I’ll admit, I hate the establishment. I hate finger wagging. I hate groupthink. I have since I was young, and it’s always landed me in trouble. I was kicked out of Sunday school when I was 13, then high school during my senior year, and later drug rehab for visiting my girlfriend after curfew. I haven’t been to church since, but I did graduate college, and I’m now approaching six years of sobriety. I’m glad I snuck out to see her, because we’re still going strong five-and-a-half years later. I got lucky, though. I was raised in the West – the United States and Bermuda – where rebellion is at best rewarded, and at worst affords the chance at forgiveness and growth.
To me, Dana White represents everything great about Western culture. He took human cockfighting and marketed it into something Disney – the Mickey Mouse company – felt comfortable paying $1.5 billion for over five years. White maintained a f*ck you attitude all the while, because like so many of us, he can’t help it. The thought of morphing into some creepy cube-dweller just to appease profit-seeking suits, or, worse, totalitarian Twitter trolls, probably makes Dana White want to vomit.
Last night White put on UFC 249, and shoved it in the face of the finger-wagging brigade. They still wagged.
The Washington Post cited one epidemiologist, who became relevant to national media only after he made it clear that he was a leading finger-wagger. No looking at his history, no questioning his motives, no consideration that he’s only one voice. How about wondering if it’s legitimate to cite a man’s opinion which was formed after reading an ESPN article - not, you know, being anywhere close to the situation or talking to the UFC’s doctors. That would be counterintuitive. We’re all on the same finger-wagging team here.
Any epidemiologist who questions the lockdowns, or the danger coronavirus poses to peak athletes, is deemed a heretic, unfit for public consumption. No, literally. Epidemiologists who question the WHO or CDC are having their opinions removed by our tech overlords. They’re deemed counterproductive, and they’re relegated to the airwaves of “heretic media.” Please don’t upset the technocrats.
Of course, that’s complete bullshit. Questioning the experts isn’t nearly as dangerous as the fear-mongers would have you believe, and it is a core tenet of liberal democracy.
I have headphones on, and I’m blasting “Dogs” by Pink Floyd. Talk about renegades. Have you ever listened to the first five albums of Pink Floyd? They were the knock-off version of The Beatles. Then drugs happened, and some barrier in Syd Barrett’s mind broke down – or wires crossed. There is nothing even remotely close to the sound Pink Floyd produced from “The Dark Side of the Moon” to “The Division Bell,” and that scared the crap out of music executives. Intro —verse — chorus — verse — chorus —bridge — chorus — outro was the agreed-upon structure, and Pink Floyd was shoving their middle finger in that sequence and swirling it around.
Howard Stern did the same thing to talk radio. You weren’t supposed to talk about how you really felt – about sex or otherwise.
Bill Belichick did the same thing to pro football. You’re not supposed to stick your nose up at elite-level talent, look down on media, and still win championships.
The Sopranos did the same thing to television. America was supposed to fall in love with Cliff Huxtable, not a murdering, cheating mobster.
Hunter S. Thompson did the same thing to journalism. Back then, you weren’t supposed to be drug-addicted, wise-cracking and fearlessly oppositional as a member of the press. Of course, these days, we’re inundated with Thompson caricatures.
This isn’t to say that experts and conformist serve no purpose. What makes the United States great is the constant tug-of-war between defectors and rule-followers. In “loose” cultures like Brazil, there is such an emphasis on personal autonomy that the lack of organization can be detrimental. In “tight” cultures like China – where citizens are constantly monitored and censored - developing infrastructure is a breeze, but innovation is almost non-existent.
But, I can’t help being a dissident in a world where claiming "sports don’t matter" is the easiest way to appear enlightened, and the path to a moral high ground is paved by shaming those who question lockdowns. Last night Dana White carried the flag for my side. I hope he did it safely, and I hope the UFC’s imperfect handling of coronavirus paves the way for sports like the NBA, MLB and NFL to get it right the first time.
The sports world’s way back needed to start with one rudimentary event. That event was always destined to be led by the UFC - an organization full of outlaws. Who, in their right mind, chooses cage fighting as a career? Who would want to spend their professional life trying to market such a barbaric sport? The same people who would risk coronavirus to get their head smashed in, in an empty arena, for pride and a paycheck.