Oakland Athletics outfielder Matt Joyce called a fan an anti-gay slur in August. Major League Baseball suspended Joyce for two games without pay. The Athletics donated the $54,000 in Joyce’s lost salary to an LGBTQ charity.
In May, Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf used an anti-gay slur toward an official during a playoff game. The NHL fined Getzlaf $10,000, a decision that was criticized, because many felt it did not go far enough.
Rajon Rondo, then of the Boston Celtics, called a referee an anti-gay slur two years ago. The NBA suspended Rondo for one game. That referee soon after came out as homosexual. In 2011, Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for directing an anti-gay slur at a different official.
Whether it’s a monetary fine or suspension, there is precedent in professional sports for some kind of punishment when an athlete uses that kind of offensive language. However, in the last two months no fewer than five UFC fighters have used an anti-gay slur — all captured on camera — and the promotion has been largely silent.
Worse yet, the UFC’s lack of response to hateful language has extended to physical actions perpetrated by fighters.
On Friday in Australia, Fabricio Werdum was charged with common assault by the New South Wales Police Force after throwing a boomerang at fellow fighter Colby Covington, an incident that was also caught on video. Two days later, Werdum still headlined UFC Sydney against Marcin Tybura.
Other than saying it would investigate the incident to see if there was a violation of the Athlete Conduct Policy, the UFC hasn’t said a word about a pretty obvious crime that one of their fighters perpetrated on camera.
In September, Werdum was involved in another altercation with a UFC peer. He and Tony Ferguson got into a heated argument during a media lunch in Los Angeles. Werdum dropped multiple anti-gay slurs at Ferguson in Spanish. Ferguson fired back with at least one of his own.
Werdum did apologize on social media. The UFC released a statement a few days later saying Werdum would do outreach in the LGBTQ community. Last month, though, Werdum told a Brazilian media outlet that he was not given any discipline for calling Ferguson a “maricon” repeatedly, saying that any word of punishment was just rumors.
In addition to that, Werdum has a very public relationship with Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, who has publicly said he would condone violence against homosexuals in Chechnya and been called out by the United Nations for torturing and killing gay men. Werdum’s lame defense for that relationship is that he doesn’t get involved in politics.
Since the UFC has done little to nothing to deter Werdum and his conduct, why should we expect the promotion to do anything to its biggest star? Last month, Conor McGregor reeled off a string of anti-gay slurs in a conversation with teammate Artem Lobov backstage at UFC Gdansk, which — of course — was caught on video. McGregor apologized on an Irish TV show a week later. The UFC has still said nothing official about it and McGregor has not been punished.
Just last week, McGregor jumped into the Bellator cage, shoved referee Marc Goddard and slapped a Bellator employee. Previously, the UFC’s position on contact with a referee like that was zero tolerance. UFC president Dana White banned Jason High for life for pushing a ref in 2014.
What has the UFC said about McGregor in this Dublin incident? You guessed it. Not a damn thing.
McGregor apologized for that mess on social media this past week. It was ridiculous behavior and it will draw the bulk of the mainstream headlines because of McGregor’s stature.
But the issues here go deeper than McGregor. Covington ran down Brazil, calling the country a dump and its people “filthy animals” after beating Demian Maia last month in Sao Paulo. Covington had to be escorted by security out of the arena with spectators raining down trash at him.
At the post-fight press conference afterward, UFC executive David Shaw said brass was unhappy about Covington’s display. But there hasn’t been word of any punishment or even a warning.
Maybe there shouldn’t have been discipline for Covington. It’s transparent what he’s doing — trying to gain heat for a potential welterweight title fight against Tyron Woodley. Part of his controversial rhetoric has worked; he’s getting attention that the UFC has shown time and again that is needed to get big fights. But it’s obvious that Covington’s xenophobic comments have upset Brazilians, including his teammates, and likely led to the ridiculous scene with Werdum.
Werdum committed assault on camera, but he said Covington kicked him first, which Covington has denied. Not to be outdone, Covington called Werdum an anti-gay slur on camera — his own Instagram Live video, to be exact. The UFC sent Covington, who was in Sydney as a guest fighter, home after the confrontation.
Jorge Masvidal also said the same slur in a verbal altercation with Michael Bisping during UFC 217 fight week earlier this month in New York.
UFC fighters are not choir boys, nor should they be expected to be. And there is certainly some leeway in trash talk and even some physicality when it comes to promoting fights. McGregor and Floyd Mayweather said some horrendous things to each other leading up to their boxing match over the summer.
None of these recent situations, though, will lead to a fight between any of the two men involved. It’s just UFC fighters acting a fool in public and it’s a bad look.
The UFC’s lack of response has been the tie among all of them. No one is saying draconian punishments should be handed out, but once upon a time Nate Diaz was fined $20,000 and suspended three months in 2013 for calling Bryan Caraway a “f*g” on Twitter. The promotion has also had no issue fining fighters for violations of its Outfitting Policy.
White had a smart and accurate take on the issues in an interview with TMZ early this month, following McGregor’s f-word outburst in Poland.
“We’ve had a problem with that lately,” White said. “It’s been more than him, we’ve had a problem with that. It’s a thing you have to educate people on and I’ve had my history with it myself. So it’s definitely a problem, and it’s something we need to focus on.”
White has said before that using an anti-gay slur in a video rant was the biggest regret of his career. No one would ever accuse White of being a social justice warrior, so he’s worth listening to on this topic.
In any other sport, there would be some action taken on Werdum, McGregor and others — and the UFC is in the middle of some kind of weird, homophobic slur epidemic. It’s time to put an end to it. All of this silliness is an embarrassment to the rest of the UFC roster, the majority of whom are decent citizens.
Fighters are badasses and warriors. Everyone wants them to remain that way. But they are also professional athletes, competing in an organization that was bought for more than $4 billion last year. It’s 2017 and there’s no excuse for that kind of ignorance, even for men and women who make their living fighting in cages.
The UFC is hoping to make big money on a new television broadcast deal next year. These things can add up and spiral out of control. If the UFC wants to approach the level of the big mainstream sports in the United States, it has to take the conduct of its athletes seriously. A response is necessary before it gets even worse.