With the annual BBC Sports Personality of the Year event upon us, the focus of the media is on recently crowned British heavyweight world champion, Tyson Fury, who is up for the award this year. After taking the belts from Wladimir Klitschko in Germany, on the back of an impressive unanimous points victory, Fury soon found himself embroiled in controversy over remarks he made to the Daily Mail’s Oliver Holt during a sit down interview.
Fury, citing the bible, claimed, “There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the Devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedophilia.” He also, in another interview, declaimed that a “woman belongs in the kitchen and on her back.”
Inevitably, and rightly, the 27 year self-styled ‘Gypsy Warrior’ has been the subject of fierce criticism across the media as a result. A petition was organised to force the BBC to revoke his entry for sports personality of the year, garnering over 80,000 signatures. In addition Labour’s Chris Bryant made a statement in the Commons denouncing Fury’s homophobic views, inviting him to come to Parliament to explain them in person.
In the face of the criticism that’s been leveled at him, Fury has sought to make a distinction between what he believes and what’s contained in scripture. He maintains that he doesn’t believe homosexuals are bad people or that there is any connection between homosexuality and paedophilia; that all he was doing was quoting the bible.
This though is clearly not good enough. Either he believes such nonsense or he doesn’t. Citing the bible or hiding behind religion to justify bigotry doesn’t give him a get out of jail card.
In 2015 there is no justification for either homophobia or sexism. However, as I wrote recently in my Morning Star boxing column on the subject, Fury’s ignorance on these issues is more a product of cultural impoverishment than mendacity. A proud member of the much maligned Traveller Community, the primitive nature of his views are a reflection of the primitive culture to which Travellers are devoted. Within it a rigid masculine code prevails, wherein physical toughness and masculinity are considered two sides of the same coin. It is a culture within a culture, one which brooks no dalliance with liberal values and enlightened views on issues of gender or sexuality.
Regardless of the fact he is a product of his environment and background, Tyson Fury’s view are still unacceptable and should be opposed. Ironically, due to the petition and campaign to have him dropped from this year’s BBC SPOTY, there is a strong chance he may win, as many who normally never vote on the award will inevitably do so this year for Fury out of a misguided motive of giving a two finger salute to political correctness. Here the defence mounted on Fury’s behalf by people within boxing has been extremely disappointing. Just consider the teenagers who may be struggling with their sexuality right now. Some could well be fans of boxing, and indeed even be considering taking up the sport. To hear the heavyweight world champion associate their sexual preference with something evil and bad could play havoc with a self esteem that is already under assault.
Anyone reading Donald McCrae’s excellent biography of the legendary fighter Emile Griffith, A Man’s World, will know that being gay is no debarment to becoming a professional fighter, even a world champion. Griffith was gay at a time in US history, in the fifties and sixties, when it was a criminal offence. Despite being a world champion, he was forced to hide his sexuality and lead a double life. The fact he was also black didn’t exactly help matters.
Griffith is renowned for the fight he had against Cuba’s Benny Paret in 1962. At the weigh in prior to the fight, Paret patted Griffith on the bum and called him a “maricon” (faggot). Griffith entered the ring determined to make him pay for the insult. Tragically, the punishment he dished out resulted in the Cuban going into a coma from which he never emerged. He died a few days after the fight, prompting Griffith to say many years later: “I kill a man and most people forgive me. However, I love a man and many say this makes me an evil person.”
Since Griffiths’ era society has come a long way in ensuring that rather than the victims of homophobia being forced to exist in the shadows of society, it is increasingly the homophobes and bigots that feel the need to.
Fury would do well to read something more challenging than the bible from time to time. I recommend he study the history of the Holocaust. Then he will see that Hitler sent to the gas chambers not only Jews, and not only Gypsies, but also gays. Such a history of shared oppression is the basis for solidarity rather than prejudice.
The BBC has made a mistake in not responding to the campaign to have Tyson Fury dropped from the event. Gay people and women pay the license fee also. Why then should they be required to help fund an event promoting someone who considers them second class citizens?