The UFC Is Making the Same Mistakes The NFL Has Made Regarding Domestic Violence

By Seth Falvo

Watching Dana White’s recent appearance on “Fox Sports Live” paints a very clear picture: Dana White does not want you to compare him to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“I can tell you this, I wouldn’t want to be Roger Goodell,” White says, after being asked about his reaction to the video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out then-fiancee Janay Palmer. No surprises there, given that the NFL is in the middle of a domestic violence crisis built on the foundation of years of denial and reframing the issue. What is surprising is that he follows up his statement by resorting to the same strategies that the NFL employed to downplay Ray Rice’s assault in order to justify the UFC’s decision to resign Thiago Silva.

You don’t even have to wait for the parallels between how the UFC is choosing to handle Thiago Silva and how the NFL has attempted to cover up domestic violence to become apparent, they’re observable in the very first sentence White speaks once Silva’s name comes up:

“If you believe in the legal process, they came, they arrested him, and he wasn’t brought up on any charges.”

Let’s take a look at the actual documents detailing why the prosecutors decided to drop the charges against Thiago Silva. As Deadspin puts it, “The memo outlines how in this case, as in so many domestic violence cases, the key witness went from working with investigators to uncooperative to eventually abandoning the legal process, instead getting physically as far away from her alleged attacker as she could.” This wasn’t an issue of the police believing that Thiago Silva was innocent – if that were so, this case would have never made it past the pre-arrest investigation. This was the police acknowledging that without cooperation from the alleged victim, there isn’t enough evidence to press charges at this time; as Sydnie pointed out, the announcement of a nolle prosequi makes it possible for the police to re-indict him if Thaysa Silva decides to cooperate with them.

Of course, the assault charge against Ray Rice will also be dropped upon the completion of a pretrial intervention program. Roger Goodell first landed in hot water for taking a “charges will be dropped, so let’s not make a big deal out of this” approach to Rice’s original two-game suspension. It’s very odd that a person trying to distance himself from comparisons to Goodell would take a virtually identical stance.

White’s justification gets much uglier from there:

“Plus, I know a lot more of the story and what went on. You take his side of the story, her side of the story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But he went through the process and he wasn’t charged with anything. The guy should have the ability to make a living.”

This statement on Thaysa Silva’s accusations is the exact same strategy that the Baltimore Ravens used in an attempt to undermine Janay Rice: Toe the line of “Don’t trust what you’ve seen,” but don’t explicitly say that the alleged victim is lying. The police reports make Thiago Silva look like some kind of monster, but Dana White knows a lot more about what really happened. And Thaysa isn’t lying, but the whole truth lies somewhere between her version of the events and Thiago’s proclamation of innocence. By that logic, Thiago only kind-of held a gun in Thaysa’s mouth, and what kind of hot-head bans someone from the UFC over that?

The “make a living” remark at the end is equal parts misdirection and gaslighting. Nobody is trying to say that Thiago Silva shouldn’t be able to make a living, but a lot of fans are questioning whether it’s really appropriate for an alleged domestic abuser whose charges were dropped on a technicality to be punching people for money. White wants the offended parties to ask themselves how they can let a human being starve, despite the fact that “UFC fighter” is not the only occupation on the planet.

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And how did White’s justification end? With perhaps the most Goodellian stance possible:

“And obviously if some tape surfaced [Silva would be fired] but the police have already investigated this entire thing, and they let the guy go.”

This is exactly the line of thought that has brought so much criticism upon Roger Goodell – the unwillingness to recognize an obvious instance of domestic violence until a video surfaces that forces him to. The restraining order that Thaysa filed? That whole armed standoff Thiago had with police? That stuff is all fine and dandy, so long as there isn’t a video of him assaulting her.

