After last Saturday’s women’s UFC bantamweight championship fight, a defeated Miesha Tate reached out to shake champion Ronda Rousey’s hand and got denied. Commentator Joe Rogan later said that he’d never heard a UFC crowd ever boo as fervently as they did at that moment, that he in fact had trouble hearing Ronda during their post-fight interview over the angry swarm of noise coming from the stands.
I have to admit I had the same knee-jerk reaction as the fans in the arena that evening. Over the last few years there’s been more than one occasion in which Ronda, either with the things she’s said or the mannerisms she’s used, has reminded me very much of the girl in grade school who used to chuck rocks at me during recess. Ronda won the fight, kept the belt, and took the glory, yet she still felt the need to diss Miesha one more time. Miesha had lost by armbar—the same technique she swore before the fight she’d kill herself if she lost to Ronda by again—and to some of us normal folks, humiliating her further was pretty close to cruelty. Man, I was so mad.
I went home from my friend’s place and then stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep, ruminating over the events of the evening. And no matter which way I tried to justify my feelings, I kept coming back to the same conclusion.
See, my answer to bad behavior by athletes (Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, etc.) has more or less always gone like this: “He signed up to play a sport. At no point did he ever agree to take on the title of role model. You put that on him.” And then I would go about my day feeling superior and patting myself on the back for my logical and tolerant reaction to the imperfections of a human I’ll never meet, pleased as punch that I had refrained from passing judgment or doling out criticism.
But that detatchment didn't carry over into MMA. Before MMA came along I could have given two shits about sports, which meant I could afford to be philosophical about them. But after falling in love with MMA, suddenly I found myself feeling a deeply rooted emotional atachment to athletes for the first time in my life, the same kind all those angry fans of other sports possessed and which I had never understood. My emotional detachment was gone. I was becoming one of them.
Somewhere in my transition from apathetic observer of sports to one of those kooky fans who does bizarre things like lose sleep over the outcome of a fight, I lost objectivity about who MMA athletes are as people. I admit I now want my champions to embody the characteristics that I feel a champion should have. I want them humble, kind, thoughtful, brave, and virtuous. Not arrogant, cocky, mean, or disrespectful. After years of telling people they didn't have the right to expect their sports heroes to be anything more than athletes, here I am wanting my champions to be lots of things besides champions. I want them to be good people. But Ronda Rousey didn’t sign a contract with the UFC to be a perfect role model for any daughters I may produce. She signed a contract to fight. That’s it.
Much as I hate to admit it, Ronda has met all her obligations to me. She fights and she wins. And apparently all the time and effort she spends preparing to fight and win leave her with little room for concern about how the public views her personally. And that is probably one of the reasons she is so damn good. She will never care that I think her behavior makes her look like an asshole. And maybe that should make me re-examine why I care whether or not she’s an asshole. At least she isn’t tailoring her behavior for the cameras. All I know is that I’ll never look at a heartbroken sports fan who’s just witnessed his or her idol fall from grace and condescendingly tell them they should remain detached, ever again, as I've clearly demonstrated that I have no such power myself.
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