Much as the NFL has decided to use its resources to promote breast cancer awareness, the UFC has come up with a similar plan to promote HIV awareness, particularly among young people who are being infected at an alarmingly high rate.
The Center for Disease Control & Prevention said the awareness about HIV and AIDS among those under 35 is surprisingly poor. Given that the UFC's strength is with the 18-to-34-year-old demographic, chief operating officer Ike Lawrence Epstein felt it was natural for the company to team with the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada to promote the "Protect Yourself at all Times," campaign.
In the last two years in the U.S., half of all new cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, affected those under 30. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention referred to the lack of education among young people about HIV prevention and safe sex practices as "shocking," "astonishing," and "just unacceptable."
Given its audience and the fact that all UFC fighters must take an HIV test prior to a fight, Epstein said the campaign made sense. It has the perfect platform to reach those in danger of contracting HIV, he said.
"As someone who grew up in the 1980s and saw the virus beaten back with education in the 1990s, I was stunned to learn from our friends at The Center that HIV is still having such a dramatic impact on young people," Epstein said. "No other sport reaches the under-35 demographic like the UFC does and the UFC felt a duty to try and do something about this situation.
"It gives me great pride to announce the UFC will be partnering with The Center, LBGTQ+ and other organizations for a project we are calling 'Protect Yourself At All Times.' This will be a local, national and, ultimately, international campaign designed to educate the UFC’s vast core audience of under 35s about the realities of HIV."
The UFC's campaign will urge people to take an HIV test and to practice safe sex. UFC fighters will make appearances on behalf of the program and the UFC will produce ads and public service announcements.
UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin and women's bantamweight contender Liz Carmouche are serving as spokespersons for the project.
"I had 15 fights in the UFC Octagon during my career, and before each and every one of them, I had an HIV test," Griffin said. "I'm encouraging everybody to show themselves and their partners the same respect I showed my opponents by getting tested and protecting themselves at all times."
The campaign will be rolled out leading up to Worlds AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
Carmouche said she is participating because it is something that should not be taken for granted.
"There's a feeling of invincibility that comes with being young, with being fit and in the prime of your life," Carmouche said. "But I learned when I was in the Marines just like I've learned as a UFC fighter that no one is invincible, and that you have to project yourself at all times."