It seems like a never-ending barrage of attacks has now ensued for actions that had nothing to do with me personally but are directed at me personally. On the one hand I find it amusing. On the other I find it disgusting. Not so much because I care what these strangers think, but because it is a depiction of just how much hate and rivalry exists amongst fans in what could easily still be considered a niche sport.
It’s one thing to have an argument about a particular athlete and who you feel is best. It’s another to have entire online communities of keyboard warriors with nothing better to do than peruse Google to try to dig up as much dirt as they can on a site or an individual that they just happen to feel “deserves” punishment.
We’re in a time where it seems that the world of Sports is evolving.Women are now more welcome in a previously male dominated sport like Mixed Martial Arts, and even Gay and Lesbian athletes are coming out and showing that they’re more than just a word. They are people with talent, skill and something to be admired.
Yet these communities don’t seem to care one bit. They claim to be elite authorities on the sport, but I highly doubt many of their members have ever even practiced any of the martial arts, let alone had a fight to speak of.
Is this simply online bullying? And as far as I remember, the vast majority of bullying occurred in grade school. So what are these communities all about? Chest thumping and name calling? Racism, Sexism, Egotism and Homophobia? It certainly can seem that way depending on the discussion thread you read or participate in.
Before I continue, please let me state for the record that I do believe in the freedom of speech and expression. However, in civilized society we have protocols that we follow to ensure we can have cogent, meaningful and productive discussions without deliberately or accidentally insulting the other party. Disagreements happen often, and I have been corrected on grammatical or factual errors in my articles on several occasions by well-meaning fans. The result was always an immediate correction with credit being given to the individual who reported it first.
But let’s take another look at these online communities, these MMA Fan Forums. Are the conversations within them a representation of the majority, or just a small but very vocal minority? From what I know of real fighters and true martial artists, I can tell you they don’t care what color, gender or sexual preference identifies you. All that matters is what happens in the ring or dojo.
True martial artists concern themselves with training, not endless gossip about Brittany Palmer’s plastic surgery or Georges St. Pierre’s paycheck. True martial artists train to gain better physical and mental control over their bodies and their minds. (Even as I read what I have written I am anticipating the attacks. The claims of elitism. Who am I to say what a true martial artist is? How dare I, so on and so forth. This aside is not meant as a distraction, but rather to draw your attention to the premeditated hesitation that surrounds making such a statement). What matters most to a martial artist? Again, a question to which I have my own opinions. However, the beauty of being part of a community is that opinions are diverse and one can learn so much by listening to or reading what others have to say. I will concede that there are many definitions of what makes a true martial artist, however I will remain constant in my view that those ideas can be communicated without insults, deliberate offenses, name calling and the like.
Having frequented some of these online forums, I can say that there have been many threads with content unbecoming of a professional news organization or even that of a semi-civilized community. The use of language is obscene, and the amount of sexism and homophobia present gives first time visitors to these sites a sense that they’ve entered a domain similar to that found in the book “Lord of the Flies”. The fact that many participants of these forums span ages as young as 13 and up might make some parents cringe at the notion of what their child is being exposed to.
Of course there are many very intelligent and very well spoken young people out there, and by no means do I wish to imply that they should be insulated from reality. However, name calling, harassment and online bullying in general can have a profound psychological effect on an individual. Finding this content in an MMA forum lends credence to all the claims from reputable sports bars who refuse to show MMA fights on TV because the crowd becomes “too rowdy.”
I’ve been to my fair share of MMA (UFC and Amateur) events, and rarely have I seen a fight break out in the crowd. That’s just the point. It appears that a small but vocal minority is souring the pot for MMA fans everywhere by depicting us as mindless thugs who only know one language. That of violence. MMA is a violent sport for certain, but it is not true that all MMA athletes are violent all of the time. The same should be true for the fans.
Back to the topic of civility. It is the year 2013, and to find the sorts of conversations I’ve been subjected to online leaves such a foul taste in one’s mouth that it is easy to question whether one even wishes to follow the sport any longer at all. Of course my love and passion for martial arts extends well beyond what any group of fans might ever say or do. However, I as I write this, I am reminded of a very respectful Forum Member who in the midst of an argument was able to communicate a very valid and mature message. That as an individual in my position I am and should be held to a higher standard of behavior. I truly wish that I could say I’ve always fit that mold. I am human just as anyone else is, and in a heated discussion I have resorted to immature acts. Acts that I am not proud of, yet the impulsivity of the moment took the better part of my judgement for a drive down let-it-all-go-to-hell lane.
Regardless of what all the other members of that conversation thread may say, that forum member still has a special place for me due simply to his very mature stance in providing an olive branch and some advice to a total stranger. A stranger who had for one reason or another garnered the collective rivalry of a mob of angry keyboard warriors.
If all of those individuals were even half as evolved in thought as he/she was, then I can say with confidence that the quality of discussion would be improved ten fold. Further, it is likely that the amount of emotional antics would have been kept to a very mild minimum. It is fans like this individual that I believe represent what we should all strive for.
As far as promotional organizations are concerned, Dana White, the President of the UFC himself has been working hard to help evolve the sport. By including female bouts in the promotion since UFC 157, and by being an outspoken supporter of Liz Carmouche’s open sexual preferences, he has demonstrated a more evolved view that others in the industry should be quick to take note of.
Sadly, with this season of TUF featuring two female coaches there has been much talk in similar online forums of how “uninteresting” it will be. With many ‘fans’ claiming they simply refuse to watch this season because of the coaches’ gender. If MMA is to be mainstream, then how can we be so prejudiced and expect acceptance from others?
Respectfully, if I may offer some unsolicited advice to all the major media networks like CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC & ESPN, to name a few, please have a look at your affiliates and the moderation of their online discussion forums. You manage your brands’ communities exceptionally well. Your parent sites are a shining example of good form and professionalism. If you haven’t done so already, it might also be a good idea to ensure the same standards are present among your affiliates’ online communities as well.
To those very bold internet keyboard warriors who have been relentlessly sending personal attacks, I will not give any further attention to your derogatory claims. I am intentionally leaving names out of this article as enough name-calling and finger-pointing has been done. We have strayed far away from the real conversation of how we can improve the sport of MMA and enjoy the competition at hand.
Please know that any post from a suspect hate spammer will result in a ban from either Facebook or this site, or both if it applies. I still maintain that if you wish to represent your favorite site or have a correction to offer to one of our articles, please share this with us. Constructive criticism and civilized feedback of any kind is welcomed, and it will be responded to.
Finally, to our existing fans who have helped us to grow so quickly, I would like to know if you wish for us to create a forum for open discussion. A place where you can openly share ideas without fear of elitism, retribution, persecution or ridicule. Should you wish it I will invest time and energy into creating an environment just for that, all based on your needs and desires. Please send us your ideas on Facebook, and we will begin drafting the future of our fan communication & collaboration together!