LAS VEGAS – Miguel Torres arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday as just another of the millions of unemployed Americans.
He ended the day as the newest fighter in the UFC, talking his way back into the good graces of UFC president Dana White less than a month after being cut for making a joke on Twitter about rape.
White reinstated Torres after hearing Torres' apology and learning of the ex-champion's efforts to rectify his wrong by reaching out to victims of rape.
Torres went to five rape crisis centers in the Chicago area and met with rape victims. He did volunteer work, donated money and attended counseling.
After hearing the first-hand stories of rape victims, Torres grasped that what he wrote as an off-the-cuff joke had significant implications beyond its intent.
"I was told why what I said really hurt people and how powerful my words really were, and why it wasn't funny," Torres said Wednesday while sitting next to White on a makeshift stage in the lobby of the MGM Grand following the UFC 141 pre-fight news conference.
"It was one of these things where I didn't know what to expect. I thought I was going to go in there and apologize, but I was there for about an hour, an hour-and-a-half in each center, getting full rundowns from rape victims. I got educated, really."
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Torres has a quirky sense of humor, and his Twitter timeline was full of off-the-wall jokes. But on Dec. 8, in an attempt to call attention to one of his favorite sitcoms, "Workaholics," Torres tweeted, "If a rape van was called a surprise van, more people wouldn't mind going for rides in them. Everyone likes surprises."
When White learned of the post, he cut Torres immediately and without so much as talking to him about it. That prompted an outcry among fans of the former World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion, who remains a top contender in the UFC's deep 135-lbs. weight class.
On Wednesday, White shrugged as he said, "Now I'm going to be ripped for bringing him back. But you know what? I don't care."
White adopted an aggressive, almost defiant tone when he said that he would not come up with a written policy for Twitter for his fighters. Instead, he said, "Let common sense prevail."
Rape is a horrible crime that has significant and long-lasting effects on its victims. It is hardly the kind of topic to be bandied about lightly.
And while there are some who will bash White for essentially handing Torres no penalty at all – fighters only get paid when they fight, and Torres fought on Nov. 19 – White's actions forced Torres to think, and by thinking, Torres came to the conclusion on his own that his so-called joke was in fact a major blunder.
There is no other way to put it: Torres' words were incredibly thoughtless, hurtful and stupid.
But they weren't the words of a man advocating or condoning rape. They were the words of a guy who hit "send" before he thought about the meaning of what he'd written, a mistake every one of us who has ever written a word on the Internet has made.
Torres is a good man who made a thoughtless move. He's not a heinous criminal who sees women as objects, and he shouldn't be treated as such.
Those words will follow Torres forever, and there are going to be those who once cheered for him who will now boo. That's certainly their prerogative. There will be groups that complain and urge boycotts when he fights. Whatever happens to him in that regard is his, and only his, fault.
But his 20-day stint on the unemployment line opened his world view. It made him a better, more understanding, more tolerant human being. At the end of the day, that is the point: We should all learn from our mistakes.
Miguel Torres made a mistake and paid for it. No, he didn't lose a paycheck and he didn't lose his standing in the bantamweight division. From that perspective, he paid no price.
Who knows, though, how many sponsors will never want anything to do with him again? Who can guess how many fans have walked away from him for good?
The point of any punishment is, theoretically, to rehabilitate the wrong so it doesn't happen again.
Torres gets it, and you can be sure he won't do it again – not after having to walk into the kitchen of his family home and come face-to-face with his father. His father had worked long hours for low pay for years, sacrificing so his family could have a better life.
Their eyes met, and Torres saw the hurt. He knew instantly that what he had written was wrong, and at that moment, before he had met any rape victims and before he had done any volunteer work, he knew he wouldn't do it again.
And so, 20 days after it happened, the sordid affair is over and Torres is once again a UFC fighter.
Hopefully, he'll be the last fighter to make any sort of joke about rape, not because of the threat of being cut, but because of the understanding that it is a hurtful, painful thing to do.
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