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Less than a week after Disney fired actress and former mixed martial arts star Gina Carano over social media posts widely viewed as anti-Semitic, a Disney corporate partner has enmeshed the company in a spinoff controversy.
At a UFC 258 media availability Friday, UFC president Dana White, whose promotion airs on Disney-owned ESPN properties, was asked about Carano’s situation.
White used the occasion to take an unprompted shot at an ESPN employee of Jewish heritage with whom he has feuded, Ariel Helwani.
“Leave Gina alone,” White said. “Listen, we make mistakes. We all make mistakes. For everybody to go in on her – I love how Ariel Helwani made it all about him. It was all about him. Such a douche.”
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After a weekend in which several of Helwani’s higher-profile colleagues at ESPN tweeted in support of their colleague while the company was silent, ESPN issued its first public comment on the situation Monday.
“Ariel is a valued colleague and an exceptional MMA reporter. His record speaks for itself,” ESPN told the New York Post.
Helwani posted on the issue on social media over the weekend.
“As a Jewish person, and as a human being, it just doesn’t sit well,” Helwani’s post said in part. “And I wish she would have never posted that. And quite frankly I wish someone would have talked to her about her social media posts over the past year. Some of them not even political. Just in general, they felt off to me. I am sorry she has gone down this path.”
White, who has gone silent on his previous vocal support of former President Donald Trump since the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, has considered Helwani an enemy for years.
Their most high-profile dustup came at UFC 199 in Inglewood, Calif., in June 2016. White was upset with Helwani, then employed by Vox Media, for reporting on Brock Lesnar’s planned return to the company before it could reveal the news on its own during the broadcast. The UFC responded by revoking the Helwani’s credentials, as well as those of his camera crew members E. Casey Leydon and Esther Lin, mid-event. The trio’s credentials were restored several days later after a public backlash.
The list of current and former ESPN employees who spoke out before the company issued its statement include Sarah Spain, Pablo Torres, Kenny Mayne and Dan LeBatard.