A story being circulated around the newswire yesterday had to do with one of my peers in the pool of MMA media, Eric Holden, making a number of unprofessional comments to female fighters Stephanie Skinner and Cassie Robb via text/social networking. According to both women, who provided screenshots of the messages in question, Holden was overly sexual in their conversations. Meanwhile, he has maintained his comments were taken out of context and purely meant in a joking manner rather than as genuine flirtations/propositions.
Though the truth likely lies somewhere in-between, the reality is the nature of his conversations with the women was clearly far more casual than professional and definitely done in bad taste. However, in a business like journalism, having personal connections with the people involved in the industry being covered is an important part of the process. Though Holden took a bold step or three over the line by throwing the word “boner” into the mix and asking Skinner/Robb, a lesbian couple in addition to being fighters, about their thoughts on a threesome, where exactly does that invisible strip of appropriateness start and stop in less obvious situations?
Speaking for myself, I prefer to be friendly with Mixed Martial Artists but not friends with them. I treat them with due respect and humility, and I try to be personable, but I never want to feel compromised when it comes to reporting a story or offering up a well-deserved criticism. I also want the understanding to be mutual. One’s reputation is important in any line of work and even more so when it comes to being part of the MMA media based on the general perception of what we do.
That being said, I’m a realist, and I know we are all human beings at the end of the day. In that regard I can grasp the possibility of people with like minds, regardless of their professions, becoming platonically or romantically linked. I would be lying if I said I don’t quietly root for the occasional fighter I’ve interviewed or felt a tinge of sadness when they stumble, but that’s as far as I’d ever want it to go.
In the end, I believe the answer about “how far is too far” boils down to judgment and common sense. It shouldn’t be difficult to separate a conversation with a buddy at home over a few beers from one involving a relative stranger over an email change even if there’s some level of rapport. Without a basic filter in place credibility will quickly go out the door in the eyes of readers, peers, and potential employers, and little good can come of that.