Is the UFC Ready for its First Openly Gay Male Fighter?
The sports world was stunned yesterday with the announcement from Michael Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and projected mid round NFL draft pick, that he was gay. Moreover, if he gets drafted (and all indications are that he most certainly will) and makes the team, Sam will be be the first openly gay male athlete to currently play in a top level, mainstream sport.
This news has writers from every sport wondering when an athlete in their sport will make the same decision. Jason Collins, a former NBA player who still has hopes of playing again, came out in the spring of 2013, but has yet to find a team to play with. Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League currently do not have any openly gay athletes.
MMA, with perhaps more testosterone running through the veins of the sport than any other – currently has one openly gay male athlete, Shad Smith. The highlight of Smith’s career was having the opportunity to fight for Bellator, losing via unanimous decision. Smith showed a tremendous amount of courage in coming out, yet the fact remains he has a losing record and is not a threat to any title. Moreover, we need to face the fact that the door truly won’t be open for a gay male athlete until one fights for the biggest company in the world, the UFC.
The UFC, perhaps the pinnacle of organized violence in the world of sports currently has a number of lesbian athletes on their roster, including former number one contender Liz Carmouche, former Ultimate Fighter competitor, Raquel Pennington, and the current 9th ranked women’s bantamweight in the UFC, Jessica Andrade. Each fighter has been welcomed with open arms, and from my perspective, have been treated like any other fighter.
The big question is, would this be the same with an openly gay male athlete?
According to the big boss, Dana White, the answer is most definitely a yes:
If you’re an athlete in the UFC and you are gay, I could care less. You will not be treated any different.
White has said on numerous occasions that if a male fighter were to come out, he would fully support their decision, just as he has for his lesbian competitors. Based on his history, there is no reason to not believe him. White, and the UFC, are in the business of making money. The fact of the matter is, having an openly gay male fighter who can actually fight, would bring a spot light to the promotion that it has yet to see.
The reaction of his fellow fighters might be very different. Comments in the past from the likes of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria and Matt Brown haven’t exactly set out the welcome mat for a male fighter to come out. I do believe, that with some time, and with White’s “encouragement” the fighters would get used to the fact as long as he can compete with the best of them, there is no reason to not fight another fighter based on his sexuality.
When a male UFC fighter finally does come out, it is perhaps the fans of the sport that will be the toughest for him to deal with. Anyone that has been to a live UFC event knows that in between the drinking, fights and the high levels of testosterone in the stands, openness and acceptance isn’t really up their on the MMA fan’s priority list.
Eventually, they too, will get used to the fact that the time has come. Thanks to athletes like Jason Collins and Micahel Sam, the door has been open. It’s time for a male fighter to finally break down the walls.