Dana White and President Donald Trump have worked hand-in-hand in the rush to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
So it was no surprise to see Trump get some air time on ESPN during Saturday’s UFC 249 broadcast.
The event is being propped up as a beacon to those supporting the move to get back to business as medical experts warn that doing so too soon will lead to more illness, death and risk another setback to an already battered economy.
Trump: ‘We need sports’
Trump used the opportunity to deliver his message of re-opening, urging sports leagues to lead the way.
“We love it,” Trump said during an ad break amid the event’s preliminary matches. “We think it’s important. Get the sports leagues back. Let’s play.
“You do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do. But we need sports. We want our sports back. And congratulations to Dana White UFC.”
White’s strategy to push forward amid pandemic
White has repeatedly shunned public health concerns in favor of hosting UFC events amid the COVID-19 pandemic and said in March that he was following Trump’s advice on how to proceed. The two have a longstanding personal relationship that has translated to White’s public support of Trump on the campaign trail.
In March, White called media critics who questioned his reaction to the coronavirus “the weakest, wimpiest people on Earth.”
UFC Brasilia carried on in March days after the rest of the sports world shut down. White attempted to skirt state and regulatory mandates in April in an effort to host UFC 249 on California tribal land before ESPN shut it down.
Coronavirus hasn’t gone away
Saturday’s event in Jacksonville represents the sport’s official comeback as COVID-19 continues to rack up a death toll that has now exceeded 78,000 in the United States. Regulators in New York, Nevada and California had previously refused to sanction the event.
One fight was canceled before the start of the event after Ronaldo Souza and two of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Saturday, the United States accounted for 1.3 million of the world’s 4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. The Centers for Disease Control forecasts the death rate in the United States to increase from the current rate of 1,750 per day to 3,000 daily by the end of May.
The White House acknowledged on Monday that it was not operating on those guidelines set by the CDC.
“This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or data that the task force has analyzed,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a Monday statement.
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