Two Mondays ago, Joe Rogan questioned whether fans’ dislike of the reigning light heavyweight champion of the UFC had anything to do with racism on his podcast with Mike Dolce. What followed is a media swirl. Dissenters fought any morsel of racism in their dislike of Jon Jones. They went as far as calling Rogan the racist for merely wondering aloud if race has only an element. It seems to me that people dislike Jones for three reasons.
The first includes Jones’ talent. Jones is the best fighter in the UFC, hands down, and he knows it. No one, and I mean no one, who is a fan of sports likes his or her nose rubbed the immense talent of the participants involved. Why? Fans are jealous of professional athletes in general. Fans are jealous of the money athletes make, the fame they have, and lifestyle they lead. This is a significant undercurrent of sports talk in general. As a result, fans almost force humility on athletes. Even if it is false, which leads me to the second reason.
Second, people think Jones is fake. On the exterior, Jones seems to be the most humble person in the UFC. He speaks softly in interviews. That exterior has been shattered in the high profile lead up to his fight with Daniel Cormier (which is now postponed). They got into a scuffle in, what was, UFC 178 Media Day. Leading up to the altercation, Jones and Cormier shit talked ALL OVER Twitter. Then finally, there was an heated exchange between the two before an interview for it. I believe Jones called Cormier a pussy many, many times. All of those things destroy the veneer of Jon Jones, humble athlete. You need to pick what you want. Do you want your athletes to be modest or honest? Pick one. Now, there is one example of a UFC athlete being fake and being liked. That man is Chael Sonnen. But, Sonnen was the opposite of what Jones is now. Sonnen was fake cocky. He also let people to be part of the joke as Jones doesn’t. That comparison does not really work.
Finally, yes, race is involved. I disagree with Sam, Ari, and Jayson. We have 300 million people in this country. Pretend only 1% are UFC fans. For those who suck at math, that is 3 million people. Now, let’s pretend only 1% are just racists (a comically low number). That is 30,000 blatantly racist fans of the UFC. Furthermore, people tend to root, associate, and empathize to those that look similar and have similar situations. They can easily see themselves in the scrappy white guy, who has fight for everything he has gotten. He is unlike his black counterpart, who is vastly more “talent” and therefore does not (and is generally assumed) have to work as hard as the scrappy one. Again, this is not everyone. But, this even happens (consciously or subconsciously) in sports coverage. If you don’t believe, I refer you to the Deadspin article on different terms used for black and white athletes.
Compare Jones to former middleweight champion, Anderson Silva. Both are the best, most talented fighters of their era. Both are black as well. But, Anderson Silva is liked more than Jones by a large margin. Anderson Silva is Brazilian. So, he starts off without any preconceptions that an African American like Jones has. Silva also does not speak fluent English, which in a weird way helps him. When he speaks through a translator, he comes off as humble. But when Silva started to show boat (especially in his first fight with Weidman resulting in Silva getting KO’ed), the public became turned off to that. Again, the public doesn’t like what you flaunt your talent in front of them. Even if you have a long track record of being “humble foreign black guy” or “black guy who does it the right way”. It hurts the delicate feelings of the people. In closing, when if a topic comes up involving race, do not get defensive and immediately shoot it down. Not everyone that hates Jon Jones is a racist. But getting defensive and dismissive might say some things about you more than the dude asking the question.