Dispelling the mischaracterizations of Fallon Fox
If Brett Atchley could transmit sweat by phone, there would have been a fine film covering the earpierce. It was that kind of a day, the kind of hectic that one imagines could only be experienced by the agent of a transgender mixed martial arts fighter who just outed herself and was now trying to salvage her career.
It sure didn't seem fair.
Less than a week ago, Fallon Fox was living her life the way she no doubt envisioned, as the woman she always felt she was born to be, enjoying and excelling in her sport as a fledgling pro at age 37. The next thing she knew, she was huddling with Atchley and his lawyer trying to figure out through whom and how they were going to tell the world that, before 2006, she was a man.
Earlier Wednesday, Fox's fight promoter described her as "heartbroken" at the series of events following her knockout of Ericka Newsome 39 seconds into their bout in Coral Gables, Fla., on Saturday night. Jorge De La Nova, CEO for Championship Fighting Alliance, said Fox called him Sunday morning and apologized.
I'd go to the gym for the last six years and everyone treated me as a woman. I didn't want to have to go around and tell everyone different.Fallon Fox, MMA fighter
"Jorge," Fox told him, "I'd go to the gym for the last six years and everyone treated me as a woman. I didn't want to have to go around and tell everyone different."
De La Nova said he never knew about Fox's past. Atchley did and said he expected this day would come, but not necessarily in the way it did, when a "rogue reporter," as he put it, who knew Fox from her previous life, began nosing around and asking questions after the fight. Atchley decided to go to another reporter, a longtime friend who writes for SI.com, and tell her that Fox had undergone gender reassignment surgery more than six years earlier.
They certainly should have expected the firestorm that followed, but De La Nova said he was a bit overwhelmed as calls from other fighters flooded his office.
"It has gotten to the point where some are saying, 'I'm fighting her in the next round. Am I fighting a male or female? What's the deal?'" De La Nova said.
By late Wednesday, according to Atchley, Fox had steeled herself and was "focused" on how to tell people her intentions. Or perhaps, better stated, what they are not.
"People are focusing on the MMA part," Atchley said, "but to those of us inside her circle, the fact that she's an MMA fighter is not important."
What was important, they said, was to somehow correct the mischaracterizations.
"The contention for Fallon seems to be people characterizing her as dishonest and manipulating, that she somehow manifested her destiny by saying, 'I'm going to have this operation and then I'm going to be a fighter and world champion,'" Atchley said. "I just posed this to [someone], that if a physician walked up to you and said, 'I'm going to remove your testicles and penis and this will take care of your cancer, what would you choose?' He said it was a perplexing question. I said I knew what I'd choose. I'd take my chances against cancer. So the idea that she has an agenda [is ridiculous]."
The inner circle strategized, and what they came up with was that Fox would not do any more interviews until this weekend "on a major national platform," according to Atchley, which will amount to a cable news channel's Saturday morning programming.
Unfortunately, the task of educating people in a culture that still largely does not grasp the possibility that there are those among us born with certain predispositions over which they have no control will not be easy.
Foremost is this notion that it is unfair, because some would believe Fox's opponents are still fighting against a man. And even in the medical community, you will receive different opinions. There are those who say estrogen therapy diminishes testosterone levels after about one year, and there is no evidence to suggest that transitioned athletes would be at an advantage or disadvantage over those non-transitioned men and women. Others contend that genetic testing will always detect birth gender and muscle mass, depending on the sport and age of the athlete, could be an advantage for someone like Fox.
While the Florida and California boxing commissions decide whether Fox's license application is valid, De La Nova said he has no doubts about Fox, who is 5-0 as a professional, with all of her victories coming in the first round.
"As a promoter, obviously everyone who comes into my office, what I see is a fighter," he said. "I don't ask anyone what their sexual preference is. What they do with their personal life is not my business. She's a sweet girl. ... And where we stand as a company is that she's a female. She has her [boxing] license in Illinois. She has an Illinois driver's license [as a female]. She's a female, and she's definitely a fighter. I just don't see how anybody can revoke her license."
But just as Fox's team tries to make their case, Newsome's coach and manager is furious, "and not about what you think I am."
Matt Hambleton is petitioning the Florida State Athletic Commission on several grounds, contending Saturday's fight was stopped too soon. But he is far angrier at what he calls a series of deceptions by Fox and Atchley, as well as careless screening by the Florida and California commissions that allowed Fox to compete against his fighter without a valid license or medical clearance.
"Here's a person who lies on their application -- by saying you're a healthy female with a normal menstrual cycle, you're lying -- who says she has a license when she doesn't," Hambleton said. "It doesn't matter to me what background you come from, whether you're black, white, gay, straight or transgender. When you step into the ring against one of my athletes with no medical clearance, you're endangering my athlete, every other fighter out there and hurting the sport you say you love.
"And now," he added, "I think she's playing the woe-is-me card."
Atchley said Fox's lasting emotion Wednesday was "positive or negative, a great sense of relief."
"Anyone knows when you carry something around and can't talk about it, you will deteriorate mentally, physically and emotionally," he said. "That, in and of itself, makes this a relief. She's dealing with what came around."
And odds are she has guaranteed she will continue to deal with it.