You may already be familiar with the story of Garrett Holeve but for those like myself who have never heard of him, here is a little of what he is about in a nutshell. He has been training in martial arts for a number of years now with hopes to become a mix martial arts (MMA) competitor. MMA is the sport where two people get into an arena and basically beat the living crap out of each other until one can’t take anymore pummeling or time runs out. Anyway, Holeve has trained to become a competitor and has fought in two exhibition fights. How well he did is out of my analytical skills as I don’t follow the sport, whenever I see it on TV I just think you need more guts than I have to do that. In August of 2013, Holeve was set to have a fight with David Steffan until the Florida Boxing Commission cancelled the event! Did I forget to mention that Holeve has Down Syndrome and Steffan has cerebral Palsy? Do I have your attention now?
The reason for the cancellation seems to be geared toward the fact that both opponents have disabilities and a lawsuit under way to determine that. Regardless of the ruling, it brings up an interesting discussion as to whether this fight should be allowed or not. I will tell you right now that as a person that is wheelchair bound, it pisses me off that it is something being debated because of course the fight should be allowed! Both opponents know what they are going to do, have the cognitive ability to make the decision and are not doing anything illegal, PERIOD. However, to be fair, we need to look at the situation from the commission’s point of view.
Regardless of whether the cancellation was due to the opponents having disabilities or not, the commission has to say that it wasn’t because if it was, it would be an open and shut case of discrimination. So let’s assume that the fight was cancelled because of them having disabilities, the next question is why. Does the commission simply not like people with disabilities? I seriously doubt it! Were they worried about the safety of the fighters? I could see this being part of the reason. It has been, and still is, the societal norm to want to protect “poor, helpless, fragile” people with disabilities. If you have a disability, sorry for making your blood pressure go up. It is very frustrating but it is true, the societal perception is that people with apparent disabilities need to be protected by being told what we can and cannot do. In my opinion, the main reason the fight was cancelled, if it was due to the fighters having disabilities, is P.R. and imagery. Since people with disabilities need protecting, if the commission allowed such a fight, they could be perceived as barbaric. Even if an overwhelming majority of people agreed that the fighters had the right to face each other, if the media decided to portray them as evil, it would be a nightmare for the MMA. We saw this with the person at ESPN who was fired because they used the age-old phrase “chink in the armor” in a headline. How many people actually think that is offensive? But yet someone got fire, and another suspended, because a few people decided to make a big deal over it and the media ran with it so it turned into a big deal. It is because of this that I honestly can’t blame the commission for their decision if it was based on the disability factor. I don’t like it if it was based on the disability factor but if the fight took place and the media decided to demonize it, the MMA would be crucified!
With all that being said and being based on the assumption the fight was cancelled because of disabilities, it is important to note that the commission’s official reason was as a result of the fight being unsanctioned. As I said before, I don’t follow this sport so I don’t know what exactly has to happen to get an event sanctioned. Did the parties attempt to get it sanctioned? If they did, was it approved then cancelled? Are other events never approved but still take place? There are a lot of questions that could sway this story from being discriminatory to being the normal league protocol.
I would like to step away from the legal aspect of this story and look at more of the human side if you will. Almost every story you read about Holeve you will read about how much being part of the MMA community has helped him and given him more self-esteem and what not. While this is absolutely true, I haven’t seen a very good explanation as to why something like this is so beneficial to someone. Different people require different things in order to make them happy, whether or not you have a disability. Some people go through periods of having to search for that thing which is difficult sometimes and for people with disabilities, this can be extremely difficult due to the limitations imposed by the disability. People with disabilities are often told we can do anything we want if we put our mind to it and don’t give up. I honestly can’t stand hearing this. I know it’s supposed to make you feel better and embed the mentality of never give up but for many, this is simply not true. So finding something that you enjoy, gives a sense of fulfillment and you are able to do can be very difficult. Holeve found his something that takes care of all three of those criteria and for that I’m happy for him and happy that his family is supportive instead of overprotective. Some people disagree with him practicing martial arts but I say if it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg, what business is it of mine? Who is anyone to tell someone what they should enjoy, again if it leaves my pocket and leg alone. Besides, how many of us can say we do something that makes us feel fulfilled? If you can, fantastic! But if not, I would have to say he has a pretty big advantage over you.