UFC president Dana White has long been known for rants against reporters and analysts, and Wednesday night saw him going even further than normal with a rant against the New York Times and reporter Kevin Draper. On Tuesday, the paper published a story by Draper with the headline of “U.F.C.’s Coronavirus Plan Is Careful. Its Enforcement Has Been Spotty” (the periods in abbreviations are one of the many quirks of NYT style, or N.Y.T. style), which described the UFC’s written protocols to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19 (Draper obtained the full document, which can be found here) at their events, and how many of those protocols weren’t adhered to in Saturday’s UFC 249. In White’s press conference after Wednesday’s UFC on ESPN+ 29, he was asked about that report, and instead of addressing the facts discussed there, he unloaded on both the NYT and Draper:
— MMA Junkie (@MMAjunkie) May 14, 2020
Here’s a transcription of the key remarks from White, via Danny Segura of MMA Junkie:
When asked about the New York Times story, White didn’t deny any of the facts reported and instead decided to lambaste the author, Kevin Draper.
“F*ck that guy. F*ck that guy,” White said during the post-fight news conference, which MMA Junkie attended. “You know what happened with that guy? That guy who’s never covered the sport was writing a story about Endeavor (UFC’s parent company) and then the UFC was one of the Endeavor … you know. And what happened when this guy and this paper covered the UFC – when they’ve never covered it before? What do you think happened?
“This f*cking story was huge. They did killer traffic. Now they’re writing stories, three a week, and they’re posting live results. I don’t care what this guy thinks or what he has to say, what he writes. Good for him, he’s pulling traffic.”
And as far as repercussions the article could have on business? White couldn’t care less.
“I don’t give a f*ck,” White said. “Don’t give a f*ck.”
…“A lot of criticism coming into this week, the fact that we wanted to go, and this d*ck head from The New York Times that found out MMA was popular.”
Here’s how Draper responded:
Anyway, if you know anything I should know, email is in the bio: https://t.co/CazurLphje
— Kevin Draper (@kevinmdraper) May 14, 2020
Attacking a messenger rather than the substance of a report is a regular move for White, as shown with some of his blasts at Ariel Helwani in the past. But he’s also wrong in his particular attacks on Draper and the NYT, as even a cursory perusal of the NYT’s MMA topic page illustrates. That topic page alone has articles dating back to 2015, with most of them being on the UFC, and the paper’s coverage of MMA dates back well before that (and before Endeavor’s July 2016 acquisition of the UFC).
And quite a few of those pieces are by Draper, including a number of pieces from long before the COVID-19 pandemic, including two pieces from June 2017 on Mayweather-McGregor, an August 2017 piece on White’s comments on Jon Jones, and coverage of Nate Diaz and UFC 244 this past November. So “when this guy and this paper covered the UFC – when they’ve never covered it before” is false. Draper also covered the UFC during his previous job at Deadspin (he joined the NYT from Deadspin in May 2017).
But the larger picture here isn’t just White’s factually-incorrect attacks on Draper and the NYT, but rather his refusal to address the substance of the story. This was not an opinion piece suggesting the UFC should implement different protocols; it was a reported piece based on the UFC’s own documented plans, which were not actually followed on several fronts during UFC 249, including face-to-face post-fight interviews, handshakes, and personnel like White not wearing masks. Those plans not being followed is a big deal, especially with fighter Ronaldo Souza (who bumped fists with White during a weigh-in) and two of his cornermen testing positive for COVID-19. (Souza was removed from the card after that, but his participation in pre-fight events still raises some concerns for everyone who was around him.)
The other context to consider here is that as Draper reported, the UFC mandated that fighters, cornermen, and reporters who covered the event in person sign a participation agreement before the event, with that agreement suggesting that fighters could lose “purses, win bonuses, other fight-related bonuses and event-based merchandise royalties” if they “suggest or communicate” the event was held “without appropriate health, safety or other precautions.” That agreement was so stringent that the MMA Journalists’ Association urged members not to sign it in a statement:
The officers of the MMA Journalists Association are aware of a waiver that media members have been asked to sign when attending UFC events amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It is our opinion that this document is overly broad and overreaching in its scope, and may interfere with the ability of media members to do their jobs fully and effectively. We are advising members not to sign this document, even if it means foregoing in-person coverage of these UFC events.
…It is our belief that some of the restrictive language in the UFC’s agreement could have a chilling effect on journalists, possibly limiting their ability to fully and accurately report the facts. This is something we cannot support.
MMAJA officers reached out to the UFC to discuss the matter, but received no response. We also consulted with The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (https://www.rcfp.org/), which offers pro bono legal representation and other resources to “protect First Amendment freedoms and newsgathering rights of journalists.” RCFP legal fellow William Powell’s interpretation of the UFC participation agreement that MMAJA members and other credentialed media were asked to sign was that it was legally questionable and potentially ethically problematic. Going forward, RCFP offered consultation for MMAJA members, and would provide contact for a media attorney in Nevada if any of our members want to discuss challenging the agreement on public policy grounds.
So White’s attack on Draper and the NYT comes after that attempt to restrict reporters’ coverage, and his counterfactual rant about Draper and the Times seems like further proof of his determination to attack critics rather than address criticisms. And it’s just the latest time that White has made the UFC look bad.