Garrett Holeve is a role model. At five feet tall and 140 pounds he is a compact ball of muscle. He works out hard everyday, putting up crazy push up and pull up numbers, jumping rope and sparring. Garrett, like many other twenty-three-year-olds, wants to fight Mixed Martial Arts. Nothing unusual about that.
What some are making an issue of is the fact that Garrett has Down syndrome. Never mind that his dad trains with him and he's lost weight and gained confidence. Never mind that he is in better shape than 90% of the population, when people with Down syndrome tend to be overweight. Never mind that he is encouraging a virtually unseen and unheard minority to literally fight for their acceptance. The focus for the naysayers is his Down syndrome.
When we should be applauding (and many are) his efforts, there are a vocal few that find it appalling that a fighter with Down syndrome is even allowed to exist. Because, aren't they all just sweet, chunky bundles of love? Barf.
I get not liking MMA. It's bloody and brutal. It leads to injuries, some serious.
But, those facts are true for everyone who enters the octagon.
If the fighters have medical clearance, what is the issue?
We are not talking about turn of the century side show attractions, here. We are talking about men who have worked for months and years, only to be turned away at the last minute. Literally, the State of Florida stepped in five minutes before last weekend's bout, which Garrett and his opponent had trained hours a day for weeks for.
That is just cruel.
And Bryant Gumbel is right. He doesn't get it. He doesn't get that it's not about having a disability, it's about doing what you love.
Gumbel says that these fighters might not understand the long term risks. As if their loved ones didn't talk to them about what those might be.
And from another angle, do high school or college football players fully appreciate what the long term effect might be from years of cracking helmets with their opponents? Maybe, but most likely not.
And Gumbel and the other naysayers don't get that this is not meant to be a freak show. If he sees it that way, that is his problem and he needs to do some soul searching about it. It is merely about a man who has a dream and that dream is being squashed out of prejudice masquerading as concern.
Garrett is not a pitbull at the mercy of cruel handlers. Garrett is a full participant in his own life. And he wants to be a fighter. Who are we to say no?
If Gumbel is truly concerned about the welfare of people with disabilities, maybe he should help to expose the horrific conditions that people with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy live in today, right now, around the world.
Don't pick on Garrett Holeve and David Steffin in the name of outrage. Pick on those that don't see these men as capable of making their own choices.
Check out Garrett's ESPN feature here: http://www.garrettsfight.org/ and judge for yourself.