* Originally published June 22, 2017.
TRENDING: Whatever you think of the sport he participates in, Conor McGregor is one of Ireland’s most accomplished athletes. A champion in his prime and hot property for advertisers and brand names, he’s hardworking, entertaining, exceptionally talented at tapping into the best ways to sell himself, and he does it all with an over-the-top flair that is rare among his fellow Irish sportsmen and celebrities.
Yet, McGregor is problematic. Apart from the issues I’d see in being paid such extortionate amounts of money for one fight, even with the months of preparation beforehand, the Irish fighter’s problems lie in what may happen before he steps into the ring.
In a recent column for the New York Daily News, civil rights and Black Rights Matter activist Shaun King exposes how the “Irish darling of mixed martial arts” is mainstreaming racism and bigotry by abusing the ethnicities and race of his opponents. King argues that through his actions, McGregor is placing into the public stream of consciousness that it’s OK to refer to Latinos as “cockroaches” or acceptable to refer to Nate Diaz as "a little Cholo gangster from the hood."
“I want to like Conor McGregor,” King writes. “Dude has guts. He doesn't duck or dodge any challenge in the ring. A few years ago he was surviving week-to-week off of welfare checks.”
Where Irish fans begin admitting that Conor McGregor is a bigot who should be held accountable for his racism.https://t.co/4nhJ7614E1— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) July 14, 2017
King’s problem with the Irishman is that he's given a free pass to say whatever he likes – racist, bigoted, or otherwise – without the effect of these words on the world being taken into account.
Known for his brash, over-the-top insults when speaking about, or to, one of his opponents, Conor McGregor has exposed himself as a bigot and everyone seems happy to turn the other cheek for the sake of letting our prized fighter have his moment in the sun.
“See, I don't think McGregor is faking his bigotry come fight time. I think it's most likely a reflection of who he truly is,” King argues.
Why does a country that gets offended if people so much as call us British give one of our biggest stars the right to go around tearing down other people’s cultures, using insults based on disgusting stereotypes and racism, and generally acting with white superiority?
Next on McGregor's schedule is his boxing match with Floyd Mayweather in August. McGregor’s ignorance of the reality of racism in 2017 and the ignorance of his own white privilege on the international stage, despite his less than privileged background, have already shone through.
Last January, Mayweather complained that McGregor received favorable treatment because he’s white. McGregor’s response? Claim that Irish people have been "oppressed our entire existence" and that his whiteness had nothing to do with it.
As a white Irish immigrant, Conor, I can tell you that when you start referring to people as “cockroaches” and claiming that you would “invade his favela on horseback and kill anyone that was not fit to work,” as you did with Brazilian fighter Jose Aldo, your race has everything to do with it.
When you lord it over your opponents and their ethnicities as some warped Irish version of the Aryan race then your Irishness has absolutely everything to do with it.
The Irish have had more than our share of hard times. We have been discriminated against. We’ve been oppressed in our own country, oppressed when we moved to other countries, and everything is still so far from perfect.
Yet, despite my own pride in my nationality and in being Irish, the shame is overwhelming when I see one of our biggest representatives on the global stage attempting to say we have it the hardest because we haven’t.
How many cases have we heard in the past few years of innocent Irishmen being wrongly shot by the police and the cop then walking away completely free of charge? How many times have the Irish been the target of an immigration ban? How many times have our places of worship been destroyed, burnt down, or been the victim of a shooting?
McGregor’s words are not just horrific in the context of this fight because, in reality, he is voicing a well-held opinion among certain sectors of Irish and Irish-American people, those sectors that hold us up against the torturous history of black people in American and declare, completely untruthfully, that we were and are just as oppressed.
The disgusting myth of the white Irish slaves, the ignorance of All Lives Matter, the fact that the US government’s current bigoted administration is so packed with Irish Americans, all fill me with fear of this overwhelming current of Irish people trying to constantly make ourselves out as the victim and wrongly prove that we are the most downcast in society.
King predicts more of the same from McGregor before the big fight later in the summer stating: “In a day and age where we need principled people to speak out on racism, bigotry, and discrimination, Conor McGregor does the exact opposite, instead mainstreaming those things without consequence.”
Maybe it’s a further extension of his white, male privilege. Maybe it’s because, in truth, the brands and their marketing teams simply don’t care if they think they can get away with it, but as one of the biggest and most celebrated sporting stars in the world, Conor McGregor needs to be held accountable and we, as his compatriots, are where it needs to start.