In a story that felt as though it did not get near the attention it deserved this past Tuesday, former UFC Champion Ronda Rousey made an appearance on The Ellen Degeneres Show and produced an admittance that no one expected.
How could someone at the height of their celebrity, beloved by both the media and the public, consider ending their life after nothing more than losing one fight?
“Honestly, my thought in the medical room, I was sitting in the corner and was like, ‘What am I anymore if I’m not this?'” said Rousey, as she fought back tears. “Literally sitting there thinking about killing myself. In that exact second, I’m like, ‘I’m nothing. What do I do anymore? No one gives a s— about me anymore without this.'”
Every time I read that quote, I find myself absolutely floored.
Professional athletes at the height of their sport are essentially a different species than you and I. It is not only their physical gifts that separate them from the laymen, but the unimaginable intensity in the way they approach their craft. This force can manifest itself in emotional extremes.
At the risk of sounding cliche, these athletes abhor losing far more than they revel in victory.
When you couple these fervent personalities with the immense amount of scrutiny athletes face in the age of 24-hour news cycles and the ever-present social media, we, as viewers, experience an athlete’s lowest professional moments without feeling a modicum of their despair. What is worse, we are afforded the opportunity to make our own commentary and attack them personally for disappointing us via Twitter or the comments section of YouTube.
Rousey presents the latest example of viewing athletes as novelties instead of as emotional human beings.
True, what they have chosen to do for a living is as much for our entertainment as it is a necessity for them to serve as their sense of self-fulfillment. But when a UFC fighter like Rousey, an individual that has made a career out of bludgeoning others in the ring, gives us such a stunning moment of vulnerability, it should strike a much deeper cord in society than it did this week.
“To be honest, I looked up and I saw my man Travis (MMA Fighter Travis Brown) standing there and I looked up at him, and I was just like: ‘I need to have his babies. I need to stay alive.’”
In the months before her loss, Rousey had become a star. She played herself in a semi-major role in this summer’s Entourage movie and made playful media appearances on shows like SportsCenter, teaching anchor Lindsay Czarniak and ESPN MLB Insider Tim Kurkjian how to do an armbar.
We, as the public, fawned over her for months and her first thoughts after her loss that she was now, “nothing.”
I will admit that that was my initial reaction, as well.
To me, she had lost her marketability in terms of popularizing Women’s UFC; her personality was, and is, twice that of Holly Holm, but she was no longer undefeated. What appeal could there be for her now?
It serves as a reminder of how painfully aware athletes are of how short their windows of opportunity can be and how callous the consumers and commentators of sports are.
No one understands what puzzling things getting knocked out can do to a fighter’s mindset, besides the competitors themselves. They, previously, have known nothing but winning and the public’s affections and, in an instant, they feel completely alone.
The Rousey/Holm rematch has already been confirmed in what will surely be must-see television for even those without interest in UFC.
The winner will, no doubt, be celebrated, while the loser will be spurned. That is the business they are in.
Those of us watching should bear in mind that, for both the victory and the defeated, the results hold implications that we cannot possibly hope to understand.