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Better Late Than Never: Responding to the Dana White/Loretta Hunt Controversy

Noticeably absent from this website was coverage in regards to UFC President Dana White’s controversial video blog response to an article by’s Loretta Hunt in which Hunt reported that the UFC was eliminating specific passes for managers and agents.

The reason why I neglected to address this issue on is not because I was trying to dodge this issue. The reality is that the economy has hit me pretty hard and I’ve had to divert my attention to other projects. I don’t live with my parents and don’t have roommates. I am all “growed up” with a wife, a nine-year old, three dogs, and a mortgage. This site is important to me and isn’t going to fade away anytime soon (by the way, we set yet another site record for unique and individual page views in the month of March) but providing for my family will always be my number one priority in life.

One of the new projects I am working on is MMA-related is fairly substantial. I will be revealing that news to the readers of this site within the next few weeks.

The reality is that this is a delicate story and not one that I could cut corners with. I didn’t want to say my piece until I had the right amount needed to tackle this topic. I know I am late to the party, but better late than never?

First off, White’s use of a homophobic slur is indefensible. I don’t profess to know Dana on a personal level, but I don’t believe he meant it in a hateful manner. That being said, there are plenty of other salty terms he could have and should have used to convey his disgust at the sources who were only willing to go on the record in an anonymous fashion.

A lot has been said about Dana speaking the way everyone speaks in their regular, normal lives. Well, Dana no longer lives a regular, normal life. Plus, not everyone uses homophobic slurs in their day-to-day conversations. Do I speak the same way publicly as I do privately? Absolutely not. But even in private I don’t use homophobic slurs. If a large group of people beings are telling me that a single word offends them, I have enough respect for the human race to erase that word from my vocabulary and find a new one.

This is an issue that goes beyond context as well. If Dana said he didn’t mean in that way, I’ll take his word for it. But what about people who defend their use of the “n” word or the use of the swastika because of what it’s original definition was?

To me, the intent is irrelevant because we all know what those words and that symbol represent. If Dana didn’t mean to use that slur in that context, he should work on saying what he really means. You’re telling me I can’t use the “n” word? Not a problem. I have no use for it anyway. Just like I have no use for the “f” word. For me, I refrain from using these slurs not because it’s the P.C. thing to do or because I feel a need to conform, but because I believe discrimination and hate speech is wrong.

But let’s be real here, the outcry regarding Dana’s use of the word was a total overreaction. It’s not the first time he’s used the “f” word publicly. I seem to recall an interview prior to UFC 69 in Ohio on Sirius Satellite Radio when he used that term on “The Scott Ferrall Show” in reference to Jerry Millen. What about when he called Jared Shaw a “retard” in a video blog? Where was the outrage in those instances?

The reality is that a lot of people are jealous of Dana White and or have a personal agenda against him. Some of the criticism I have read is valid but a lot of it also reads as people simply sitting in the bushes waiting for their opportunity to pounce. White’s biggest mistake in all of this could be perhaps that he and the UFC sometimes make it too easy for the haters at times. Unless you just recently started watching MMA, you know the history of bad blood that exists between Sherdog and the UFC.

But nobody is above reproach and some of the criticism Sherdog has received in this instance is valid. Some of it is not, most notably a recent article written by Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports.

I was taught that criticizing a contemporary in public was uncouth but considering all the negative things said about me by colleagues both publicly and privately since I’ve entered this industry, I don’t see a need to bite my tongue.

Iole has taken many lumps over the last couple of years and I have felt much of it was unfair. Whenever you submit work that can be reviewed by the public, you better be ready to take on criticism. Iole has taken his fair share and has acted professionally throughout. Where I have an issue is with those who hide behind the safety of a computer and make personal attacks against him. It also needs to be pointed out that Iole in no way defended White’s behavior.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I’ve got to call it like I see it and I think some of Iole’s comments in his article on the piece were just plain unfair.

For example:

“Clearly, she should never have written a story such as she did without having one source on the record.”

A few points of clarification; Hunt’s article did use anonymous sources but she also quoted people such as Ken Pavia and Monte Cox in the story. Even if she had used anonymous sources on an exclusive basis, it still shouldn’t have been an issue. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t reveal the identity of “Deep Throat.” Matt Drudge didn’t name a source for the Monica Lewinsky story. The reporting of both stories proved to be fairly accurate.

Furthermore, when Iole reported his story on Randy Couture’s UFC salary, the crux of his story was built around a lone anonymous source. When Iole received criticism he asked people to trust him. I am willing to take Iole at his word that he had a valid source. Why doesn’t he have the same trust for Loretta Hunt?

If Hunt was some greenhorn reporter and used all-anonymous sources, then it would be an issue. But while I was a fan of MMA back in 2001, Loretta Hunt was just beginning her career as an MMA writer/reporter. If she’s not a proven commodity in the field of MMA reporting, then who is? Hunt has covered the sport for a long time and has gone to the events. After close to nine years of covering the sport, it’s not a stretch to believe that sources in the industry are giving her inside info.

For what it’s worth, I can also confirm that the story is pretty much accurate. I was actually contacted two managers about the situation seven weeks ago. I didn’t report the story for two reasons. For one, neither source was willing to go on the record. But that wasn’t a deal killer for me because I’ve done stories with all-anonymous stories in the past and will do so again in the future.

