Conor McGregor's flippant anti-gay slur puts him back in spotlight for all the wrong reasons

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Conor McGregor was scolded by referee Marc Goddard during teammate Artem Lobov’s fight Saturday. (Getty file photo)

After a summer in which he was derided for making comments perceived as racist, UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor‘s fall has begun with him being blasted for making an anti-gay comment.

McGregor opened the floodgates of criticism again after he used an offensive slang term for gay people while talking to teammate Artem Lobov on Saturday at a UFC event in Gdansk, Poland.

A few months after telling African-American boxer Floyd Mayweather to “Dance for me, boy,” McGregor used the off-color gay slang in a backstage conversation with Lobov. Lobov had just lost a bout to Andre Fili as part of the show’s preliminary card. With his right arm draped around Lobov’s shoulders, McGregor said, “He’s a [gay slur] and everyone knows he’s a [gay slur].”

The UFC’s official account tweeted the video, though it later deleted the tweet. This being the Internet, though, the video survived and McGregor again finds himself in the middle of an unwelcome controversy.

The word he used is one that many people, and not just those in the LGBTQ community, find offensive. Whether he means it in a demeaning way or not, McGregor far too often finds himself using offensive language.

Cyd Zeigler, the co-founder of Outsports.com, a gay sports site, says it is wrong to minimize or attempt to downplay McGregor’s use of the slur.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, he hates gay people,’ ” Zeigler said. “But in the back of his head, in the back of [ex-Los Angeles Lakers star] Kobe Bryant’s head, in the back of the head of every other person who has used this word, years of our culture, and for him, his Irish culture, have planted in his head that when you want to insult someone, this is the place to go. This is not necessarily his fault.

“If you take all his actions collectively, he certainly seems like a jerk. This one doesn’t say that by itself, but it’s years and years and years of hearing this word that it was planted in his head that when you want to insult someone, more than anything else, you call them a [gay slur].”

This was not said at a news conference or a remark made to reporters with notepads, tape recorders and cameras. It was a private remark made to a friend.

In one sense, that may make it worse, given that it could be indicative of his true beliefs and not of what he says publicly when he’s crafting an image and protecting his brand. It’s a word that is meant to demean and insult a large group of people. It shouldn’t be used, plain and simple.

Conor McGregor is back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after a UFC event on Saturday. (Getty)

That said, McGregor’s past actions don’t suggest he’s anti-gay. To the contrary, in 2015, he very publicly and loudly campaigned in Ireland in favor of a same-sex marriage referendum that was being voted upon. McGregor tweeted a graphic of himself and the members of his team in front of a rainbow, which is symbolic of the LGBTQ movement, urging a ‘Yes’ vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

The image of McGregor publicly campaigning in favor of same-sex marriage doesn’t equate with a guy who so casually refers to another person in such a derogatory manner.

Neither McGregor nor the UFC have commented publicly.

McGregor needs to apologize, and not just because the ensuing controversy could hurt him financially. This isn’t the worst thing a prominent athlete has ever said, but his casual use of the word doesn’t make him appear enlightened.

Zeigler takes a hard line on intent for those who use that term, because it is pejorative and used to disparage others.

“Listen, when people use this word, it does not mean, ‘I hate gay people,'” Zeigler said. “Conor McGregor has shared his support for same-sex marriage in the past. [Saying that] doesn’t mean Conor McGregor hates gay people. What it means is that somewhere in his head, Conor McGregor thinks that gay men are weaker and less than everybody else.

“He and other people who use this word, they’ll try to dance around the issue, but somewhere in his head, he believes gay men are less than everyone else. All of the people who use that word are people who think that, unfortunately. He didn’t call him a [gay slur] as a compliment.”

He didn’t, but it’s fair to say that people don’t always take the time to think of the meaning of the words they use before they use them. Still, McGregor is a public figure and is well aware that even though he was speaking privately to a friend, there are plenty of cameras and microphones backstage at a UFC event.

Attitudes need to change to where sexual orientation isn’t an issue and slurs based on it go out of style. The sad reality, though, is that it is going to take a long time to get there. McGregor’s use of the slur was thoughtless, offended many he likely didn’t intend to offend and created a controversy that shouldn’t exist. For that he should apologize.

The UFC has an LGBTQ champion. There are LGBTQ movie stars and performers and athletes and people in every walk of life. We admire them and idolize them for their skill and their talents and for their character as humans.

Words, though, have meaning, and McGregor has far too frequently used the wrong ones. He’s an intelligent and insightful man who needs to be far less flippant and far more careful with what he says.

Everything he says now is news, whether he likes it or not, because of his A-list celebrity.

Hopefully, he’ll use his fame to encourage more acceptance and understanding. If so, at least some good will come of his crass and thoughtless remarks.

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