Is Mainstream MMA Ready For An Openly Gay Athlete?
This article is not intended to sway your opinion one way or another about someone being gay. Or homosexual (Ha! Starting off with a pun!). This article is intended to see if mainstream MMA is ready for an openly gay athlete.
Times they are a changing. Not that long ago gay marriage was not legal in the United States, and only legal in five other places in the world. Since then seven states have approved same-sex marriage. Gay athletes in sports, specifically male dominated sports, haven’t made as much progress. Throughout the history of leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB, players have felt comfortable in acknowledging their homosexuality only after they have retired from their profession. Mixed martial arts in its current form, UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, etc. has only been in existence for little more than a decade. So can a sport with so little time under its belt, be further along in accepting an openly gay athlete than mainstream sports that have existed for decades and decades?
In 2005, CNNSI.com conducted a survey about homosexuality and sports1 in which 78% of the recipients said it would be okay for gay athletes to participate in sports, even if they are open about their sexuality. This was a survey conducted among the 979 participants in the general population. This would be an important part of the equation. If you’re a sports league, no matter the sport, you would never go against the wishes of your paying public. But it is only a part of the equation. The other half are the athletes themselves. Will the athletes be willing to share a locker room with an openly gay athlete? In the sport of MMA, would an opponent be comfortable in grappling with an openly gay athlete? Opinions would be scattered across the spectrum, but would the majority be okay with it?
In the lower circuits of MMA an openly gay fighter exists. Shad Smith has fought in several King Of The Cage events and was profiled in the New York Times in 2008. But what about in UFC? Dana White has said in the past:
“I honestly think it would have no impact whatsoever, with not only our fighters, but our fan base,” White said. “The guys in the UFC, everybody’s so cool, there’s great sportsmanship, everybody’s so respectful. It wouldn’t be a big deal to me, and most of the guys I know in this sport, it wouldn’t be a big deal to them either.”2
But what could White really say? No. That there isn’t any room in his promotion for gay fighters? Although White is very outspoken, he is smart enough to know that starting (another) fight with GLAAD would not be in his, or the UFC’s, best interest. After some extensive googling, I could not find one statement of support from a UFC, Strikeforce or Bellator fighter supporting the idea of having a gay athlete competing in their promotion. This is a search of both current and former fighters. In the other major sports mentioned, at least former players agree to the idea, and some current players do to.
I think that as a society we have moved forward in the pursuit of equal rights. The civil rights movement has made the acceptance of minorities in sports commonplace. Today though, I do not think that any of the major promotions would be able to accept the openly gay athlete. Where is the groundswell of support in the professional MMA community that leads to these types of milestones? Where is the thought-provoking discussions among the luminaries of the sport? Until this foundation is laid, there will be no chance of the openly gay athlete competing or at the very least being able to exist in the national spotlight.