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Time for another round of ‘What If Literally Any Other Pro Sports President Acted Like Dana White?’
The UFC President once said that putting your hands on a woman is 'one thing you never bounce back from.' Well, about that...
Turns out there are times when it’s actually pretty nice to have a chummy relationship with a celebrity gossip rag like TMZ, the media outlet where the traditions of the Town Crier and the Peeping Tom intersect. Those times apparently include, but are not limited to, when you get caught on camera hitting your wife at a nightclub on New Year’s Eve.
That’s what happened with UFC President Dana White, as we now know. And because of his cozy relationship with TMZ, the story broke in the most favorable fashion possible for him, with TMZ running the video of the incident alongside White’s version of events. TMZ also went the extra mile of putting the kindest possible spin on the whole thing, writing that White and his wife “got physical with each other,” in an incident that began with him saying something to her, her slapping him in the face, then him slapping her back, “before friends jumped in and pulled them apart.” That’s … not exactly what the video shows, though. White clearly attempts to hit her more than once. No one there really tries to physically restrain him at all. By the end they’re almost comforting him.
If this had been some other head of a major pro sports organization – the commissioner of the NFL or MLB, the owner of an NBA team – TMZ might have just run the video along with whatever half-baked witness account they could scrounge up. But here they were nice enough to let White frame the story as it ran, along with a statement attributed to his wife, saying “both sides” were to blame. If there’s a kinder, gentler way to report that a powerful man in pro sports hit his wife in public, I can’t imagine what it would even look like.
All of which brings us to the question: Soooo is White going to face any actual consequences for this whatsoever? It’s hard to imagine an NFL commissioner surviving something like this without resigning or being removed from his post. An NFL coach would probably at least be suspended. Even a broadcaster would probably lose his job. (Just as a thought experiment, imagine what White would have to say about it if a video showed Ariel Helwani hitting his wife. My god, he’d have the UFC production team on it right now, whipping up a YouTube feature on the whole thing.) So what about White?
Here’s a guy who just splashed his name all over a GODDAMN PROFESSIONAL SLAP FIGHTING LEAGUE that’s set to premiere on TBS next freaking week – a guy who very recently put out a video with his doctor in which he went ahead and told us all, unprompted, that he’s on synthetic testosterone (classified by USADA as a steroid when UFC fighters do it) – and here he is slapping his wife at a nightclub. If that happened in a TV show you’d roll your eyes. It’s just too on-the-nose. Slap fight guy slaps wife. You’re 70% of the way to an Onion headline right there.
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And yet, doesn’t it seem shockingly plausible that nothing will come of it? That White will just lay low and avoid the media for a while? That the slap league won’t even delay its premiere, much less have the plug pulled? Which kind of makes you wonder why.
I have two theories, and I warn you now that they’re both pretty depressing. The first theory is that, outside of the MMA bubble, not enough people know or care what the unhinged power brokers of this bonkers sport are up to at any given moment. Also? They don’t particularly care. When they do find out about stuff like MMA managers using their fighters to help violent dictators do a little sportswashing, or a promoter beating his wife, maybe they think that sounds just about right for the sport of cagefighting. To the extent they ever thought about what we were up to over here in this fringe sport, maybe they assumed it was probably stuff like steroids and domestic violence. So when they get occasionally reminded that they’re right, they really aren’t the least bit surprised or shocked.
That’s theory number one. Theory number two is that, of the fans inside this bubble who do follow MMA news in real time, only a minority find extremely shitty behavior like this all that objectionable. For proof of this theory, you need only look to how many fans (and fighters) rush to justify stuff like domestic violence.
These theories are not mutually exclusive. They can easily co-exist, and I suspect they do. I also suspect there’s a larger cultural shift at work in the post-Trump era, where we’ve gotten increasingly used to powerful people not only doing bad things in full public view, but also completely getting away with it, with zero repercussions whatsoever. We are accustomed to the world working this way. Nothing happens to the rich and the powerful, and we’ve told ourselves that this is just how it is. What the popularity of Trump (and to a lesser extent, maverick-y, pseudo-tough guy business types like White or Elon Musk) showed, was that for a lot of people that’s the whole appeal of being/becoming rich and powerful. It’s not just the money itself, it’s the freedom it affords one to be shitty without consequence. Some people long for that. For them, that is the reward.
Are these people more prevalent inside the MMA bubble? Maybe. Or maybe having fewer fans overall makes it easier for the worst among us to make themselves heard. Even if it’s that, though, is that really any better? Or is it just slightly less bad? Which, all too often, is what we’ve gotten used to settling for in this sport.