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MMA fighter Shane Young is on a mission to fight bullying and toxic masculinity

Shane Young. Photo/Supplied.

Napier-born, mixed martial artist Shane Young was bullied in his youth and he was also a bully at times. He's calling out the idea that sharing your emotions is weak.

Mixed martial artist and UFC fighter Shane Young is on a mission to make Aotearoa a place where rangatahi feel safe, valued, accepted and supported. 

On Pink Shirt Day, this Friday 17 May, he's wearing a pink shirt to send a clear message to other Māori – we can’t accept bullying and we must stand together as a whānau to prevent it and call it out when we see it.

“I fully tautoko those values. If we are to prevent bullying and heal, we need to lead with love. We need to call it out with aroha. We need to kōrero about it positively and uphold the mana of everyone – including the person doing the bullying.

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“When I was at boarding school I was bullied, and I was also the bully at times. What I know is that anyone who bullies has their own battles and insecurities they are facing. We need to look after them too.

“Bullying happens when we are disconnected from our culture, and when the four pou of our whare are out of whack – our whānau, wairua, tinana, hinengaro and of course, our whenua is at the base of all of that.

“It’s taken me a long time to forgive myself for being a bully – but there’s huge strength in being able to do that.”

The Pink Shirt Day kaupapa is underpinned by three key E Tū Whānau values: kōrero awhi, aroha and mana manaaki.

The big picture

In a recent survey on bullying carried out by ERO, almost 40 percent of students said they had been bullied at school on a weekly or daily basis. The most common type of bullying was being called names, put down or teased.

Many studies show rangatahi who are bullied are more likely to experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

“Too many young Māori are struggling, and I know what that’s like – I went through a rough patch last year and ended up taking a break from UFC. I went home to Napier and reconnected with my Māoritanga and my whānau – it was so healing to just kōrero with them and reflect on why I do what I do.”

Following his break from the UFC, Young came back stronger than ever to win a featherweight fight at UFC 234 in Melbourne.

Post-fight, he spoke to a global audience about the importance of reaching out for help, saying, "it's all good, we don't have to be strong. You can be strong by reaching out".

Pink is for men too

As a prizefighter, Young is considered to be a “manly-man”, but he’s looking forward to challenging what that means by wearing bright pink on 17 May.

“There’s definitely still this idea that pink is a feminine, girly colour, and there’s this toxic masculinity that is so prevalent in Aotearoa – that men can’t share their emotions or that you’re weak if you do – that’s just not true.

“I want to use my platform to do some good in the world and supporting Pink Shirt Day is a kaupapa that can make Aotearoa a safer, kinder place for Māori and for everyone, so I’m behind it 100%.”

Over 18,000 t-shirts have been purchased, sold through Cotton On

Pink Shirt Day began in Canada in 2007 when two students took a stand against homophobic bullying after a fellow student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt.