"If you're born and your leg was turned this way, what do you do? You go to the doctor and you get it fixed back right, right?"
- Evander Holyfield equating homosexuality with having a deformed leg
As a former boxing reporter and huge fan of the sport, it is impossible for me not to respect Evander Holyfield. The Alabama born boxer literally fought wars in the ring, going toe to toe with men far bigger and stronger than himself. Holyfield used his superior conditioning and extraordinary will to win, overcoming incredible odds to become one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. A great warrior inside the ring, Holyfied is widely regarded as a gentle, kind man outside of it. Holyfield famously forgave Mike Tyson for biting his ear off during their bout in 1997, and has spent a great deal of time working for various charitable causes (the latest being an anti bullying campaign he got behind given his own experience of being bullied for not being able to read as a child).
While Holyfield may be a warrior and a charitable person, he's not exactly a social progressive. On the U.K.'s 457906th 13th season of Celebrity Big Brother, the former heavyweight champ made some pretty offensive remarks about homosexuals to another contestant Luisa Zissman. When Zissman asked him if there were any openly gay boxers, Holyfield told her: "That ain’t normal!... The Bible lets you know what’s wrong and what’s right.” He then somewhat bizarrely, made the comparison between homosexuality and having a backwards leg.
Here's the exchange:
There has been a huge outcry in the UK about Holyfield's remarks, with call for him to be thrown off the show for homophobia. In an official statement the producers of the show told viewers that Holyfield had been warned about his comments, saying that "the producers of Big Brother will continue to monitor this and will take further appropriate action should a similar matter arise again.”
Homophobia is a very real and serious problem in our culture, on par with racism, sexism and all other forms of bigotry. Yet sadly much of society still believes homosexuality is a choice and therefore open to criticize, ridicule and denigrate. As Mary Beth William at Salon.com stated: "Apparently this still needs to be said in 2014: Stop telling gay people to just stop being gay. This means you, Evander Holyfield."
While Holyfied deserves a public shellacking, much of the outrage has predictably gone into overdrive with a possible inquiry set to happen by the UK's broadcasting regulator, Ofcom. The Daily Mirror's TV critic Ian Hyland tweeted that Channel 5 had "bottled it" by not kicking Holyfield off the show, and gay rights groups around the world are up in arms.
All of which will result in absolutely nothing, other that a lot of feel good outrage over someone whose opinion doesn't matter in the slightest.
Why anyone thought a barely educated, deeply religious, 51 year old boxer who was born into grinding poverty in the segregated deep south wouldn't be homophobic is completely beyond me. Getting angry with Evander Holyfield is like getting angry with your 85 year old grandfather who still thinks women should stay in the kitchen and whichever immigrant group arrived last are responsible for all the country's problems. Sure Holyfield thinks being gay is 'a sin', but in all seriousness, who cares what he thinks? After all, this is a man who believes God is personally invested in the outcome of a multi million dollar pay-per-view boxing bout.
The producers of Celebrity Big Brother knew the type of views he holds, and that's exactly why they booked Evander Holyfield. Reality TV works only if there's conflict, and putting a fundamentalist Christian boxer from Alabama in a house full of young celebrities was a virtual guarantee that something would kick off. The former boxer's comments did nothing other than create more attention for the show in a time when it should be about as culturally relevant as Holyfield's views on gay rights issues.