Respected figures in the U.S., such as actors, scientists, athletes, musicians, etc all play an important role in progress. Given their platform and the number of people they impact, they all have an especially important responsibility to speak out thoughtfully so that we can all work to make the world a better place. As of late, many figures have used their air time to criticize President Donald Trump as America enters into a confusing and concerning new era of politics. Actress Meryl Streep is among these critics. At the Golden Globe Awards, Streep was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award, which recognizes individuals for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” During her acceptance speech, Streep seized the opportunity to criticize President Trump. While this has not been an unusual thing to do, somewhere along the way Streep also decided to criticize the National Football League (NFL) and mixed martial arts (MMA). After listing many celebrities who come from countries outside the United States, Streep said, “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if you kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are NOT the arts.”
Streep’s comments sparked criticism from many fans of the NFL and MMA. Several figures from the MMA community responded to Streep’s comments, including some UFC executives. In an interview with TMZ Sports, UFC president Dana White responded, defending the sport and calling Streep out for taking a cheap shot at MMA.
“It’s not gonna be everybody’s thing,” said White, “and the last thing I expect is an uppity 80-year-old lady to be in our demographic and love MMA.”
White continued, “I’m not a big fan of golf, doesn’t mean people should stop watching it. If you don’t like it, change the channel.”
The NFL made no official comment in response to Streep. Why not? I’d have to imagine this is because the NFL is aware of their enormous presence and popularity. The NFL does not feel threatened by Streep’s comments. To put this in perspective, compare the viewership between Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes and the NFL wildcard game that was occurring at the same time. While an estimated 20.02 million viewers tuned in to hear Streep criticize football, the NFL boasted an audience of 34.28 million people watching the Packers-Giants game. Think about that. Fourteen million more people chose to watch Eli Manning throw a ball around than watch Streep receive an lifetime achievement award.
That many more people would rather watch Odell Beckham drop passes than watch a collection of world-famous actors gather to stroke one another’s egos. And this wildcard audience pales in comparison to the number of people who will tune in to watch the Super Bowl, which is sure to be well over 100 million as it has been for the last seven years. Over five times more people will watch Tom Brady win his fifth championship ring (yep, that’s mine and the official Hilltop Monitor pick) for playing a freakin’ GAME than they did to see an awards ceremony for Hollywood big shots.
I’m not done. Let’s put that into even further perspective. The Super Bowl has never once dipped below 39.12 million viewers, still almost double the audience for the 2017 Golden Globes.
AND that Super Bowl was in 1968, before the AFL and NFL had even merged.
AND this does not even account for the fact that only 16.4 American households owned a television in 1968 versus the 26.5 million who owned a television today.
None of this is to belittle Meryl Streep’s outstanding career. She has distinguished herself as one of the greatest actors of our time and was very well-deserving of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, one of the most prestigious awards given for acting. All I’m saying is that Streep should acknowledge the overwhelming presence and popularity of both the NFL and MMA in American culture before taking a cheap shot at the sports as if they are lesser than filmmaking. Regardless, the most ill-informed part of Streep’s comments were her thoughts that football and mixed martial ARTS are “not the arts.” This reveals a severe lack of understanding of both sports.
Have you seen Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey or any other of the world’s top MMA fighters compete? It takes an incredible amount of skill, both physically and mentally, just to keep from getting dominated. It takes even more skill, strategy and grace to become a world-renowned fighter like any of the aforementioned fighters.
When it comes to football, I don’t know if Streep has watched an NFL game lately, but the game becomes more and more complex and nuanced every year. Coaches pour hours into watching film, creating playbooks and game-planning in order to be competitive. I would like to see Meryl Streep sit in on a coaches meeting with Bill Belichick or Andy Reid and still tell me that football is not artful. Streep does not understand the expertise that is required to analyze coverage and run an option- route like Julio Jones. She does not understand the vision that is required to be a patient runner and find an opening in the line like Leveon Bell does. She does not understand the technique and quick-thinking required to step up in the pocket and extend the play like Aaron Rodgers. And she does not understand the intelligence and mastery required to make effective adjustments at the line of scrimmage like NFL greats such as Tom Brady. Then again, to be fair, I’m not sure any of us really understand how Tom Brady does what he does.
Streep’s comments about football and MMA were ill-advised, ignorant and plain false. However, I think it all just comes down to a simple lack of understanding, and that goes for both sides. To be fair, I’m sure athletes and sports fans would appreciate filmmaking more if they were to spend some time on set. The truly unfortunate thing about Streep’s comments on sports were that they overshadowed her comments on politics. Streep had important things to say about the current political climate in the U.S., and coming from a respectable figure such as herself, they certainly would have been more impactful had she not decided to belittle two sports loved by millions. Instead, Streep’s comments contributed to the perception that Hollywood stars are arrogant, hypocritical and out of touch. UFC referee John McCarthy is among the millions who feel this way, as he expressed his opinion in a tweet:
Meryl Streep how ignorant are u. In your speech you stated "Disrespect invites disrespect" yet you ignorantly disrespected an entire sport.
— Big John McCarthy (@JohnMcCarthyMMA) January 9, 2017
Streep’s cheap shot at the NFL and MMA accomplished little other than fueling contempt for opinionated Hollywood stars. If anything, her comments serve as a clear example of a mutual lack of understanding that currently infects the U.S. If the divides in the U.S. are to be healed, all sides must come to a better understanding of one another and avoid delegitimizing the different activities, cultures and lifestyles that make the United States such an incredible country to live in. Whether you want to call it art or not, you can bet you bottom dollar I, along with 100+ million others, will be sitting down this Sunday to watch the Super Bowl, the greatest display of competition American sports have to offer. How barbaric of us.