Yoel Romero found himself in front of a microphone after the biggest win of his career. He elected to speak in English – not his first language – and addressed the live Miami crowd and the Fox Sports 1 viewing audience:
“Hey, USA! Hey, Miami! Hey, Florida! Listen people, listen, listen. Listen! What happened to you, USA? What happened to you? What’s going on? You forget the best of the best of the world: the name of Jesus Christ. What happened to you? Wake up, USA! Go, go back for you, go. Go for Jesus.”
And then MMA had its “gold or blue dress” moment: Romero either said “not for gay Jesus people” or “not forget Jesus, people.” I heard neither in the moment. I started tuning Romero out once he invoked Jesus Christ, because that’s what I do when people start invoking Jesus Christ.
But the backlash was immediate, and as MMA’s resident ombudsman of bad, I decided to investigate. Listening over and over again on loop, Romero’s words oscillate between “not for gay” and “not forget.” I’m not sure anyone can say with 100% certainty what his actual words are, though I would trust someone born and raised in Miami.
Occam’s razor also comes into play. It’s certainly plausible that Romero conflated a few things and blurted out the inane phrase “not for gay Jesus people,” but the more elegant explanation is that his thick accent and speaking in a second language obfuscated “not forget Jesus, people.”
The distinction is important, because it means the difference between an explicit anti-gay rant on live television and a proselytizing speech that may or may not have been motivated by the recent Supreme Court ruling. If it’s the former, we can stop right here and let the mockery begin. If the latter, it’s worth some more investigation.
Fortunately, the media asked Romero to clarify his statements in the post-fight press conference. Via MMA Junkie (emphasis mine):
But Romero (10-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) denied making an anti-gay statement after his win over ex-champ Lyoto Machida (22-7 MMA, 14-7 UFC) and said, “My expressions are always going to be about love.”
“What I was trying to say in the octagon was look for the American dream,” he said via translator. “There was a misunderstanding about gay marriage, and I want to say something.
“God told Maria Magdalena, ‘You’re a prostitute. Go and don’t sell anymore,’ and he told her with love. Who am I to judge anybody? Even though I didn’t refer to that, even though there was a misunderstanding, I will tell you something. God made man to be free. Anybody can do whatever they want. I wouldn’t be the type of person to critique anybody. I’ve got to live with myself first. Be a better person to be able to love people.
“I didn’t refer to anybody. What I was trying to say, (was the) United States, thank you for giving me the American dream. There’s no better country in the world, because it is blessed by god. It is in the dollars that this country was made by Christian people. That means it’s blessed by god.”
Asked by MMAjunkie if his statement came as the result of the immediate controversy generated online by his post-fight interview, Romero said, “Yeah, I was told there was a misunderstanding on social media, so I wanted to clarify.”
Had Romero neglected to utter the emphasized line, I would believe that either Romero was truly misunderstood or that he is or has the most savvy PR person on the planet.
But he didn’t, and the emphasized line strongly indicates that Romero was speaking indirectly about marriage equality in his original statement. His explanation also suggests a “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality, which is marginally more progressive than straight intolerance for homosexuals.
Some have called for the UFC to sanction Romero, which essentially means a fine because releasing or suspending him for these statements are both ridiculous (for different reasons). I’m also very uncomfortable with the UFC handing out a fine, even though they could find a way to justify it under the Code of Conduct’s “derogatory or offensive conduct” and/or “integrity and reputation of the UFC” clauses.
Even if Yoel Romero uttered “not for gay Jesus people,” he didn’t use a slur. He didn’t say anything explicitly hateful. His offense is one of holding beliefs that are quickly becoming irrelevant and will be seen as being on the wrong side of history. While Romero’s freedom of speech is limited within the framework of being a UFC fighter, the UFC would be making a specious decision by disciplining Romero, especially when they’ve passed on disciplining a fighter who used an actual slur.
If the UFC does find this problematic for their brand, I’d recommend a different course of action: ban the fighters from making any statements in the cage that don’t involve fighting or friends and family. No more attacks on the President, no more discussing bloody conflicts in the Middle East, no more “all things through Christ.” Keep it clean, come out secular, and protect the UFC brand at all times.