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To err is human. In no arena is this more dramatically evident than mixed martial arts.
Joe Rogan’s definition of MMA as “high-level problem solving with dire physical consequences” is appropriately grand. Every fighter is a unique maze of skill sets. More than a simple aggregate of athleticism and technique, fighters are also a combination of prior experiences from the gym and the cage. They are trained to be physical, psychological and technical puzzles, the solution to which is some form of superior violence.
Rogan’s descriptor of “dire consequences” is much more readily understood. Commit to a punch too much and you’re on your back; leave a limb exposed and it’s soon impersonating The Exorcist; circle the wrong way and you’re sniffing shinbone. Any number of seemingly small errors can result in waking up with your back on the canvas. Look at Tyson Pedro’s performance at UFC Fight Night 132 on Saturday in Singapore. After a minute of picking apart Ovince St. Preux at range, he followed a knockdown into a submission attempt. When it failed, he remained in the clinch and tried for a takedown instead of resetting back to the domain where he was initially successful. The takedown got reversed, and he ended up tapping out to an armbar. That isn’t to say Pedro would have necessarily won if he disengaged, but it’s fair to say that this single decision directly led to him losing.
Such dire consequences make the sport so genuinely surprising and righteously satisfying. The superior fighter doesn’t always win, because one mistake is that consequential, and unlike the world outside the cage, mistakes inside of it are naturally and inescapably met with fair treatment. Aside from the exceptional officiating and judging gaffes, fighters almost always get what they deserve in the purest sense. Pedro has no one but himself to blame for his tactical misstep. In this way, fighting is perhaps the most just realm of modern society.
It shouldn’t be controversial or divisive to say that there are different sets of rules in life for different people. Wealth and fame and status don’t just provide greater material opportunities; they endow people with entirely different justice systems. Don’t believe me? Try throwing a dolly through a bus window, or flee the scene after injuring someone in a car crash. Better yet, see if sexually harassing coworkers will score you a TV show, or if crashing the economy will earn you multi-million dollar bonuses. It’s a statement of fact that legal consequences are distributed unequally in life and that most of us are on the wrong end of that distribution. It’s no wonder that people turn to screaming into online voids when they detect injustice; it’s one of the only ways we can at least feel like something is being done.
You may have guessed that this is about Greg Hardy.
His list of wrongdoings should be no secret. In May 2014, he was charged with picking up his ex-girlfriend and slamming her onto bathroom tile, severely bruising her entire body, dragging her by her hair, verbally threatening to kill her, strangling her and throwing her on a bed of assault rifles. Hardy claimed he was the one being abused. He was found guilty. Read that last sentence again, because it’s important to understand, especially with UFC President Dana White obfuscating the point. However, since Hardy was really good at football, he was able to quickly appeal his sentence of 18 months of probation -- side note, imagine the sentence any one of us would get for committing these crimes -- and since the accuser didn’t show up to court during the appeal, Hardy got off with nothing more than a four-game suspension from the NFL.
To forgive is divine though, right? Isn’t that the second half of the axiom I invoked at the top of this article? Isn’t that why Hardy, like any other fallible person, deserves a second chance?
Here’s the problem with that rationale: He has already had a second chance. He has already had numerous second chances. His contract with the Dallas Cowboys was explicitly called a second chance. He got into a physical altercation with a coach and was still given more chances. When given opportunities by reporters to at least pretend to be remorseful or say something diplomatic and vague, he was flippant, sexist and grotesquely tone-deaf. Even the usual half-hearted photo-op of making public donations to a domestic-violence charity would have been something. Never has he shown a single shred of remorse or contrition -- the standard prerequisites for forgiveness. It says something that the NFL, which is by no stretch of the imagination a force of moral arbitration, saw Hardy as too toxic to keep around.
Alas, he’s a talented athlete. It’s not that the rules don’t apply to him so much as he’s been given a completely different set of rules under which to operate.
I won’t bother to implore you to imagine him doing these things to your sister or daughter or girlfriend; and yes, he’s not the first heinous person to get paid to fight, in the UFC or elsewhere. That there are innumerable ethical dilemmas in life -- from the clothes you wear to the food you eat to the entertainment you consume -- is no defense, no matter how easy it is to wring limp-wristed hands and enjoy Hardy’s undeniable gifts. There is a clear right and wrong in this situation, not only in a snooty ethical sense but also in a way that is fundamental to the ethos of MMA.
If to forgive is divine, let the divine forgive. For the rest of us, there are consequences for our actions. At least, there should be.
Eric Stinton is a writer and a teacher from Kailua, Hawaii. He has been writing for Sherdog since 2014 and has published fiction, nonfiction and journalism in Bamboo Ridge, The Classical, Eastlit, Harvard Review Online, Honolulu Civil Beat and Vice, among others. He currently lives with his fiancée and dachshund in Seoul. You can find his work at ericstinton.com.