Why Feminists and LGBT Activists Should Care About the UFC

In November 2011 I joined the fight to get the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to enact a code of conduct, following a rape joke tweet by fighter Forrest Griffin. But since then, there’s been a spate of offensive tweets and public comments joking about rape and the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. Meanwhile, they have had what can almost be called a legacyof anti-gay public remarks and outbursts. The UFC has signed a reported $700 million deal with FOX Sports and will premiere in prime time this year. Their ubiquity is a sign that they are entering the Big Leagues of sports. So it is time that they act like it and enact a code of conduct, similar to those of other major sports organizations including the NFL and NBA. As the survivor of sexual violence, this cause is very personal for me. You see, UFC fighters are rewarded for the popularity of their tweets and the effectiveness of their use of social media. There are monetary bonuses, in fact. So, when Forrest Griffin, Miguel Torres and Rashad Evans joked about rape — each of them making direct or indirect illusions to the Penn State scandal — it is more than just offensive (although that would be enough). It is as if the UFC is rewarding the behavior of perpetrators of sexual violence. When Rashad Evans joked that he was going to, “put my hands on you worse than that dude did to them other kids at Penn State,” well, that was like joking about the man who put his hands all over my body. Look me in the eye, Mr. Evans, Mr. Griffin, Mr. Torres, and yes, even Mr. UFC President Dana White, and tell me how it’s funny that a man put his hands all over me when I was a child. Now… explain to me again why anything about Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky is funny. Explain it to me and all the survivors of sexual violence out there… and most of all to the (alleged) victims who have so bravely come forward with their gruesome stories. But more importantly, the only way we change attitudes about sexual violence is through public discourse and to act as a society to stop it. And there is evidence that awareness campaigns and calls for greater societal standards does change minds — just look at the evolution of “wife beating” to domestic violence and the Violence Against Women Act. In fact, VAWA has been helpful on the sexual violence front, too. (Report, PDF) Joking about rape and off-color remarks about sexual violence are not only offensive, but they are deeply hurtful to those who have survived such experiences. It can be a trigger for survivors to feel a whole host of difficult emotions, including anger, sadness, depression, shame, and frustration. For society as a whole, it is a terrible marker for the pervasiveness of rape culture and its bullying effect on the hearts and minds of women, men, girls, boys, transgendered individuals, LGBT people and more. Joking about rape and sexual abuse is an admission that taking away someone’s power is not only “funny” but somehow acceptable and even encouraged. (This places a cultural expectation on what it means to be a “real man” just as much as it does to be a woman.) This kind of thinking plays into slut-shaming, in which girls are ridiculed and, in fact, shamed for alleged sexual escapades. (Ex: At the age of 11 after developing breasts before any other girl in her grade, a girl can be marked as a slut and openly mocked and bullied by her peers for being promiscuous, even if she is still a virgin and has no desire for sexual activity. This phenomenon has been explored in great detail by Emily White in her book Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut. I highly recommend it.) But that’s not the only reason to support this campaign. The UFC has a long history of anti-LGBT remarks made in public forums, including on twitter and in self-made youtube videos. Using gay slurs is another form of bullying and these UFC fighters are considered role models and are idolized by thousands of fans. Just like when Kobe Bryant got fined by the NBA for using the f-word on the basketball court, the UFC needs a code of conduct in place to take swift action when incidents like this occur. If you feel like me, that it’s time the UFC grew up and enacted a code of conduct, please take a moment now and sign this petition. Catch up on the campaign here: Media clips:
  • Brief overview of our call for a code of conduct (AP)
  • Coverage in the Nevada Appeal
  • TV coverage on Channel 13 (ABC)
  • The Bleacher Report
  • Eddie Goldman of No Holds Barred mentioned it on his podcast
  • The press release got mentioned on this MMA blog
  • We were interviewed with Loretta Hunt on KNPR on Nov. 15
  • Rashad Evans makes joke about Penn State scandal at UFC on FOX presser (SI.com)
  • Rashad Evans’ joke about Penn State scandal is no laughing matter (Bloody Elbow)
  • UFC reinstates a penitent Torres (Yahoo)
  • Dana White responds to twitter troll with prison rape joke (Yahoo)
  • UFC should consider measures to placate anti-MMA lobby (SI.com)
  • UFC Should shut down homophobic slurs (MMAFighting.com)
This post originally appeared on The Sin City Siren. Cross-posted with permission.

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