Trash talk in sports doesn’t excuse racist ideology

Conor McGregor’s charged, degrading comments are a problem: the lack of outrage even more so

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By: Youeal Abera

In the world of boxing, trash talk is imminent. Whether it is used as a means to invade and tamper with the mind or confidence of one’s opponent or simply to boast of one’s power and skill, trash talk is as much a staple for boxing as hot dogs and beer are for baseball.

However, a line must be drawn between playful banter and harmful, degrading dialogue.

If you are fairly into the realm of mixed martial arts (MMA) or boxing, then you have probably heard of the humongous fight taking place next month between boxing champ Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. This event is a highly anticipated match for a number of reasons, but especially because Mayweather has won 49 fights in a row, and McGregor has managed to bring him out of his momentary retirement by challenging him and his winning streak. As a result, excitement amongst boxing fans has been immense since Mayweather has answered McGregor’s call.

McGregor, a caucasian Irish man, has said some very racially charged and derogatory things to Mayweather at press events for the upcoming fight. As a matter of fact, Conor has been saying racially charged and derogatory things to African-Americans as a whole during these events.

During a press event that took place in recent weeks, both men were onstage and were involved in highly planned and invigilated trash talk. While Mayweather was engaged in some shadow boxing, McGregor yelled at him to “dance for me boy, dance for me son! Dance for me!”

Calling a black man ‘boy,’ or telling him to ‘dance for you,’ is extremely racist, disrespectful, and dehumanizing. For those who don’t know, white slave owners would often refer to their black male slaves as “boys.” When McGregor labeled Mayweather as such, it immediately reminds many black folk of uncomfortable sentiments of white ownership over black bodies. A white man telling a black individual to “dance for him” sends black folk the same demeaning undertone of white dominance and supremacy over black bodies.

It didn’t stop there, however. Not long afterwards, McGregor engaged in more racially insensitive banter, this time being extremely disrespectful towards black women: “A lot of media seem to be saying I’m against black people. That’s absolutely f—ing ridiculous. . . . I’m half black from the belly button down. And just to show them that’s squashed, here’s a present for my beautiful, black female fans.” He then began to hump the air.

After both situations, I sought out MMA and boxing fans and asked them what they thought of McGregor’s ridiculously racist statements. A large number of these individuals came to McGregor’s defence, citing that he probably was unaware of how what he was saying was racist and that he truly can’t be as racist — or prone to saying such bigoted things — as people are saying he is.

Nevertheless, upon further investigation, I found that this was not the first or second instance of bigoted verbal antics from McGregor. When asked by an interviewer if he could beat Rocky Balboa from Rocky III, McGregor responded by referring to the black boxers in the film as “monkeys”: “I’m trying to remember which one was Rocky III. Was that the one in the celebrity gym? I can’t remember if that’s the one with the dancing monkeys or not.”

His racism isn’t just directed towards black folk, however. McGregor once told Brazilian fighter Jose Aldo, “I own this town, I own Rio de Janeiro. I would . . . kill anyone who wasn’t fit to work, but we’re in a new time . . .”

No matter who or what you’re a fan of, you cannot overlook or ignore a person’s problematic behaviour simply because they ‘couldn’t possibly be that bad.’ We need to look at everyone critically, even celebrity figures. Trash talk is a feature of all sorts of sporting environments, but we cannot keep using it as a free pass to get away with what is essentially hate speech.

With a pattern of racist slurs and language slung towards his opponents before matches, it is clear that Conor McGregor is indeed guilty of blatant racism and ignorance. True, banter has and will always be part of boxing, but there comes a time when we need to call out and provide consequences for racism.

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