Tyron Woodley, the “Race Card,” and Human Bias

By now, the MMA community is aware of Tyron Woodley’s recent allegations of racism in the sport and the role it has played in his reception (or lack thereof) from fans and the company after winning the welterweight championship. The allegations were, as expected, met with dismissals and accusations of “race baiting” and playing of the “race card.” I do not seek to prove why Tyron Woodley is right or wrong, or to even ask the very question. My concern is over the fact that so many are unwilling to ask it on their own.

What doesn’t seem to be disputed is the fact that Tyron Woodley is not a popular champion. The only variant is the reason why. The most common grounds provided is his demand for big money fights instead of focusing on defending his championship. The biggest test for if this reason is valid is how fans will receive Michael Bisping when he makes his return. If Bisping is treated the same way Woodley was in the UFC 205 event and buildup, that would be the strongest evidence for the validity of the reason fans have provided for their dislike of Woodley. If Bisping is given the respect as champion from the fans after doing the exact same thing (only worse, since Bisping is still yet to defend against a #1 or #2 contender), that would prove Woodley’s point more than he has been able to thus far. Woodley’s claim of ill-treatment is truth based, but it is the reason he has had trouble backing. He seemed to start off with two main points, divided equally between fans and promotion. His first point was that Wonderboy fans along with his general haters have hurled racist remarks his way. His second point was that the UFC has not promoted him as well as other champions before him or even Wonderboy prior to their UFC 205 bout. Woodley must specify why he believes the fans may be biased against him and also tell how the UFC could promote him better. He seems to have already made major steps on the latter step, but instead of being more consistent in supporting his accusations against the fans, he seems to add more points that stray further and further away from the original argument.

Woodley has stated that he wants to speak up for what’s right and that speaking up on these sensitive topics may help future generations of Black athletes. But much like Colin Kaepernick, who began with a clear issue to combat, he has begun to meander into any and everything racial, even to the point of considering the attribution of being “well-spoken” to be offensive, as well as stating that commentary that questions his stamina (which has been levied on other muscle-bound fighters, such as Hector Lombard and many others) is subliminally racist as well. My advice to Woodley is to stay on topic and use specific evidence to support his claim, no matter how personal it may be. If he does not feel comfortable doing so, that is understandable…just don’t be surprised when people remain unsold.

Now, as for the fans. Woodley was right about one thing. Even if he were to follow my above advice and articulate his point in a coherent, substantiated, and brilliantly persuasive fashion, the majority of fans who have put up their “No Race Card Accepted” sign, do not even consider the possibility of their machine vending change. Because it’s stuck. In fact, racial motives may be the only thing that is dismissed so quickly without getting the full evidence behind the accusation. And to dismiss something with so much history behind it as being a non-possibility before even evaluating the claim is disingenuous if not deceptive. So ask the question for yourself if race is a factor, and then independently look for the answer, instead of buying into the culture of instant dismissal passed down perhaps by family, friends, or the media itself. And if you still disagree, that’s fine, too, so long as your investigation was earnest.

The fact is, people do have biases. Even if they are unaware of them. The term “racist” may not be accurate for many or even the majority or Woodley’s critics, but “prejudiced” sure is. To deny that fans, consumers, and humans as a whole have biases is self-deluding. This is no more limited to one race as the ability to laugh. It’s why a black child may choose a black Barbie doll: because she wants a figure she can identify with. This does not make her a racist any more than it makes a white fan racist for favoring white fighters. That may be an unpopular thing to say, and something rarely, if ever admitted, but for many, it is natural. Although, many others genuinely could care less what someone looks like. They admire the figure for their gifts and maybe their personality regardless of race or any other label. But let’s cut the crap. Looks matter. It even matters when comparing white vs. white. Just ask Hollywood, modeling agencies, WWE, and anything where a “look” goes a long way into one’s success and popularity. So if looks matter even between white/white and black/black you can bet it matters when marketing a black figure to white audience members. And if certain people identify more with figures (real or fake) they consider to be more like them, that does not make them bad people. And it doesn’t make them racist either. But it does make them biased. Instead of hating Woodley for his opinion based on both personal experience and public evidence (such as racist trolls who are public for all to see), either confront or admit your prejudices. You support Woodley less than other successful fighters because you find him harder to identify with. Race, is in fact the main reason for that. MMA fans: Let’s tell it like it fookin’ is.

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