The Issue and Hypocrisy of Using Racism as Entertainment

Whether or not you’re obsessed, mildly entertained by, or avoid talk of sports altogether, you’ve heard the name Conor McGregor. The Irish MMA fighter seems to either be loved or hated, with no in-between. McGregor is known for his personality, ability to entertain and his trash talk. Trash talk is inevitable in the sports world, alongside bidding those of different nationalities against each other because it’s drama that brings in more viewers-- which means more money. However, he crossed a line in his recent bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, and this isn’t his first time slewing racist remarks at his opponents.

Khabib Nurmagomedov is the current UFC lightweight champion with a remarkable career of 27-0. He is a Russian native and a devout Muslim, with a wife and children who the family has decided to keep out of the public eye. He maintains that he wishes to be a good role model, both for his children and young fans. Due to his religion, he does not smoke or drink, and wears a Papakha, which is a wool hat traditionally worn by men throughout the Caucasus, where Khabib is from.

Fully aware of this, McGregor chose to boast his new brand of whiskey at the UFC 229 weigh in, shoving a bottle in Khabib’s face. He also stated at his interview that, “his manager is a 'fooking' terrorist snitch rat…” referring to Khabib’s trainer, Ali Abdelaziz, an Egypt native. (Abdelaziz reportedly worked in a group called Muslims of America as a mole for the NYPD and FBI, but was eventually severed from any ties to any United States government organizations). He also claims that his fellow Irishmen are facing racial profiling as they visit the country to attend the fight in support of the Irish native, meanwhile Khabib’s own father was denied a visa to attend the fight.

On April 5, 2018, McGregor and a large group of his friends attacked a bus holding Khabib and other UFC fighters after their press day before UFC 223. Mcgregor threw a dolly at the window, ultimately shattering the glass, which caused multiple people inside to be injured. One fighter (Michael Chiesa) was hospitalized for head injuries with two fights directly cancelled. Over all, four bouts were pulled from the card because of the attack. McGregor eventually came forward to the police and was sentenced five days of community service, 1-3 days of an anger management evaluation and was required to pay restitution for the damage of the UFC bus. All felony counts were dismissed, as he agreed to a plea deal; the fighter received no jail time or a criminal record, and his visa was not be affected. Three orders of protection were made against him, two of which are preventing him from being near UFC fighters Ray Borg and Chiesa until July 2020.

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After months of McGregor’s bullying, racist and degrading comments, and attacking his bus and injuring other fighters before UFC 223, it was finally the long awaited fight night. During the fourth round Khabib took down McGregor, causing the Irishman to tap out after a rear naked choke turned neck crank. As McGregor sat on the floor of the octagon, Khabib jumped the fence and attacked McGregor’s trainer. The entire arena erupted as the octagon turned into an all out brawl. McGregor was quick to jump on his feet and join, beginning his own fight as he punched one of Khabib’s teammates. As he goes to punch another, a man on Khabib’s team jumps into the octagon to punch McGregor in the back of the head. Check out the video for yourself here.

Following the brawl, both fighters were escorted out of the arena, and the champion was denied being presented his belt. Dana White was quoted as saying that he was “disgusted” by the Russian’s behavior, and the public has already taken sides, many claiming Khabib should be stripped of his title, lose his UFC contract or even be revoked of his green card. McGregor is already calling for a rematch, and Khabib has since apologized, along with stating that he believed that his opponent’s “trash talk” was anti-Russian and anti-Muslim hate speech. “He talked about my religion, he talked about my country, he talked about my father…”

Not only was McGregor disrespectful, tasteless and his trash talk could very well be considered hate speech, the media and sports world also seems to be siding with the Irishman, who has done much more violent and illegal acts than the Russian’s break from his usual complacent and cool attitude. Last year, in prep for his bout with the undefeated boxing legend, Floyd Mayweather, the drama surrounding the night was also a major money maker. Degrading comments came from both teams, as both fighters enjoyed their press tour, but one comment that didn’t sit well with Mayweather was him and his team being called “monkeys.”

The President of the UFC, Dana White, referred to McGregor’s actions before UFC 223 as “the most disgusting thing that has ever the company”, but eventually the Irishman evaded severe consequences for one felony count of criminal mischief and three counts of assault. The now infamous “bus incident” was even used as promotion for the fight between Khabib and McGregor. As White is now quoted as calling Khabib’s post fight riot as “disgusting,” it will be interesting to see what the UFC and the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) decide. The NSAC stated on October 8, 2018 that the event is officially under investigation, with rumored reports of a 10 day suspension for Khabib Nurmagomedov.

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These situations within the UFC are not isolated. Racism in sports is easily found wherever you look. The Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones received racial slurs and bags of peanuts thrown at him at a game against the Boston Red Soxs in 2017, the Texas A&M coach received racially based hate mail and of course, there are the numerous racial comments found all over social media on Colin Kaepernick and anyone who supports him. If you want more data and reports on the sheer amount of racism found in the sports world, check out the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport here.

I won’t deny that controversial topics and politics sell. TV shows such as The Fosters, Quantico and Supergirl all tackled topics such as LGBT+ rights, racial profiling, immigration, bullying and sexism. Saturday Night Live has always involved political humor, and in the past few years have gained a reputation for tackling political topics. But it’s not entertainment to degrade another man’s family, culture and outright disrespect their religion. While Khabib was violent and in the wrong, we should not allow McGregor to be victimized. We will have to wait and see if the Russian Muslim is fined and suspended, or allowed the same privileges his opponent received.