Dana White needs to briefly step away from UFC to raise awareness about domestic violence

UFC president Dana White apologized for slapping his wife during a New Year’s Eve celebration at a club in Mexico. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Dana White’s life changed forever on the night of Dec. 31, 2022, when he decided to slap his wife, Anne, in the face while the couple was in Mexico celebrating New Year’s Eve.

Of all the good White has done in this world — championing numerous charitable causes, creating thousands of jobs, privately going out of his way to help scores of needy, ill and down-on-their-luck people — he did a lot of it when he chose to slap back after his wife first slapped him.

The two words no man ever wants to have attached to his name – domestic abuser – will follow him forever. It will be in the untold biographies that will be written about him eventually. He’ll be taunted on social media for the rest of his days because of it. It will be in news articles and on Wikipedia and he’ll lose the respect of a lot of those who were once his fans and who looked up to him in building the UFC into a global sports powerhouse.

He’s been married to Anne White for 30 years and has known her for more than 40. And even White knows that he was wrong.

In a public apology to TMZ on Monday, White accepted responsibility for his actions, which is the least he could do.

“This is one of those situations that’s horrible,” he said. “I’m embarrassed.”

He ought to be embarrassed. It’s a despicable act. And there is no excuse for it. The grainy video shows White holding his wife’s left wrist when she slaps him with her right hand on the left side of his face. He responds by slapping her with a right.

Domestic violence is a scourge in this world. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner in the US. Stunningly, one in four women and one in seven men have been victims of severe domestic violence. Domestic violence hotlines receive more than 20,000 calls in a typical day.

Anne White released a statement in which she said the behavior was “out of character” for her husband.

“Dana and I have been married for almost 30 years. To say this is out of character for him is an understatement. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Unfortunately, we were both drinking too much on New Year’s Eve and things got out of control, on both sides. We’ve talked this through as a family and apologized to each other. I just hope people will respect our privacy for the sake of our kids.”

The question is the circumstances that led up to this. White is famous, and he works and plays at a breakneck pace, rarely leaving any downtime. With him, both at work and at play, it’s go, go, go.

He’s 53 years old now, not 32, and so it seems fair to ask, why is he drunk in a public setting in a nightclub? He’s traveled the world, seen so much, done so much and befriended so many. One must wonder what kind of pressure he feels trying to top what he’s already done, pushing the UFC even further into the mainstream and creating another combat sports league.

For much of his adult life, he’s gone at near-warp speed to build the UFC. There is still more to be done, but he has a large and capable staff and it’s no longer just a one-man job or a one-man journey. It’s OK to slow down. It’s OK to relax and to no longer feel the need to push.

White made a mistake, and a significant one at that. He should step away from the UFC for a month or so to not only make things right with himself and his family, but to find ways to lend his name to efforts to combat domestic violence. White has a bully pulpit and when he speaks, people listen. He is followed by 6.1 million people on Twitter and 7.8 million people on Instagram. He can reach a lot of people.

So he should step away briefly to sort out his personal life, reflect on why he drunkenly slapped his wife in public and, most importantly, to craft a plan to deliver a message about the insidiousness of domestic violence. He doesn’t need to be at a podium right now promoting fights.

Long-term, White is critical to the UFC’s success. In the short term, though, there are plenty who can fill his place while White figures out how to right this wrong.

When he made a homophobic slur in 2009 during a rant against a reporter, he not only apologized, but he put an action plan in place. The UFC has since donated significant amounts of money to LGBTQ causes. It sits alongside the WNBA as the most gay-friendly sport in the world.

In 2013, in what was then the most significant fight in UFC history, White put a lesbian woman, Liz Carmouche, into the main event. It’s big news in any other sport when an athlete comes out as gay, but it’s run-of-the-mill in the UFC because it’s so common.

White doesn’t deserve all of the credit for that, but he does deserve some. He helped foster an environment in the UFC which helped remove that stigma.

He can do the same for domestic violence. On Tuesday, US men’s national soccer coach Gregg Berhalter released a statement on Twitter in which he admitted kicking his then-girlfriend and future wife, Rosalind, in 1991, when he was 18.

In his tweetBerhalter provided details of the 1991 incident, of the couple’s reconciliation seven months later and how it has shaped them in the 31-plus years since.

“I am sharing this story after 31 years because it is important to understand it was an event that shaped me, but does not define me. It was a single, isolated event over three decades ago and a terrible decision made in a bad moment by an 18-year-old. … As a team we emphasize accountability, honesty and growth. Those are just principles we instill with the team; it is how I live my life.”

White acknowledged in his statement the mistake he made. The world would be a better place if White were able, like Berhalter, to find a way not just to move on from the mistake but to help find ways to educate those who commit this crime. It’s a push here and a slap there. Too many shrug it off as not that big a deal. Only, it doesn’t stop, and often leads to horrendous outcomes.

Nothing White says, or no amount of money he throws at the issue, will end it completely. This is an insidious problem in our culture that, unfortunately, isn’t going away.

But this incident in a club in Mexico involving White and his wife can make a difference and help reduce the incidences of domestic violence as well as to educate those who are in abusive relationships that help is readily available.

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