Kajan Johnson reflects, instructs, offers apology to Tyler Manawaroa

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

This has been a unfortunate week for mixed martial arts.

Thiago Silva was jailed without bail after allegedly threatening to kill his estranged wife, grappling star Pablo Popovitch, and a room full of BJJ students. On Monday a professional fighter in Natal, Brazil was murdered by a police officer, and the next day another fighter in the same city was killed by an unknown assailant.

In less far severe news, Jessica Eye apparently tried to mislead the media and fans about her conditional suspension after testing positive for Marijuana metabolites. And Rashad Evans injured his knee and is out of the UFC 170 co-main event next Saturday.

And earlier this week Canadian TUF member Kajan Johnson expressed outrage over socially unacceptable messages that were found on 10-0 TUF Nations middleweight semifinalist Tyler Manawaroa's Instragram.

Manawaroa deleted the images, which were posted when he was a 17-year-old high school student, and apologized on Facebook.

“I posted a pic on instagram that has offended people,” wrote Manawaroa. “im very sorry !! As you can imagine that was never the intention. .as a dark skinned person myself who has delt with racism all my life ,I was making fun of the stereotype that all dark people go to jail..which is obviously not true….hence the irony…but I will remove it and I apologize for offending you.”

However, the UFC announced that Tyler Manawaroa will not be offered a contract regardless of how it turns out he does on the show.

“The UFC is committed to having an environment that is free from discrimination,” said the official statement from the UFC. “Consequently, UFC has notified Manawaroa that regardless of how far he advances in the completed television series, the organization will not be offering him a contract to compete in the UFC.”

A plaintive Wanamaroa responded, via Facebook.

“Just a question,” he wrote. “Every one in their life has made a bad decision that has offended someone ..if you have apologized and have no intention of ever repeating that bad decision ..and your apology has been rejected. ..what do you do??”

The situation is not a simple one, but to be understood fully, cultural offensiveness has to be seen in context. Manawaroa is dark skinned in a country, Australia, with very few people of African descent. In fact, the largest group of people of African descent in Australia are probably white South Africans.

Maori and aboriginal people in Australia often consider themselves black, and often resonate with black America culture as seen on music, television, and movies.

The differences between Maori and aboriginal, while keenly understood in New Zealand and Australia, are generally only vaguely recognized in the US, Canada, and Europe. This confusion offer illumination into Manawaroa's likely state of mind at 17 when he wrote what he wrote.

This should not destroy his MMA career. And if you take the UFC out of MMA, there is very little in the way of a career left.

A thoughtful Kajan reflected on it all on his personal web site, and offered an apology of his own.

I feel in my heart that it is important to shed some light on this week' earlier events, regarding Tyler Manawaroa's “racist instagram photo.”

The picture was brought to my attention, via twitter by a close friend of mine. Upon seeing this picture, which is simply racist and ignorant at best, I was immediately filled with disgust and upset. Clearly, it hit a nerve very close to home and was very upsetting for me to see. Letting my feelings of upset and outrage get the best of me in that particular moment, I immediately took to twitter, calling Tyler out and referring to him as a racist.

For all the Tyler fans that happen to be upset with me for publicly bringing light to this photo, it's important for you all to know, that this is a serious matter to me. Growing up, I was the only “black” kid in an all white and first nations community. And as such, I was constantly picked on, left out and discriminated against, simply, because of the color of my skin. As many of my loyal fans know I am an advocate for anti racism and campaigning for the war on racism against all people, especially first nations people and the injustice that is being served to them; all of which includes the struggles that members of my family must endure on a daily basis. This is something I value and hold dear to my heart. So, as you can imagine, when I saw the post, my immediate and initial reaction was to call him out. However, it wasn't until later, that it was brought to my attention that the post was made well over a year ago, when Tyler still happened to be in high school. Being young isn't an excuse for this type of ignorance, but now that my mind and heart are no longer clouded by the negative emotions this picture evoked in me, I can honestly agree with the fact that, he was only 17. We all have made mistakes and done things that we may or may not have regretted at that age. I understand now, that the post wasn't intended to hurt people. However, unfortunately, remarks such as these can and will hurt people, regardless of the intent. It's important when working in a non-conformist industry, especially a career in the public eye, that we are cautious as to what we share via social media. Negative things, will eventually come to light through one way or another.

It is my hope, that we all can take away a lesson from this unfortunate event and truly think about how these jokes and comments can affect and hurt other people. Posting something on sensitive topics such as this will inevitably, always be controversial and raise eyebrows. There has been way too much suffering amongst many races in this world over the course of time. We are all aware of the fact, that it is a serious matter and it does affect people in a very negative way; to joke about it, regardless of intent, will not sit well with many people.

All in all, I would like to apologize to Tyler for how I handled this particular situation. As upsetting as it was at the time, I realize there are some things I should have done differently. I never anticipated that his contract would be revoked nor was that my wish for him. Through all of this, I have learned that the next time I am upset, I will take the time to clear the ill feelings before acting on them. As I mentioned earlier, any negative, controversial subject we post via social media, whether it is in the past or present, may come with a consequence. I cannot turn back the hands of time, nor can he. But we can all move forward taking away the lessons learned. Tyler is young and has plenty of time to turn things around with his career. A part of living is learning by making mistakes and growing. That is something we all will and have done along our journey in life. I wish Tyler, nothing but the best in his future.

At the very least the episode  offered a lesson in the consequences of social networking, international race issue, and more.

At Kajan noted accurately, Manawaroa is young, and, now older and wiser hopefully works his way back up to a UFC contract.