Friday, January 10, 2014

Day 158 of 365: Female Athletes

Yesterday, fighter Matt Brown said that female fighters are boring, and that, if he has to pay money to see them fight, they should at least be topless. His reasoning is, the women's bantamweight division in MMA/the UFC doesn't deliver a lot of knockout hits -- and somehow this is proof that women should not be fighters.

I'll be the first to admit that there isn't a lot of knockouts in women's bantamweight. There's also not a lot of knockouts in men's bantamweight. The lighter the weight class, the less a likelihood there is of knockouts. They are smaller bodies. Their biceps will literally not pack a punch the way a heavier person could.

But we still watch those fights. There's a reason why the UFC has weight classes all the way to flyweight and doesn't just focus on the heavy- and super heavyweights. Because every weight class brings something to the table. Every weight class showcases a different emphasis on certain skills. I wouldn't expect "Might Mouse" Johnson to fight the same way Cain Velasquez fights. Everyone brings something different to the table. And it's unfair to single out women's fighting and decide that it's not entertaining because they're not knocking out people the same way a middleweight could.

But I don't fault Matt Brown for this thinking. We were all raised to believe that professional sports was a boys' club. We all grew up with the NFL and NHL and MLB and MBA. We all grew up knowing at least one male professional athlete's name, regardless of how often we actually watched sports. This is what we were raised with, this is how our minds formed, and this is the foundation of all our judgments when it comes to athletes.

And we are human. We naturally judge those we deem "outside" of the club harsher than those who are already in on it. You see it everywhere, from socioeconomic statuses to race to gender to sexual orientation. Remember how harshly President Obama was judged during his first presidential run? Remember the things he could not get away with that seemed to go under the radar when it came to McCain? And if you aren't familiar with Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) and her criticism after having a child, I suggest you Google that real quick.

And that is perfectly natural. Our ancestors survived because we were overly critical of the outsiders. If you were outside of the "club" -- even if you technically weren't a member of it yourself -- then you judge on a different level. You let confirmation bias set in. You let every transgression be proof that you shouldn't have trusted or invited them in the first place.

It's natural. But what's important is to take that step back and recognize that there is no objective reason to have this mindset. That there is no empirical evidence that supports the idea that female athletes are somehow less entertaining than male athletes. Because that's the big thing here: not whether or not women can be pound-for-pound as strong or as muscular as men; but if women can be as entertaining.

And I have been entertained by female fighters. I'm honestly shocked that Matt Brown can say that after the Rousey/Tate fight, which was fast-paced and technical and brutal and downright beautiful in the execution of fighting styles and maneuvers. I have seen boring female fights -- and I have seen boring male fights. The only difference is that people walk away from the boring male fights criticizing the male fighters as individuals, whereas people walk away from the boring female fights criticizing female fighting as a whole.

And, really, who is to say that females lack knockout power: one of my favorite knockouts of all time happened in the strawweight division (which is 115 pounds for those playing the home game) of a different MMA franchise.

And then there's the problematic attitude of, "Make it sexual to make it entertaining," which is a rant for another time.

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