My preference is to quote people but that isn’t always an option. I have been a sports writer since 1993 but have only been covering MMA for a couple of years. However, I’ve broken a few stories and have quoted a few sources in my time. I’ve been backstage at events for promotions large and small. I feel as though I’ve earned some capital in my reporting when it comes to quoting anonymous sources. If you don’t want to acknowledge that I speak with people on the inside on a daily basis, that’s your problem not mine.

But the big reason why I elected not to cover it was because I didn’t think it was overly newsworthy. The fact that White’s reaction has vastly overshadowed the content of Sherdog’s story is something that I feel supports my claim. Managers and agents aren’t being banned from the backstage area. Instead, they are simply no longer being issued backstage passes. A manager or agent can still get backstage if they are issued a general corner pass.

The other statement made by Iole was when he added “And her single attempt to reach a UFC spokesperson is clearly feeble.”

Do we know for sure it was only a single attempt? And even only if it was just one attempt, Hunt met her requirements as a journalist. It’s not her job to stalk sources. The bottom line is that the UFC should have responded to her request.

I understand that Sherdog is persona non grata in the eyes of the UFC but the UFC has to accept the fact that a lot of people still read Sherdog. Whether they respect Loretta Hunt or not, they need to acknowledge that a lot of people do.

When Hunt submitted a request for comment, they should have responded and gotten their side out there. Before Dana let loose on the vitriol, he was making a valid argument. If someone had conveyed some of those points to Sherdog in print, it would have taken a huge edge out of the article. By not getting their side out earlier, the UFC gave Sherdog the ability to report the story in a salacious manner.

Another point I’d like to make is that as I read Iole’s article, I don’t see a single instance in which he mentions that he requested a comment from Sherdog or Hunt in regards to the article he wrote on the subject.

Moving on, the UFC’s decision to eliminate special passes for managers and agents alarmed certain people within the industry because there is a feeling that the company wants to eliminate them from the sport. But that’s only one side of the story and no one as of yet has really been able to get the other side.

Does the UFC really want to drive a wedge between fighters and their managers? I’ve heard a lot of scuttlebutt but I couldn’t tell you for sure. But if the UFC really has designs on doing that, they don’t need to eliminate corner passes for managers and agents to do that. There are plenty more effective ways to try and sabotage those relationships such as buying lavish gifts for fighters or sending them on paid vacations to resort areas in Mexico.

Managers and agents can still get backstage if their fighter issues them a corner pass and even if they can’t get backstage, they can still buy a ticket. In some cases, certain managers and agents are being given free tickets. Having covered the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball in the past, I just don’t understand what the big deal is. Leigh Steinberg isn’t hanging out in the locker room right before kickoff.

Furthermore, I don’t see the need to be paranoid because if a manager/agent truly has a good relationship with their client, the UFC isn’t going to be able to cut back room deals. Remember the post-UFC 96 video blog in which Dana pitched Quinton Jackson a title shot vs. Rashad Evans at UFC 98? The conversation essentially ended with Jackson essentially saying “I need to talk to my manager before I give you my final answer.”

In most cases, fighters must sign deals with their agents that are legally binding. Even if a fighter was able to easily be influenced, an agent/manager is entitled to a percentage of their earnings for the duration of their contract.

I think the real issue for a lot of managers and agents is that their cost of business will increase if they don’t get issued a pass or a complementary ticket. UFC tickets aren’t cheap and a good seat can cost you as much as $500-750 (and in some cases, even more). Unfortunately, buying a cheaper seat isn’t an option. Being a manager and or agent is all about projecting an image of success. If you can project the appearance that you’re making money for yourself, then what reason does an athlete have to believe that you possess the ability to make money for them? It’s a glamour issue and a manager/agent can’t be seen sitting in the cheap seats.

Hopefully, this story will die down and we can get back to talking about fighters and fights. White has issued an apology and apparently changes are going to be made in regards to his media profile. The apology was necessary and just but I’m not sure that taking on a lower profile is the right move.

If Dana White needs to take a step back because he’s burned out and needs to re-charge his batteries, then a lesser media presence is the right move. But if it’s merely in response to the negative P.R., then it’s a bad move. There is no marketing tool in MMA more effective than Dana White. White can pick up a phone and cut a radio interview with Steve Cofield in Vegas or Carmichael Dave in Sacramento and generate more buzz at no cost to the UFC than the IFL, EliteXC, and BodogFIGHT did when it spent millions of dollars on advertising.

The UFC needs Dana to maintain a strong media presence and continue to generate free publicity. Getting rid of the video blogs is a bad idea as well. They are not only very popular but a very cost-efficient marketing tool. Aside from the cost of a shooter and video editor, how much money did the UFC have to put up for videos that were viewed by hundreds of thousands of people? Cutting back in not the solution. Making some minor changes to his vocabulary so not to further offend homosexuals and handicapped people is part of the answer. Not turning on a camera or microphone in the heat of the moment is the other part of it.

White can be loud and brash at times but welcome to the fight game. You need a larger than life personality spearheading your company if you want to make a dent in the pay-per-view market. My hope is that after a month or two adopting a lower profile that Dana gradually returns to the media forefront.

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