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New York: Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Politics: We Don't Need To Sugar Coat Odious Speech

POLITICS: We don’t need to sugar-coat odious speech

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A few years ago, I was on a road trip in Spain — a country that, until recently, wasn’t exactly simpatico with dietary restrictions.

Knowing it was a longshot, I asked the older lady working at a cafe if she had soy milk for my coffee. Confused, she asked why I couldn’t have regular milk, and I said it made me sick.

She then delivered a brutal, old-school assessment: “If you’re so sensitive that you can’t have milk, maybe you shouldn’t leave the house.”

I can’t help my dairy intolerance, but I saw a basic — and absolutely hilarious — wisdom in her verbal throat punch.

Us Americans have softened so much — building coddled, curated worlds free from allergens, real or imagined. Our echo chambers are designed to avoid uncomfortable ideas or words that make us squirm if they aren’t suited for cocktail party chatter. This worldview is carefully maintained by our institutions, corporate overlords and, yes, professional sports leagues.

I thought of that old Spanish sage Sunday when UFC honcho Dana White dressed down two reporters looking to him to denounce fighter Sean Strickland. The latter had unleashed a now-viral press conference rant ahead of UFC 297 on Saturday, with a rather ineloquent soliloquy that hit third-rail topics like homosexuality and gender identity.

Middleweight fighter Sean Strickland (left) made homophobic remarks before his fight against Driscus Du Plessis at UFC 297 — which led UFC president Dana White (center) to defend free speech. Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

A reporter asked White, if he ever thinks to tell his fighters to tone down their trash talk.

“We’re in the fight business,” White said. “If you get your feelings hurt that bad, you probably shouldn’t ask the type of questions when you know the answer you’re going to get from Strickland.”

In other words, we’re all adults here. If you can’t stomach the milk, that’s your problem, pal.

The press was baiting White in an attempt to make him a finger-wagging school principal. Expecting him to admonish UFC fighters — people paid to take blows to the old cabeza — for not embodying the values and delicate rhetoric of a rich white progressive lady living on the Upper West Side.

Sean Strickland stands next to UFC CEO Dana White at the press conference before UFC 297. Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Instead, White doubled down on Strickland’s right to be himself, flaws and all.

“I don’t f-cking tell any other human being what to say, what to think. And there’s no leashes on any of them … ,” White said. “Free speech, brother. People can say whatever they want and they can believe whatever they want.”

Strickland’s comments were, indeed, brash and charged — the unvarnished words of a latter-day John Rocker, the former Braves pitcher who, in 1999, gave an unflattering review of the diversity of 7 train riders.

At the press conference in question a, reporter who identified himself as a gay ally, asked Strickland about a 2021 comment when he said that, if he had a gay son, “I would think that as a man I failed to create such a weakness.”

UFC CEO Dana White holds a championship belt in the Octagon at UFC 296 in December. Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The middleweight, 32, called the reporter a “weak f–king man” and then finished off his dicey homophobic sentiments with some points that would have been seen as common sense by many people only a few years ago.

“The world’s saying, ‘No, there are two genders. I don’t want my kids being taught about who they could f–k in school. I don’t want my kids being taught about their sexual preference.’”

UFC fighters are humans who brawl in cages, not via their keyboards. Their outspoken gritty nature is baked into the very premise of this overwhelmingly blue-collar blood sport. This isn’t a DEI conference. You know what you’re getting with some of these brawlers.

And White doesn’t feel the need to launder their personalities or reputations for the public’s sensibilities.

Former president Donald Trump is a regular at UFC fight nights. Here he is with Dana White at UFC 296 in December. Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

How refreshing it is to be treated like free-thinking, grown humans — to be allowed to decide for ourselves if Strickland is a terrible person with terrible opinions. Not infantilized and fed mushed-up words through a PC filter.

It’s a stark contrast to the sneering contempt dished out by MSNBC’s chief Russia-hoax correspondent Rachel Maddow last week.

Nanny Maddow committed journalistic malpractice when explaining that her network would not be airing Donald Trump’s Iowa-primary victory speech.

Instead, they would let us know if there was anything “noteworthy.”

Rachel Maddow defended MSNBC’s refusal to air Trump’s Iowa victory speech. MSNBC

“There is a reason that we and other news organizations have generally stopped giving an unfiltered live platform to remarks by former President Trump,” Maddow said, before dropped this whopper: There “is a cost to us as a news organization to knowing broadcasting untrue things.”

Are they scared we’re find him too sexy? Too irresistible? Like the electorate did in 2016 when they broadcast him wall-to-wall?

No wonder people feel belittled, disillusioned and spat upon by much of the media.

Neither Strickland nor Trump are my cup of tea. Nor is Biden, no matter how often we’re told by his wife, reporters and staff that he’s as spry as a teenager.

Sean Strickland lost his title bout to Driscus Du Plessis of South Africa during UFC 297 in Ontario. Getty Images

But I don’t need anyone to act as a parental control module, shielding me from ideas or language that can be found in many outer-borough bars or in red states across the country.

Let us soak in viewpoints we may find objectionable.

Unnecessarily sugar-coating uncomfortable language or controversial ideas is not how you build trust or a strong society that can take a verbal punch.

Something Dana White knows about.





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