The UFC lightweight interim title contender gave his thoughts on the intersection of politics and athletics in the US today.
As the conversation around peaceful protest in the US continues to evolve, athletes across the country have found themselves as major focal points in the narrative. Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem at NFL games last season, as a protest of police brutality, has spread around the league in 2017 and pushed many athletes into public conversations about race and patriotism.
During a recent media lunch ahead of UFC 216, headline fighter Kevin Lee took the opportunity to discuss his own feelings on the NFL protests and athletes in other sports who have made public statements. Most particularly he highlighted Lebron James, who has been vocal in his support for the protests and vocal in his dissatisfaction with president Donald Trump.
“I really had to take my hat off to Lebron James,” Lee told the assembled press. “I seen his whole press conference, had so much respect for him for that. Just because they could crush the man. When you don’t have to do that, and he stood up the way that he did, it’s just a big inspiration for me, especially as a black athlete. For some reason, everybody wants to shy away from it. That’s just what I am, and that’s what the kids that are looking up to me… I’m trying to show them – we came from the same situation – with a little bit of face punching, little bit of hard work, little bit of dedication, s—t can be different.
“Now, to me, the way to solve it is to change those kids’ minds,” Lee continued. “Like I said, I started this hashtag #25toLife, because when I was growing up I was never a bad kid, but I always thought, for some reason, that I’d be in jail at this time, that I’d be doing 25 years. For no… It’s just the way that my mindset was. So I want to change that and say that you can be a world champion at 25. And really, a gold belt don’t make a difference in it. You can think like a champion even when you’re 19 years old. And that’s what I try to bring to my brothers, that’s what I try to bring to the kids that grew up like me too.
“So, for somebody like Lebron James, who’s already been there, done there. That man got a billion dollars. He got enough money to run a country. And for him to stand up for the little folks, I really had to give him, my hat’s off to him. I just wish that my voice was a little bit bigger. I think with that gold belt around my waist, it will be. So, we’ll see.”
When asked if Lee had spoken to any other fighters on the UFC roster about the protests and their response to them, he shook his head. “No, but we should,” Lee responded.
“Look, at the end of the day, the real important thing is creating a dialogue,” Lee said. “You know, getting people to talk about it. It’s crazy that I can’t think of no other protest that gets backlash, you know what I mean? Nobody comes out against breast cancer awareness and say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be standing up for this. Oh, you shouldn’t be standing up for that.’ The fact that people are standing up against a protest, it’s kinda proof in itself that s—t ain’t right. That we need to keep having these talks and keep having these dialogues. And I think that’s all that people are really trying to do, is create that.
“And to have somebody like… I ain’t even gonna say that, because then I’ll be… No f—k it. To have somebody like the president, that people look up to, to have him creating a rift between people just don’t make sense. It’s ridiculous.”
Kevin Lee is set to face Tony Ferguson in the main event of UFC 216 on October 7th in Las Vegas, NV. Demetrious Johnson will take on Ray Borg in the co-main event for the 11th defense of his flyweight title.