“And I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself.”
Those are the words Ronda Rousey delivered through tears to Ellen DeGeneres, a nationally televised moment that made its way through social media channels over the next few weeks to mixed reactions.
It should have been a chance for sports fans to sympathize, to understand that the same sports that are entertainment for us is an entire life for them, a hobby they have passionately built a career and reputation off of.
We could have talked about the frightening volume of depression and suicide cases in sports all around, or the importance of being more educated and empathetic about the effects the illness has on people.
It was a statement that should have been eye-opening, and it was—but not just to depression. It was a disappointing insight into the MMA fandom.
It showed us that the majority of sports fans are not willing to put entertainment aside and consider athletes as humans—that most would rather literally hate a sportsman or sportswoman to death than admit they have more value than just what they contribute to athletics.
“She needs to learn how to lose,” WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar stated—it should be noted that Lesnar makes a living by only pretending to fight other wrestlers.
The internet community gave her a much more difficult time than he did. Bloggers and commenters shamed Rousey for admitting her suicidal thoughts, calling her “weak,” a “disgrace to the sport,” and of course adding a barrage of rampant sexism as icing to the cake.
Never should an athlete have to come out and say, as Rousey did this past week, “[suicide] is not something like a weakness we should condemn.”
Ronda went on to mention that her father committed suicide, and his father before him. Depression runs in her family, and she is determined to let others suffering from the illness know that they have nothing to be ashamed of.
It is upsetting that anyone should have to tell us that in the first place.
We would not condemn somebody with a deadly physical ailment like cancer, so why are there so many sports fans criticizing Rousey for something equally uncontrollable?
Depression is lethal. It does not take the lives of weak people; it turns routine thought processes into mental torture, ruins lives and destroys motivation. Sometimes death feels like the only way out—not the easy way out.
For Rousey, someone who has spoken about depression long before her loss to Holly Holm, that thought crossed her mind at an inevitably low point in her life. The MMA is where Rousey finds her escape, where she gets to forget about everything and just pummel the crap out of an opponent.
It is understandable, then, that her first ever loss pushed her so close to the edge. It is only human to be competitive, and no professional athlete in history has ever enjoyed being defeated.
Certainly there have been other fighters that have felt the same way, too, they just haven’t been so outspoken about it. That is a testament to Ronda’s strength, not a sign of weakness.
Ronda is capable of beating up just about anyone. But she also feels. And she’s tough enough to face a camera and admit it in front of the world.
As sports fans, if we continue to demand that our pro athletes be more than just athletes—that they establish themselves as role models in a celebrity-obsessed culture, then we must take it a further level and be more than fans. We have to care.
If we expect Ronda to stay involved with the community, then we should also expect the community to stay supportive of her. That doesn’t mean everyone has to become a Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey fan, but it does mean respecting her as a human life, and not as entertainment.
Anyone who does not agree with that is the real disgrace to the sport.