One was the freedom to inflict pain on his opponent, Nate Diaz. The second was his freedom of speech, and with it, he exercised his freedom of religion.
Henderson is a Christian.
In a nation that was founded on don’t-tell-me-who-to-worship principles, that isn’t a problem with most. The thing is, though, Henderson is a Christian who’s extremely passionate about his beliefs. And as the sports world has witnessed during the Tim Tebow era, if an athlete’s passion is perceived as too in-your-face, then haters begin to hate.
Smooth entered the octagon on Saturday night to a genre, Christian hip-hop, that’s a stranger to UFC walkout music. And after it began to play, Henderson’s go-to pump-up song began to trend on Twitter.
Reid Forgrave of Fox Sports reacted to and identified the track.
Respect to a fighter who walks out to meaningful song. That's Benson Henderson, walking out to gospel...R. Swift, "Awesome God."— Reid Forgerave (@ReidForgrave) December 9, 2012
It doesn’t get much more in your face than blasting "Awesome God" through the KeyArena speakers. But for crying out loud, it’s a remake of a children’s song. Even the most anti-religious can’t scour at that—and the vast majority of reactions to Henderson’s walkout music couldn’t have been more positive.
After he defeated Diaz by unanimous decision, though, Henderson wasn’t finished exercising of his freedom.
Forgrave reported that the fighter’s victory cry proclaimed, “Seattle! Key Arena! I can do all things through Christ!”
In the post-fight press conference, he addressed his faith and said (via Fox Sports): “For me it’s more a daily walk. It’s what I do every day, not putting on a show. It’s more about your daily walk with the Lord. I’m not afraid to wear it on my sleeve.”
And when athletes aren’t afraid to wear their faith on their sleeve, critics pour in like Niagara Falls.
Even Kurt Warner, a self-professing Christian, advised Tebow to tone down his I love Jesus declarations. Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic reported that Warner said:
There's almost a faith cliche, where (athletes) come out and say, "I want to thank my Lord and savior." As soon as you say that, the guard goes up, the walls go up, and I came to realize you have to be more strategic.
That was pretty much a response to Jake Plummer’s comments on Tebow earlier that week who, according to Nate Davis of the USA Today, said:
I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I'll like him even better. I don't hate him because of that. I just would rather not have to hear that every single time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff.
Henderson is loved now. But in today’s easily-offended society, will his non-Christian audience eventually become turned off by his faith like Tebow’s? It all depends how often and to what extent he wears it on his sleeve.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.