Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rape jokes and Twitter-mination of Employment in the UFC

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the premiere mixed martial arts league in the world. As a form of both sport and entertainment which is rising in popularity, as well as on an uphill fight to be recognized as a legitimate sporting event which is both safe (relatively, at least) and credible. It has encountered difficulties getting clearance for fights with athletics commissions in several states in the US. Thus, even the everyday lives of its athletes/mixed martial artists are under constant scrutiny. Because of their physical skills and gifts, they can easily cause injury, even death to "regular people." Thus, the standard of behavior for these fighters seems to be greater than with other athletes.

UFC fighters are encouraged by the promotion to have Twitter accounts were the post updates on their training regimens, endorse their sponsors, and yes, trash talk their upcoming opponents. All this serves the purpose of promoting upcoming events and giving the UFC greater exposure in the media and on the internet. UFC president Dana White has a Twitter account as well, and is an outspoken user of social media.

Controversy arose late last year when several UFC fighters posted rape-related tweets. Forrest Griffin, a former light-heavyweight champion, tweeted "Rape is the new missionary."  A fan called him out on this, and he later apologized and gave a sizable donation to a rape-victim charity organization. Dana White castigated him for this, but that was it. Perhaps the reason he got off lightly was that this was purportedly a sarcastic reaction to the Penn State scandal, and Griffin was merely giving a commentary of how prevalent, perhaps even accepted, rape has become.

Another former light heavyweight champion, Rashad Evans, this time on an interview, made another joke regarding the Penn State scandal against his upcoming rival, Phil Davis, an alum of said university. Evans said, "I guarantee you're going to be the first one to take a shot because I'm going to put those hands on you worse than that dude did them other kids at Penn State." This also went by without much ado from the UFC and Dana White.

Miguel Torres, a former WEC (a rival outfit which was recently purchased by the UFC) bantamweight champion, however, was not as lucky.  He made the following joke, directly quoting the TV series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. “If a rape van was called a surprise van, more women wouldn’t mind going for rides in them. Everyone likes surprises."

Dana White cut him from the UFC because of this. While all three statements by the fighters were politically incorrect, only Torres was fired from the promotion. This was on 8 December 2011. Torres was reinstated on the 28th, after he supposedly atoned for his actions. Many fans and MMA commentary writers and bloggers noted that although also a former champion, Torres is not as bankable a star and cash cow as Griffin and Evans.

The story takes a weirder turn when Dana White himself cracked a prison rape joke against a fan who disparaged him on Twitter