes great responsibility. And even though the web-slinger might not be a real person, the advice rings true for our flesh-and-blood heroes, too. In these modern times, heroes come in a variety of forms built up by acts of bravery (like veterans) to acts of brawn (athletes) to the ability to influence power (politicians).
But no matter the path, when you become a hero, you have a great responsibility.
This is why it hurts so much when our heroes disappoint us, like the recent Penn State scandal rocking the college football world. Coach Joe Paterno and all the Penn State officials who covered up heinous acts of sexual abuse by Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky (he’s been indicted on 40 counts) were beyond wrong in their actions. And this is what has so many sports fans, including me, so pissed off. Paterno was a football hero — one of college’s most successful coaches! But because of that, we expected more from him. (Unless you’re a Penn State student, I guess, in which case raping kids is okay as long as your beloved coach isn’t fired…?)
There’s no doubt that the mantle of hero chafes at times.
Mythical heroes have spat in the eye of the gods. Politicians blow their power on something as simple as, well, a blow job. But to those heroes who whine that the cost of power, fame, fortune, and becoming role models is too high… Well, to those people I say: Suck it up!
Perhaps because of the power of fame and fortune, this is especially true of pro athletes. Unlike politicians, who muck around with (what some may consider) boring matters of state, or celebrities who might be famous for nothing — professional athletes are the anointed heroes. They often come with back stories that are the stuff of movies (sometimes literally) with tales of overcoming poverty, racism, broken homes, and a variety of other hard knocks. And most of all, athletes remind us of the human potential. They show us the human form in perfection. They dazzle us with their almost super-human abilities. And it’s thrilling drama.
These very humble origin stories make athletes intoxicating heroes. And that’s why they must be held accountable when they stumble or fall.
And we’ve seen that play out in almost every major sport:
- Football star Michael Vick‘s animal abuse
- Basketball star Kobe Bryant’s recent hate speech directed at a ref
- Baseball’s Mel Hall is currently serving a sentence of 45 years for rape and sexual assault
- (see a list of crimes by pro athletes across multiple sports here)
Surely, in huge professional sports clubs like the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, there will be a few bad apples or bad scenarios from time to time. What matters is how those events are handled. And whether it’s because of a sense of right and wrong or merely a glance at the bottom line, major sports franchises, players, and organizations are looking at the issues of hate speech, sexual assault, and even bullying with a critical eye. Earlier this year, NBA Commissioner David Stern said that professional athletes are role models and that hate speech cannot be tolerated.
The fact that professional sports organizations are publicly saying that hate speech is wrong is important. And meaningful. This is the responsibility part of being a hero.
This is why I am joining with parents and concerned members of our community in asking the Ultimate Fighting Championship to create a code of conduct for its staff and fighters. There is a list far too long — ranging from public appearances where non-English-speaking fans are coaxed into using anti-gay slurs to jokes about rape on twitter — of UFC fighters and management using hate speech, bullying and retaliation, and offensive misogynistic language. (By the way, what’s up with social media being used to disseminate hate speech and rape jokes?)
The UFC has grown tremendously in popularity in recent years and as such it is in a pivotal position to be a positive role model for thousands of fans, young and old. But if you want to be a legitimate sports organization, you have to act like a legitimate sports organization.
So, now’s the time to step up, UFC.
Is this a professional sports organization that is here to stay? Is UFC poised to become a leader in the community and a role model for kids? If so, it’s time to create a code of conduct. This is where your metal is tested. I am hopeful that Dana White’s recent remarks about gay UFC fighters coming out wasn’t just lip service but a positive sign of things to come. And Forrest Griffin’s apology for posting a rape joke to twitter is certainly a start (Anna North writes more about this over at Jezebel: apparently, Griffin has a history of tweeting such jokes.)
Do you have what it takes to be a real hero and take responsibility?
And on a personal note, let me just say that as a sports fan, a mother, and a member of the community, I hope the answer is yes. Because while UFC is getting attention from all over the world, it is also Las Vegas’ own homegrown sports organization. What you do reflects on all of us. And right now, you are giving us a black eye.
It’s time to do the right thing.
If you are looking for a way to support this cause, here are some ways you can get involved:
- Attend the press conference: 11 am, Saturday (Nov. 12) at UFC headquarters, 2960 W. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas
- Share this post!
- Tweet! Tweet! Tweet! Use #Unfit4PrimeTime hashtag! (sample tweets below)
- Contact UFC and ask them to take responsibility
- Sign the petition!
Sample tweets (hashtag: #Unfit4PrimeTime):
*@UFC real #sports have a #codeofconduct and that real athletes don’t use #hatespeech and #rapejokes http://wp.me/p4ufM-Fz #Unfit4PrimeTime
*#rolemodels don’t use #hatespeech and #rapejokes. @UFCONFOX tell @UFC they need #codeofconduct http://wp.me/p4ufM-Fz #Unfit4PrimeTime
*@UFCONFOX No more #hatespeech! Legitimate #sports have civic responsibility. @UFC needs #codeofconduct http://wp.me/p4ufM-Fz #Unfit4PrimeTime
*@DanaWhite Major #sports require major leaders! @UFC needs #codeofconduct now! http://wp.me/p4ufM-Fz #hatespeech #Unfit4PrimeTime @UFConFox
*What do #NBA #NFL and #MLB have in common? #CodeofConduct Do the right thing @UFC http://wp.me/p4ufM-Fz #Unfit4PrimeTime @UFConFox
*With great power comes great responsibility, not #hatespeech. #CodeofConduct now for @UFC http://wp.me/p4ufM-Fz #Unfit4PrimeTime @UFConFox