The ultimate Fighting Championship may be best known for takedowns, tapouts, and technical knockouts, but the mixed martial arts organization is working hard to become a heavy hitter in the world of HIV education as well.
Last fall the UFC partnered with the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada for a new HIV awareness campaign titled Protect Yourself at All Times. The campaign, designed to specifically raise awareness of the virus among people under 30, rolled out in the weeks leading up to World AIDS Day.
UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin says that when he first heard about the campaign he wanted to get involved, but he became further motivated after learning about high HIV infection rates among young people.
“I grew up in a different era,” Griffin says. “People were definitely afraid of HIV back then, but education also helped change the way we thought about the disease. That education helped my generation make smarter choices about the way we protected ourselves. I was surprised to learn HIV infection rates were on the rise in young people, and I wanted to help change that.”
Griffin, who is one of the spokesmen for the campaign, says complacency about HIV is an undeniable contributor to the rise in infections among young Americans. “People don’t talk about HIV like they used to,” he says. “Because fear of the disease has lapsed, we’ve sort of forgotten about it. But HIV is still out there, and we’ve got to instill the importance of protecting yourself in a generation who didn’t see the terrible effects of the disease in the ’80s and ’90s.”
As a part of the Protect Yourself at All Times campaign, several UFC athletes and personalities have flexed their advocacy muscles by visiting centers around the nation that offer free HIV tests and educational initiatives. Public service announcements across a variety of media are also in the works, and the UFC will fully support the Nevada center’s LGBTQ+ program, which offers free HIV tests in and around Las Vegas.
In addition to pushing HIV awareness, Griffin also views the UFC’s partnership with an LGBT organization as an opportunity to fight homophobia in sports. “I think any place people can be themselves is a good thing,” Griffin says. “I went to the groundbreaking of the center years ago, and I’ve been the UFC’s representative at many events there. I’ve met so many cool people at the center over the years, and if my involvement in this can help open people’s mind, even better.”