And once again, Dana White remains willfully ignorant towards the fact that the decision to drop charges does not mean that the police believe Thiago Silva is innocent. The police aren’t questioning whether he held a gun in her mouth on January 30, or whether he sent her a text message on February 5 saying “I am gonna fuck you up and you are going to die. I am going to hire someone to kill you and I am gonna move my girlfriend in.” Rather, the dropped charges are a sign that the prosecutor doesn’t think that the evidence without Thaysa Silva’s testimony is strong enough to result in a conviction.

Then again, perhaps he isn’t ignorant towards this – notice how he never directly says that he believes that Thiago Silva is an innocent man, like he did for Sean Sherk when Sherk failed a drug test following UFC 73? He’s not so much telling you that Silva has never been abusive towards Thaysa as he’s telling you that the charges were dropped, so move past it.

Perhaps the most disturbing correlations between the UFC and the NFL come while observing how the UFC plans on strengthening their domestic violence policy going forward. The organization takes a page directly out of the NFL’s playbook: Deny that there’s any problems with the current policy. [Author Note: The NFL’s “new” policy of suspending players for six games is nothing more than a slight re-wording of the old policy. “Mitigating factors” can still shorten the suspension as the NFL sees fit.] White kicked off the process:

“We have a track record of getting rid of many people that have done bad things, and we’ve been human beings in letting other guys make up for things and come back. There’s one thing you never bounce back from, and that’s putting your hands on a woman. It’s been that way in the UFC since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.”

Unless, of course, you’re a winning fighter who fans have heard of. In that case, feel free to smack your ex-girlfriend (Johnson) or the mother of your children (Trujillo) around as many times as you’d like. The UFC won’t just forgive you for your past, they’ll do so as quickly and quietly as possible; how many of you even knew that Alexander Gustafsson assaulted a woman when he was a teenager?

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And if you have a problem with the fact that the UFC isn’t nearly as hard on domestic violence as they claim to be? UFC Senior Vice President Jackie Poriadjian attempted to avoid that issue in an article published by Businessweek:

“We are no different than any other sport,” she says. “Some individuals will do things that don’t reflect well on our organization.” She pointed to recent domestic violence cases involving NFL players as evidence the issue is not specific to the UFC or MMA.

For the sake of this argument, let’s assume that the NFL in fact has a worse problem than the UFC does with athletes committing domestic violence. What does that have anything to do with the UFC’s stance on domestic violence? How does downplaying the issue as a whole – it happens in football, too, you guys! – change the fact that it’s still happening in your organization? How does “at least we’re not the NFL” change the fact that the UFC claims to ban all offenders, yet only does so when they’re disposable commodities? Why is “don’t change until we’re as bad as the worst organization” a good strategy moving forward?

The answers, of course, are: Nothing, It doesn’t, It definitely doesn’t, and It isn’t.

You wonder why people say our sport has a sexist, toxic culture? It’s because the UFC’s current policy on domestic violence depends on how many fans know who the abuser is, and White’s biggest concern about male fighters beating women revolves around the usage of “Ex-UFC Fighter” in the headlines. You can’t even have a discussion about fixing the problem, because that requires acknowledging that a problem even exists. The UFC has been hard on domestic violence since Zuffa took over, pay no attention to the man assaulting his wife behind the curtain.

A culture of denial in regard to athletes and domestic violence is exactly what created the scandal that the NFL is currently facing, and it’s hardly unreasonable to worry that the UFC’s similar approach will lead to an equally tragic result. The decision to resign Thiago Silva is troubling for a number of reasons, chief among them being that the UFC – like the NFL before them – is choosing to ignore the problem and pretend that they’re tougher on domestic violence than they are. Given how compliant the MMA media is with pushing the UFC narrative at all costs, the organization may very well be able to do this for as long as it wants to.

“If Roger Goodell saw that video, knew that’s what happened, knew Ray Rice did that to his fiancee, he should just get up and leave on his own,” White says at the end of his segment on “Fox Sports Live.” He seems offended that the NFL chose to deny that a problem existed, then chose to cover it up once they were forced to confront it. If only he felt that way about the UFC.