UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley recently broached the subject of race in mixed martial arts. He very much wants to be a part of broadening the reach of MMA in the African American community, much as the UFC has done in the Hispanic community with former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez. However, there has been no such push.
Woodley also said explicitly that he is not playing the race card. He is not attributing his failure to an omnipresent power structure keeping him down, and that he, is in fact, a major success story. Woodley also said his stance was not simply about black and white, but about addressing injustice in all its forms.
There was some criticism of the remarks on social networks, but during a recent appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, Woodley said he expected it, was undaunted, and that the stance was inspired by the death of Muhammad Ali last year.
“It was never convenient,” said Woodley of people who have addressed race in society, as transcribed by Marc Raimondi for MMA Fighting. “It was never comfortable. It was never the right time. Same thing with any other freedom fighter. Martin Luther King. I’m not comparing myself — because I know some people are gonna take this to left field — I’m not comparing myself to the great Muhammad Ali or Martin Luther King, what I’m telling you is that at that time they did not know they were going to be Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali. They did not know that they were going to be figures that did so much outside of their field to impact change. They did it because it was right.”
“What is our platform for? Is it for me to make all this money and showboat and talk about how great I am, or is it to speak to a large group of people all at once, knowing that everybody won’t receive it, but the fact that some will?”
“This is a sensitive subject. A lot of people aren’t gonna like it. I can explain until I’m blue in the face, some people still would never agree with me. They would still think that I’m playing the victim.”
Woodley remarks to ESPN were made during a joint interview with UFC 209 opponent Stephen Thompson, who said he does not see race as playing a role in how fans perceive the champion. Woodley said that because Thompson is not racist himself, it is hard for him to see it.
“He won’t understand it,” said Woodley. “He won’t get it. Because it’s not him. … That does not mean it does not exist. I think what we have is, is individuals who have not participated and individuals who have not done it themselves. Since they have not, they feel like it’s not happening.”
“If you look at the history of our sport — and it’s not even just our sport — the history of the American culture, certain things are subliminally racist that people don’t understand are racist.”
Woodley said the UFC reached out and wants to work with him to address any perceived slights.
“If it wasn’t a problem and if it wasn’t a current situation that exists in the sport, why would my promoter be contacting me on how to solve the problem?” asked Woodley. “Now, hats off to them, because they didn’t have to do that.”
“It’s not about black and white. It’s about pointing out things that are not right, that are unjust. Things that are not equal. Nobody should be treated any type of way because of their color, their race, their gender, their socioeconomic status. We’re all human.”