In 2014, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested for assaulting his fiancée, Janay Palmer, in Atlantic City, NJ. The incident became a major national news story that year, both due to the videos that came out revealing the violent assault and for the way the NFL handled the situation. At the time, the UFC was partnered with FOX, and White was asked to comment on the situation while it was still developing.
“It’s a tough one,” White said on FOX Sports Live. “First of all, the video is horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. You’re talking about a guy who’s been in the fight business since he was 19 years old. It is the most disturbing thing you will ever see. The thing that’s just as bad as the punch is that he shows no remorse after he does it. You know, if you did something in anger and you go, ‘Oh my god. What did I do?’ There’s none of that with this guy. I don’t know all the ins and outs of what Roger Goodell did or knew, or how it was handled, but it’s definitely bad. I can tell you this: I wouldn’t want to be Roger Goodell.”
Well, for White that day has come. Only the assailant in a recent video showing domestic violence is not some random UFC fighter. It’s White himself.
On Monday, TMZ released a video showing White slapping his wife, Anne, while at a New Year’s Eve party on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The slap is not nearly as violent as Rice’s, but it is no more acceptable of an action, and the incident as a whole is unsettling. White addressed his actions to TMZ in a separate interview soon after the video was released, saying that he’s embarrassed by his actions, that there is no excuse for what happened,
“I’m one of the guys, you’ve heard me say for years, there’s never, ever an excuse for a guy to put his hands on a woman, and now here I am on TMZ talking about it. …
“People are going to have opinions on this, and most of the people’s opinions would be right, especially in my case. You don’t put your hands on a woman ever.”
And yet, he did.
Anne White also released a statement to TMZ, saying “nothing like this has ever happened before.” She put the incident largely down to alcohol, saying that “things got out of control, on both sides.”
But that doesn’t change what happened. White, the public face of a multi-billion dollar company, who has repeatedly allowed fighters accused or convicted of domestic violence to fight for the company, struck his wife in public.
Domestic violence is nothing new to MMA. Countless fighters, past and present, have faced charges for some form of domestic abuse. In fact, the problem is so bad that in 2015, HBO Real Sports did a piece on the subject, finding that domestic violence arrests involving MMA fighters are more than double the national average rate, 750 per 100,000. But the problem has never arisen with the head of a major promotion. Now it has, and what comes next will be revealed.
Although Rice is not a fighter, when the incident happened in 2014, White took a hard line stance on the topic of domestic violence.
“We’ve been human beings in letting these guys, other guys make up for what they’ve done and come back,” White said. “There’s one thing that you never bounce back from, and that’s putting your hands on a woman. Been that way in the UFC since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.”
In practice, that hardline has proven to be blurry, at best. For every Will Chope and Luis Pena that have been released by the UFC, fighters like Abel Trujillo and Anthony Johnson were signed and re-signed to the promotion. After releasing Thiago Silva in 2014 with the claim from White that he “will never fight in the UFC again” following an arrest for domestic violence, the UFC re-signed Silva after the charges against him were dropped, only to then re-cut him shortly after. And then there was the entire Greg Hardy fiasco.
A cynical person might look at the above examples — a very small collection of the numerous instances in this sport and this promotion — and draw the simple conclusion that actually, a person only doesn’t “bounce back” from domestic violence if that person lacks star power.
In that regard, White is in luck. Aside from Conor McGregor, White is the biggest star in the UFC and seems well positioned to maintain his role at the top of the company. ESPN has already waved the situation aside, declining to comment, and the UFC’s parent company, Endeavor, has yet to issue any kind of statement. The hope, it seems, is that this entire situation might blow over quickly. And truth be told, it may.
Combat sports have long existed on the periphery of mainstream athletics. Barring all but the most egregious violations of decorum, the world at large seems content to hand-waive away the various improprieties that take place in the MMA universe. If the response of various fighters and fans is any indication, much of that universe isn’t all that interested in accountability, either. And that’s unfortunate, because without true accountability, there can be no progress.
“The prevention of domestic violence and the education of the athletes is of the utmost importance to the organization. UFC holds its athletes to the highest standard and will continue to take appropriate action if and when warranted.
“UFC requires all athletes to act in an ethical and responsible matter, as mandated by the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy,” the UFC said in a statement responding to the HBO Real Sports story about domestic violence in MMA. “The organization will not tolerate domestic violence, sexual assault, or any other violation of the policy. Every athlete is deserving of due process and all official allegations will be duly reviewed and thoroughly investigated by an independent party.”
Dana White is not a fighter, but he is the face of the organization. Why should the standard be any less for him? White is the very public face of an organization that has historically employed people accused and convicted of domestic violence, and he operates in a sport with a serious domestic violence problem. That means an awful lot. For him to get a pass on this, at the very least, creates the impression that MMA is a haven for this kind of activity. That should not be allowed to happen.
Here’s a thought experiment: If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was caught on video doing the same exact thing, what happens? The most likely answer is that Goodell resigns, or is fired. The NFL doesn’t need the scandal, and the hypocrisy of having someone who himself has beaten his wife then render judgment on other athletes for doing the same is too glaring. It is simply easier to cut ties with him; after all, there are no shortage of people who can take his place – and who haven’t been filmed striking their spouse.
But if somehow Goodell did keep his job, you can be absolutely sure that he would at the minimum face a suspension, a fine, and some requirements to attend counseling and/or participate in a domestic violence PSA.
Again, why should the standard be any different for White?
I am not necessarily arguing that Dana White should be fired. I strongly believe in second chances, but you have to earn that second chance. White needs to have a proper and public reckoning with his actions and how they affect not just him and his family, but the numerous people who work for and with him, and the countless fighters who compete in his promotion. Yes, he issued an apology, one that on its face seems genuine, and that’s a good start. But it’s only a beginning. It shouldn’t be the end.
Work with domestic violence non-profits, adopt more serious principles against signing fighters accused of domestic violence, stand up and be a proactive force for change. Use this “unfortunate situation” as you call it, as a catalyst to be better. That’s the only way to put this incident behind you and move forward productively.
Or just quit. After all, you don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can reach out to the US National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)