How Do You Deal with Learning Your Favorite Fighter has Terrible Opinions?

When you find out a favorite MMA fighter has toxic beliefs and spreads them, it stings worse than a mean right hook.

Content warning for a reference to transphobia.

MMA has always been a sport full of colorful characters: that’s part of the appeal. These are seemingly larger-than-life people doing truly herculean feats of physical and mental skill, half naked in a cage for all the world to see. But when those characters (and much more hurtfully, a personal favorite, someone you’ve rooted for for years) start spouting off awful, toxic bullshit, it sucks. There’s almost a feeling of betrayal, and it happens far more often than I’d care to admit.

This week, on Best Camp of My Life with Fernanda Prates, guest star Juice Jackson of the Friendly Sparring podcast experiences that awful sensation in real time, when Fernanda mentions some nasty statements shared by one of his favorite fighters, via instagram stories. The stories contained some transphobia and anti-vax nonsense, and I won’t mention the specific name here, because it’s not even the point. What’s disheartening is just how often this kind of thing happens.

It happens in MMA seemingly every other day, but it’s certainly not confined to the sport. It’s a sinking feeling that occurs anytime a beloved actor, athlete, musician, etc. says something terrible that makes you question why you ever enjoyed their work in the first place. The milkshake duck phenomena. The misery of social media, to see what awful things your heroes (or even just, hey, a person you admire for their talents) believe, for whatever terrible reason.

I’m not a psychologist, but my guess would be that it has to do with the human capacity to think that people we like and admire are like us, at least in some important ways. That we share core values and a sense of decency: that, say, racism and homophobia and transphobia are wrong, that yes, COVID is real, masks are useful, and vaccines are necessary. Pretty basic things.

How do we contend with this? How do we deal with the disappointment and/or even disgust we feel when a prominent person — especially a person with a platform — is doing real harm by sharing toxic views or blatant misinformation? 

This is honestly one of the questions of our age, isn’t it? I certainly don’t have any answers, but I’m here for the discussion. You can check out Best Camp every Wednesday right here on Fanbyte or wherever you get your podcasts.