LAS VEGAS – A torrent of mixed martial arts fans rushed to Matt Mitrione's defense after the embattled UFC heavyweight ripped into transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox on Monday, saying she had an unfair advantage competing against women.
Mitrione's unprovoked, vitriolic attack on Fox's "The MMA Hour" went largely unchallenged in the media despite the nature of his comments being so overtly obtuse.
"He's chromosomally a man," Mitrione said. "He had a gender change, not a sex change. He's still a man. He was a man for 31 years. Thirty-one years. That's a couple years younger than I am. He's a man. Six years of taking performance de-hancing drugs, you think is going to change all that? That's ridiculous. That is a lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak."
His comments came Monday, a day before the UFC publicly released its official Fighter Code of Conduct exclusively to Yahoo! Sports, and proved beyond doubt why such a document is so desperately needed.
Mitrione is entitled to his opinion, and there are many people who have rallied in support of his comments. Significantly, there are many doctors who share his concern that Fox has an unfair advantage competing against women who were born women.
[Dana White: 'No point' in Matt Matrione's transphobic rant]
But even if his comments were made in jest, they were outrageous and offensive and deserving of some sort of punishment.
On Monday, the UFC quickly denounced Mitrione's words and announced his indefinite suspension. It doesn't mean he'll be cut, or suspended long-term, or even fined, UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta told Yahoo! Sports. But the UFC will review the incident and, at the very least, try to educate Mitrione about why his comments were harmful.
The UFC was aided in the development of its code of conduct, which was based upon similar codes used in the NFL, Major League Baseball and NHL, by the powerful Washington D.C. law firm Covington & Burling.
Its aim, correctly, is not to punish, but to educate and prevent embarrassments.
"We're not a bunch of police officers and we're not sitting around all day trying to figure out ways to catch guys," UFC COO Ike Lawrence Epstein said. "We're trying to run a business and these things can get in the way of that. And look, there are two sides to that.
"Matt Mitrione, he's got a career, sponsors, things to take care of. We want to do what is right for the company, but if there is an opportunity to educate, to help him move on from this in a way that makes sense, we want to do that. We're not police officers here. We're trying, hopefully, to push guys in the right direction and make sure they're being respectful and not being disrespectful to any race, gender, etc."
The UFC has been plagued by a series of thoughtless comments in social media over the last few years that were meant as jokes but which came off as anything but. Rape is a horrible, violent crime and is nothing to make light of, but there have been instances recently where a fighter joked about it.
By publicly releasing the standard of conduct it expects from its fighters, the UFC has taken a strong step toward reducing the flippant comments that create a media sensation and which slow the business of arranging and promoting fights.
Among the things it covers is usage of performance enhancing drugs, criminal offenses, unlawful possession of a gun or other weapon, violent, threatening or harassing behavior; conduct that presents danger to the safety of another; intimidation; and any conduct that undermines the UFC.
Fertitta deserves credit for taking a stand against performance-enhancing drugs and saying he'd put his money behind efforts to limit PED usage by his fighters.
He endorsed a proposal made by boxing promoter Bob Arum, who supports random, unannounced testing of fighters, but wants it done under the auspices of the athletic commission where a fight is being held. Arum said he'd pay for the testing if the fighters agreed to it and the commission would direct it.
Most, if not all, state athletic commissions have small budgets and can't do much random testing. But Fertitta said he'd fund testing if states let him know they'd do it under terms similar to what Arum proposed.
"I'd write the check today," he said. "And not just testing for PEDs, but I'd do it for anything that improves the health, safety and well-being of our fighters."
He decried the recent trend of fighters applying for, and receiving, therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
Fertitta said, "I don't like it," but said he would "defer to the lawyers" on whether to ban its use in the UFC. He said he wasn't sure if saying that an outright ban of someone who has never used PEDs but who needs testosterone because of an illness would be legal.
But he did say he believes exemptions are being granted far too liberally.
"If a guy gets to be 37, 38, and he's starting to struggle and say, 'I don't feel like I did 10 years ago,' maybe it's time for him to start thinking about making a tough decision," Fertitta said. "Testosterone replacement is not designed for someone who is 38 to take and feel like he's 28 again. That's not the point of it."
The UFC's code of conduct is a good first step, but the key to its success is whether the company is vigilant in enforcing it and educating the athletes about their mistakes.
Mitrione, Fertitta said, was more than free to express an opinion about whether it is fair for a woman who used to be a man to fight women in sanctioned, professional bouts.
It's more about the offensive nature of his comments that landed him into trouble. Things that are jokes among the guys on the street corner don't go over quite as well when they're made in front of thousands, or millions, of witnesses.
"Whatever your thoughts are on the whole transgender issue, I've listened to [Mitrione's comments on 'MMA Hour'] and in my opinion, it came off as a bit mean-spirited, and is something I think warranted review," Fertitta said. "Obviously, this is not the easiest issue and a lot of people are questioning both sides of this thing. A fair debate and discussion of the issue should be allowed.
"But when you call her disgusting, and Buffalo Bill, that's another matter. It warrants review. I think it's the same thing the NFL would look at and the same thing that any professional organization that is at the level we're at would at least take a look at."
Hopefully, the upshot of the code of conduct's implementation is far less tasteless jokes, far less PED usage and far more enlightened behavior.
Things aren't going to be done perfectly, but it's a giant move in the right direction.
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