Dana White took to the microphone after UFC 297 to defend Sean Strickland’s right to be homophobic and make horrific anti-gay comments, all the while holding a mic emblazoned with the logo of White’s UFC.
In defending Strickland’s “free speech” in response to a reporter’s question, White missed the point of asking White about it and navigated the minefield of speech that Strickland and the mostly straight-male fans of UFC have laid out for a man who makes millions of dollars from them.
White 2024 also very clearly disagreed with White 2014. It’s that, or he doesn’t think what Strickland said was “ignorant” or “stupid” (his words).
What could have been a great answer from White? Pretty easy:
“Yeah, guys can say what they want. We have free speech. I don’t agree with what Sean said, but I’m not going to get in the way of people saying what they want, even when I disagree with them.”
While that wouldn’t have been my full answer, it would have been an answer from White that I could respect.
Instead, what did we get?
A basic overview of the legal right to say what’s on your mind, or to think what you want, at least in the United States, with no real position from himself.
White chickened out.
(I will say, I agreed with White’s criticism of the reporter’s use of “leash.” It was an unfortunate word choice, and it did deserve some pushback.)
This Dana White is, still, in disagreement with Dana White from 2014, who did in fact suspend Matt Mitrione for comments about trans fighter Fallon Fox:
At the time, White invoked America as the reason he was suspending Mitrione:
“Work at any company anywhere in America, and go out and say ignorant, stupid stuff, publicly, say it publicly ... and see what happens to you.”
Apparently, what Strickland said doesn’t qualify as “ignorant, stupid stuff” in White’s eyes.
At least, if it did, he should have said so.
It’s understandable that guys like White are giving the big middle finger to “cancel culture,” or the push by so many to punish people who say things that don’t seem to reflect the direction of culture in 2024.
If White started removing people from cards for making politically “incorrect” statements, or saying “insensitive” comments, the fighters would move on to another promotion.
UFC isn’t the only game in town, and one quick way to alienate fans and fighters would be to punish the straight meatheads for their speech.
Is it possible a fighter might actually go too far? Advocate for violence against women or gay people, or racial violence? It’s unclear.
Still, White certainly has the power and influence to thread a needle. He’s a guy who, in the past, has said he has no issue with gay fighters. White has even said he has one regret: using the f-bomb gay slur. He has, on the other hand, continued a seemingly long and deep history of transphobia.
Yet it’s been years since he really talked about this, and he could make it clear he doesn’t think men should be ashamed of their gay sons, or any of the other nonsense Strickland spewed.
Instead, during the presser, White hid behind having two gay women as the co-main event of UFC 297.
This, of course, is a bait-and-switch. There are many out gay and bi women in women’s UFC.
There is only one out man — Jeff Molina, who was outed as bi — and he hasn’t gotten a fight since he came out almost a year ago.
To use Raquel Pennington, Mayra Bueno Silva and other gay women as a shield for saying nothing about Strickland’s comments in men’s UFC — literally the most anti-gay, homophobic comments we can remember ever hearing from a professional athlete — is bogus.
Unfortunately, the reporter backed right down and moved on.
The whole ordeal has assuredly had a chilling effect on UFC media. I have been personally flooded with some of the worst hate messages I’ve ever received in email, DM, and across social media, and I didn’t even ask these questions.
I hope members of the UFC media keep pressing questions like this. Strickland should be asked again about them. White should be asked if he agrees with Strickland — and don’t let him off the hook if he starts waxing poetic on the right to free speech.