Football, Fighting and Florence Foster Jenkins

by Emily Carson

Photo Courtesy of Twitter

At the 74th annual Golden Globes this January, actress Meryl Streep was honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.”

Streep used her platform to discuss several topics, from criticizing then president-elect Donald Trump to advocating for freedom of the press. But, when Streep was mentioning the diverse backgrounds of everyone in the room that night, one particularly contentious line grabbed people’s attention.

“So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners,” Streep said. “And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”

Many of Streep’s fellow celebrities praised her for speaking to the nation about difficult topics. The sports community, however, disagreed.

Now, Streep is correct. Technically, football and MMA are not “the arts”, even though MMA has the word in the name. They’re sports many people enjoy, as evidenced by the backlash from the media.

UFC President Dana White defended MMA and said she did not expect “an uppity 80-year-old lady to be in our demographic and love mixed martial arts. Of course it’s an art.”

White said MMA fighters “train their whole lives to be the best in the world.”

“To say something stupid like that is like saying, ‘She’s not a talented actress,’ which she is,” White said. “She’s a very talented actress.”

Other MMA fans hopped on the bandwagon to defend their sport..

“Ok, but actually, MMA is as international as Hollywood,” said Kerry Howley in a tweet. The author of Thrown, a book about MMA fighters that took three years to research, was offended at Streep’s insinuation that MMA is not diverse.

“Of course, if you expelled foreigners from the country you would destroy MMA, which is as Brazilian as it American—and Irish and Japanese and Russian and Korean and Belgian,” said Howley.

The football world was not as vocal, but several notable people chose to respond. Former NFL defensive lineman Tony Siragusa tweeted a long message criticizing Streep, called her a joke and said that unlike actors, athletes are “real people.”

“Meryl Streep missed a great game,” said author David French in a tweet after Clemson University beat the University of Alabama in the hotly contested College Football Playoff Championship game.

Streep and Hollywood were both criticized for being “out of touch” with the rest of the world. Tomi Lahren, a conservative host on TheBlaze, said in a tweet, “these Hollywood elites wouldn't know average, every day hard-working Americans if we bit them in the ass. #GoldenGlobes.”

Elitism seems to thrive at both ends of the spectrum. The National Football League’s revenues for 2015 were $12 billion, compared to the film industry’s revenues of $11 billion in North America. Cristiano Ronaldo, the highest-paid athlete in the world, made $88 million last year, compared to Dwayne Johnson, who as the highest-paid actor last year made $64 million.

Hollywood and sports aren’t two completely different worlds. Instead, a casual glance into some of the most successful movies in Hollywood history would suggest a love of football and MMA.

Many movies and TV shows have been centered around football: Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights, Jerry Maguire, The Blind Side, Rudy, Varsity Blues, Any Given Sunday and the list goes on. Several of these movies, such as The Blind Side, Undefeated and Jerry Maguire, have won Academy Awards and Golden Globes. And movies about MMA, or fighting: Fight Club, Warrior, Southpaw, the Rocky series, Mortal Kombat or any Bruce Lee movie hold notable spots in America’s film culture.

The special thing about these movies is that it isn’t just football fans and MMA fans watching. Movies can attract all demographics, regardless of the subject matter. People from different backgrounds gravitate to different sports movies for various reasons, aside from their sports focus.

There can be beauty and art in sports. There can be athleticism depicted in movies. You can love both sports and the arts; you don’t have to choose. We are a nation of not only diverse nationalities and ethnicities, but of diverse opinions and taste.

Movies have the power to bring people together, to help them forget about life for a while and focus on something else besides their worries. This is why the arts are so important. But it’s just as important to realize that people love sports for the same reasons listed above. And those loves shouldn’t have to be mutually exclusive.