Too often, the daily workings of a sportswriter are not sexy or glamorous.
We all have a responsibility to report the news fairly and objectively. Many of us, “have gone to great lengths, overcome great obstacles – and, too often, made great and horrific sacrifices – to ensure that the news was reported quickly, accurately and honestly.” This quote taken directly from the Associated Press statement of news values and principles.
These values that we hold true, lately, are being held hostage by certain sports affiliates and powerful interests. Dana White is no exception. In the time spent writing, promoting rather, about combat sports, White has instilled a fear factor of reporting such stories in the full interest of journalistic integrity. Many writers and reporters feel that reporting these stories, in their fullest form, would be detrimental to one’s career. White has the actual ability to pull journalists credentials for writing something disagreeable. Example: White’s removal of, now ESPN’s, Ariel Helwani from UFC 199 in 2016, for reporting Brock Lesnar’s return at UFC 200.
In other words, journalists are afraid of negatively reporting on the UFC fearing consequences, up to and including, a loss of credentials for future UFC events. Regardless of White’s influence, his handling of UFC 249, in the midst of a global pandemic cannot, and should not, be praised
The UFC 249 rollercoaster gave us nonstop coverage from fighter changes, to added bouts, to a Mortal Kombat-like island in the works.
Yet after weeks of nonstop effort from the UFC front office, UFC 249 and all future UFC events are officially postponed indefinitely due to the ever-growing COVID-19 pandemic. This coming after UFC President Dana White spoke to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto confirming the news, later confirmed by ESPN.
Since news of the event’s postponement, we learned White was told to “stand down” by executives of ESPN and Disney. An order that White, ultimately, was forced to follow. Later, reports that California Gov. Gavin Newsom had contacted Disney officials began to surface.
“ESPN has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249,” the statement read.
“Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons. ESPN expressed its concerns to the UFC, and they understood.”
Since learning of the indefinite suspension of future cards, several fighters and media members have expressed a wide array of emotions, and a line has been drawn in the sand: Media vs. true fandom. And that distinction carries a heavier meaning whether we support, or do not support, MMA in it’s entirety.
Like many sports fans, I follow several sports throughout the calendar year. As an avid Illinois basketball fan, I was heart broken that the first legitimate Illini team, a shoe-in for the NCAA tournament, would not be playing in March. Boxing was set to feature Canelo Alvarez, Ryan Garcia and the rematch between Tyson Fury – Deontay Wilder. And I was – really excited to see how many Houston Astros players would get beaned in a full 162-game season. But we won’t get to see these events. And the UFC officially joins every other major sports franchise in putting their sport on hold.
Surely, UFC 249 was met with constant obstacles securing this fight card. From replacing Khabib Nurmagomedov with Justin Gaethje, to moving the card from New York City to California and everything in between. But was their energy put in the wrong place? On the surface, White appears to be at the frontline of giving the world our sports back. It isn’t a hard argument to say White saw huge potential in pay-per-view while all other sports were suspended. That argument could be furthered by the decline of Endeavor’s revenue. But maybe these are the wrong questions altogether.
In a world where we are asked to practice social distancing, it seems irresponsible to host an event where athletes are striking each other, making each other bleed and hurting themselves. Add that into growing population of hospital visits, maybe not sending athletes to the hospital is a good thing. There is also the question of COVID-19 testing. Several state officials have reported a lack of existing tests. Testing perfectly healthy athletes while there is a national shortage seems inappropriate and selfish. God forbid any fighters, fight camps or UFC officials actually test positive for the Corona virus. The level of irresponsibility would be unrecoverable.
I get it, UFC fighters want to fight. They want to make money and make a living. But they don’t have a different sentiment than any other MLB player. Every NHL player and NBA player wants to get back to their season and continue playing the sport they love. Why are we expelling their frustrations while focusing solely on MMA fighters?
Dana White is not the hero everyone makes him out to be.
Since the postponement of UFC 249, White posted a video of his reaction to the news. He thanked everyone involved with the card and explained how the postponement happened. Of course he started with this fun fact.
“Fight Island is real,” he stated.
“It’s a real thing. It’s really happening. The infrastructure is being built right now on the island,” he continued.
And while the memes exploded, comparing UFC Fight Island to Mortal Kombat, there were a lot of questions regarding the logistics of it. One thing that needs to be present at any MMA event is medical personnel and Ambulance transportation. He never mentioned having a medical facility that he would use. He never discussed how he was going to transport fighters to what hospital and ensure their safety throughout all of this. Had he secured a hospital that fighters, who needed medical attention, were able to go, is it responsible to ask doctors and nurses to add other patients to their list because we wanted a fight to happen?
But he couldn’t help taking yet another shot at the media. Seemingly, if there was any blame for the event being called off, the fault laid with them.
“Problem with the media is, these days, the media so fucked up,” White insisted.
“‘Rogan isn’t coming to the event,’ cause they heard something on his podcast. Rogan was coming to the event … Everyone was all in on this thing,” he finished.
So what, exactly, is the problem with the media? I fail to see a media fault here. Did someone report this as news and then have this story become bigger than it should’ve been? If it did, I must have missed it.
Here is what I did not miss: White thinking his sport is above all other major sports. He was faced with red flag after red flag putting this card together. And almost in defiance of those flags, he continued to push a card. Did he do it for the fans? It may certainly appear so. But if he really wanted this for the fans, then why was it still being promoted as a full price pay-per-view card? Perhaps, because he saw a huge opportunity to massively increase PPV buys as the only sport still being televised. If he really wanted to bring sports back to the fans, he would’ve created that card to be shown on ESPN without a subscription or price tag.
Furthermore, what should be considered the most noticeable disregard for COVID-19, the UFC was still willing to continue the card 24 hours after Rose “Thug Rose” Namajunas withdrew citing two deaths in her family caused by the pandemic. I can’t imagine being Namajunas in that position, mourning the loss of family, while her employers are simply saying the show must go on.
Well, you can view him as a hero all you want, but to me it was an irresponsible and opportunistic move by a man who seems to get a free pass because he is the face of the UFC.