According to Dana White, Georges St-Pierre has long been the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view draw and biggest money-maker. White also credits GSP for helping the UFC to expand into a list of new international markets, and he sees GSP as one of the sport’s (and the brand’s) finest ambassadors and spokespeople. White spent a great deal of the last week presenting GSP as an ideal model of professionalism: hard-working, honest, company-oriented, and thoughtful. Additionally, GSP is widely viewed, by White and others, to be the best welterweight mixed martial artist of all time, as well as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the history of the sport. Georges St-Pierre is one of the best athletes in the world, a universally respected and beloved person, and, by all accounts, the best employee that a company could hope for.
Last night, St-Pierre revealed that he is struggling with serious personal and health issues that he is seeking to resolve. To name three examples that have already been revealed in the last twelve hours: he is not sleeping well, he has feelings that he is going “crazy,” and he sometimes suffers vision and cognitive issues after being struck. This is sad news for all fight fans, not primarily because it will prevent us from witnessing more of GSP’s greatness in the cage, but because we have reason to care about the well-being of one of the sport’s most humble, dedicated and remarkable figures. By itself, the revelation of GSP’s struggles should make front-page headlines and should prompt discussions about the safety and moral integrity of mixed martial arts.
One would anticipate that GSP’s situation would deal a tremendous blow to the UFC and to its parent company, Zuffa. As human beings and as GSP’s long-time partners, Zuffa’s leaders should be hit hard by the news that their friend is suffering. More cynically, as businesspeople, Zuffa’s executives should be attempting to sort out the optics of having their star fighter suffering from apparent cognitive or neurological issues in his 30s. Although the company’s primary concern should be for GSP’s health, one could not fault them for also worrying about how GSP’s issues could affect the company.
But Dana White, an ingenious trailblazer in short-sightedness and immorality, last night demonstrated total unawareness of even the cynical point just noted. His concern was neither with GSP’s well-being nor with a potential public relations nightmare caused by GSP’s health problems. White’s focus was elsewhere: he was furious about the judging decision, he wanted GSP back in the cage as soon as possible for a rematch, and he wanted St-Pierre and every other employee to know that St-Pierre’s effort to step away was unacceptable. According to White: “there’s no […] ‘I’m going to take a hiatus.’ […] That’s not how it works.” It doesn’t work that way.” Later, White told reporters that St-Pierre’s problems “aren’t as bad” as they have been presented by St-Pierre. Of course, White is not in a position to evaluate St-Pierre’s health concerns.
White’s behavior is so transparently morally repugnant that there’s no reason to spend time pedantically analyzing it. Dana White is a man who long ago stopped feeling the moral tension of making one’s money by organizing fights. Fight promoting is an ethically complicated practice, but one that, when handled with proper care and humility, can perhaps be done with integrity. But words like “care,” “humility”, and “integrity” are not part of White’s lexicon. (That space is reserved, evidently, for “fuck,” “cunt,” and “faggot.”) Dana White is a bad man, in every sense of that word.
As a business decision, White’s behavior is also comically confused. Many in the world continue to look at the sport with nervous skepticism and moral concern. Tension between fight promoters and fighters is at an all-time high. In recent months, we have even seen a small coalition of former UFC champions publicly campaigning against White for his callousness and unfairness. And in this environment, Dana White chose to ridicule his leading man, to publicly humiliate and embarrass St-Pierre for his decision to look after his own health. Rather than using St-Pierre’s admission as an opportunity to show that well-being always comes before money, White chose to highlight that concerns for well-being are not even allowed in the discussion. This is not just unethical. It’s bad business.
White just sent an important message to each of his fighters and to everyone watching from the outside: a fighter’s respectful treatment and support is always conditional on the fighter’s willingness to fight on Zuffa’s terms, even if that fighter is Georges St-Pierre. This should serve as a chilling reminder to every fighter on the planet—for as long as Dana White is running the show, you are not important. If White would publicly and immorally shame his frontman, what would he do to you?
Dana White owes apologies to many people. Most importantly, he owes an apology and a show of tremendous regret to Georges St-Pierre. But he also ought to apologize to every one of his fighters, past and present, and to the fans of the sport that he is corrupting. Dana White is bad for fighters, bad for fighting and even, I believe, bad for his business. The MMA media should press White for an apology, and a failure to do so is a moral failure on the part of the media.
Of course, it is unlikely that White would offer any apology. But if he does, I hope that no one will accept it. White owes apology, but no one owes him forgiveness. He is a bad man, and his time as a leader in mixed martial arts should end.