Matt Mitrione: Why the UFC Was Right to Suspend Him for Transphobic Comments

James MacDonaldFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2013

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According to a statement released by Zuffa earlier tonight, UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione has been suspended by the organization for “transphobic comments” about transgender fighter Fallon Fox on the MMA Hour.

For those who haven’t quite caught up to this story yet, towards the end of his appearance on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani earlier today, Mitrione launched into a venomous tirade directed towards Fallon Fox, which included the following comments:

"She's not a he. He's a he. He's chromosomally a man. He had a gender change, not a sex change. He's still a man. He was a man for thirty-one years. Thirty-one years! That's a couple years younger than I am. He's a man. Six years of taking performance de-hancing drugs, you think is going to change all that? That's ridiculous…. That is a lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak."

As many of you know, I have written extensively on this topic. I have come down firmly on Fox’s side on this issue, arguing that a decade of hormone-replacement therapy and her 2006 gender reassignment surgery have almost certainly removed any advantages she previously would have enjoyed.

Mitrione’s remarks were not only ignorant, but needlessly spiteful. I have debated a number of people on this subject. For the most part, the discussions have been spirited, but almost always civil.

The last thing those people need is a prominent figure within the industry to not only poison the level of discourse, but to undermine their position by resorting to playground-level insults and appeals to emotion.

The UFC’s response to Mitrione’s comments was remarkably swift:

"The UFC was appalled by the transphobic comments made by heavyweight Matt Mitrione today in an interview on ‘The MMA Hour.' The organization finds Mr. Mitrione's comments offensive and wholly unacceptable and - as a direct result of this significant breach of the UFC's code of conduct - Mr. Mitrione's UFC contract has been suspended and the incident is being investigated.

The UFC is a friend and ally of the LGBT community, and expects and requires all 450 of its athletes to treat others with dignity and respect."

I applaud the UFC for taking a position that is bound to be unpopular with a significant portion of the MMA fanbase. However, I’m somewhat torn on the issue of Mitrione’s suspension.

I am a firm believer in one’s right to freedom of expression. And that must extend even to expression that I find loathsome, otherwise the concept of freedom of expression becomes meaningless.

But, I’m sympathetic to Zuffa’s position. Mitrione’s remarks were truly appalling and, as an employee of their organization, his conduct directly reflects how they are perceived by the public.

For many in the mainstream, MMA is still trying to shake its late-90s image as a barbaric quasi-sport. Having its athletes espouse such hateful views, completely unfettered, is something the sport does not need as it continues to grow.

From a free-speech perspective, Matt Mitrione’s suspension is clearly regrettable. But, for the sake of the sport’s image and continued growth, the UFC made exactly the right call.