Discover more from The Sports Column
THE GUTLESS SPORTS DOUBLE-STANDARD: WATCH HOW DANA WHITE SLIDES
After slapping his wife in the face at a club, the UFC president should be suspended by Endeavor and admonished by ESPN, but because he generates media riches, a pathetic apology likely will suffice
It’s gnarly in the Court of Selective Justice, where Dana White is about to show why money and influence are all that matter in the domestic violence octagon. Once a goon, always a goon, the brash UFC president and promoter channeled one of his slug-and-kick fighters in a Cabo San Lucas nightclub, slapping his wife in the face on New Year’s Eve. He cannot deny it.
TMZ beat him to the punch, so to speak, publishing a video that went viral.
“No excuses,” said the King of Combat Sports.
What you are about to witness is the repulsive art of weaseling out of an obvious indiscretion. White can do that when others in his situation cannot, because he makes oodles of money for ESPN and happens to be a partner of powerful Ari Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor, the Hollywood entertainment giant that owns and controls UFC. By now, days after he responded to his wife’s slap with a quick counter-slap that would have made Conor McGregor blush, Endeavor and ESPN should have condemned White’s actions with a statement that preceded a lengthy suspension. In particular, we’re waiting on Sir Robert Iger, appointed savior of Disney Company, purveyor of childhood dreams and parent company of ESPN.
There is no reason to investigate or conduct a hearing. It happened. The overhand power slap is on tape, clear as can be. White admits as much in a public apology. ESPN even ran the story on its site, which was surprising, though burying it in a news digest beneath Donovan Mitchell’s 71-point game, Klay Thompson’s 54-point night, Purdue’s basketball loss to Rutgers, USC’s bowl-game collapse and other sports stories. By Tuesday afternoon — as America waited in hopeful silence for updates concerning the fallen NFL player, Damar Hamlin — the Commotion In Cabo already had drifted away. I’m still waiting for The Athletic, owned by the New York Times, to acknowledge the story. You see, no media company wants to mess with Dana White and his mixed-martial-arts empire. It might need to do business with him someday. To hell with basic journalism and serving the public trust.
“You've heard me say over the years, ‘There is never, ever an excuse for a guy to put his hands on a woman,’ and now here I am on TMZ talking about it,” White said. “My wife and I have been married for almost 30 years. We've known each other since we were 12 years old. We've obviously been through some s— together. We've got three kids.
“This is one of those situations that's horrible, I'm embarrassed — but it's also one of those situations that right now we're more concerned about our kids. We have three kids and obviously, since the video popped up, we've shown the kids the video and we're more focused on our family right now. I'm literally making no excuses for this thing at all. It's never happened before. It's the first time it's ever happened. People are going to say what they're going to say and it is what is. Whatever people say is deserved. I deserve it.”
He deserves more punishment than social-media backlash. After all, he’s the one who said this after Ray Rice assaulted his then-fiancee in 2014: “It's a tough one. 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. … 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.”
OK. So why should Dana White bounce back? Because he’s Dana White, that’s why. An apology shouldn’t be nearly enough, but then, the Dreaded, Reckless, Gutless Double-Standard happens often in sports. The men who run kingdoms tend to slide. Major League Baseball makes a loud spectacle of players in abuse episodes, none more evident than Trevor Bauer, who wasn’t arrested or charged with a crime yet was suspended by commissioner Rob Manfred for a record 324 games. It took an independent arbitrator to reduce the sentence by a full season and declare Bauer eligible to pitch this Opening Day, yet the Los Angeles Dodgers are considering eating about $22 million in 2023 salary and letting another team sign the former Cy Young Award winner. If White were accused of sexual assault in a rough-sex scenario, as Bauer was, he’d have laughed if off and carried on.
Those with clout can do so. MLB wasn’t nearly as demonstrative about one of its own, Larry Baer, when the San Francisco Giants CEO was caught on tape knocking his wife to the ground in a city park while trying to wrestle his phone from her. “Oh my god, no!” she screamed as she fell.
“Stop, Pam, stop,” Baer pleaded before walking away from what reportedly was a 25-minute verbal argument.
The incident could have ended his career. Instead, MLB suspended Baer without pay for merely the first three months of the 2019 season. He returned to the Giants and continues to be the public face of a crown-jewel franchise. If Manfred is guilty of hypocrisy, so is ESPN. When John Skipper was running the company, before he left in a cocaine scandal, he was known to side with those who fit his diversity vision — including a Black columnist/commentator charged with assaulting his wife and hitting a police officer, in front of their then-6-year-old son — while not showing support for certain White males. I was one such White male, as I’ve detailed more than once. Lies were told about me in a domestic abuse matter in which I pleaded no contest, by design. I ultimately prevailed in a civil case — money was the end game — that we successfully and completely defended in quick order. By then, any legal victory didn’t faze the network. ESPN is too big to care about equal treatment and a fairness quotient, until you threaten a lawsuit.
My mission isn’t to ruin Dana White. I’m here to educate the masses about the sports business and how it functions. Quickly, White’s wife, Anne, issued a separate statement defending his slap. “Dana and I have been married for almost 30 years," she told TMZ. “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.”
Considering White has put himself out there for two decades, deep into the global consciousness, respect for his privacy isn’t possible. TBS, owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, also has some explaining to do. Next week, the network will debut White’s “Slap Fighting League.” I could not make this up. Fighters will slap each other across their jaws, with supreme force, eyeing a knockout as the end goal. UFC middleweight champion Forrest Griffin has been assigned “head catcher” duties — he must physically catch anyone who is punched and falls backward, with the expressed duty of preventing head trauma. In yet another TMZ interview, Griffin said he’ll try to limit “double impact,” adding, “You’ve taken the first trauma and when your head hits the ground, bang bang, both sides of your brain actually bounce against your skull. We want to prevent that and make it just the initial impact and have that be what causes you or not causes you to win or lose the competition.”
I’m guessing White will be there, front and center as always. He won’t mention the Commotion In Cabo. Don’t you understand? It never happened.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.