Of late, Mixed Martial Artists have found themselves under extreme scrutiny for some of their public statements. The UFC has grown leaps in bounds in the past twenty years, becoming a household name with a television deal on Fox Sports. To say that the UFC came up hard would be an understatement. Over the years they have faced opposition from the government, from local sanctioning bodies and anyone and everyone who likes to talk about “decency.” Over the past few months, though, problems have been coming from within, in a bit of an odd form. Rape jokes.
For some reason rape jokes have become the gold standard for distasteful jokes made by UFC fighters. Forrest Griffin began the trend on his twitter account through a series of rape jokes that span months, only one of which really raised the ire of the media enough to report on it and make a big deal about it. Forrest Griffin, the winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter has a rather good relationship with UFC head Dana White and the issue was quickly swept under a rung in a coordinated PR move of Forrest doing a photo-op at a rape clinic, discussing how terrible rape is.
Forrest made a mistake, and a pretty weighty one that irked a lot of people. There was no punishment handed down, though, as Dana White was quick to defend the fighter’s actions by saying that he meant nothing by it and quickly made amends for his distasteful joke. The irony, of course, is that Forrest won a “Twitter Bonus” from the UFC for his “creative use” of Twitter.
This week things heated up again, as Rashad Evans at a UFC on Fox press conference made a joke about rape and PSU. If you have been out of the loop, a sex scandal has rocked Penn State recently after a few key players were found to be involved with or had knowledge of child molestation and rape. Rashad, another former winner of The Ultimate Fighter, has apparently been reprimanded by UFC boss Dana White, but not in any official or public manner. White has only gone as far as to call it “stupid.”
There are two cases of Dana White letting rape jokes slide for the fighters that make him money in main events. Neither man was punished that harshly outside of Dana making a few public complaints about them, but making sure to prop up their characters and intelligence. Today, something much different happened as Migeul Torres was released from the UFC without Dana himself speaking to Torres. It was all based around a joke that Torres tweeted, quoting popular FX program It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It involved a bit from the second season where the gang acquires a van, which is then dubbed the “rape van.” Apparently this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but there have been more in his timeline and a history of jokes made in bad taste from Torres.
Torres was quickly publicly condemned and made an example of by Dana White, with White going as far as to claim that Torres was completely done with the UFC due to his actions. White claims he simply did not like the explanation given by Torres and finds this behavior unacceptable. There is some truth to this, as this behavior is unacceptable and has risen the ire of fans, media and fighters alike, but it begs the question of where exactly is this line that Dana White sets, and can you only cross it if you’ve made him a lot of money?
Miguel Torres has not made Dana White a lot of money and he was made an example of. What, exactly though, is this example? An example of favoritism, martyrdom or justice? The one thing that is clear to me, though, is that if UFC fighters are to be held this accountable for their words and actions, it should be more clear what offense will be over the line and which will not. The example set by Forrest Griffin and his multiple rape tweets was that as long as nobody makes a big deal, it is not a big deal. Then, even if you get caught, claim you were making a social statement and do a big public apology and everything is fine.
I am not in any way going to condone the jokes made by Torres or any other fighter, nor do I think being fired or fined for public displays of bad taste is wrong. The problem that I am seeing here has more to do with UFC’s policies towards their fighters and not being clear enough as to where the line is for right and wrong for their statements. When you set the standards, it is your job to uphold them, not make them seem elusive.