At first blush, it seems fitting that this past Monday when Matt Mitrione went on an unprovoked, hateful diatribe about transgender mixed martial artist Fallon Fox he was speaking from a bar somewhere in Europe. After all, surely Meathead must have been a few sheets to the wind when he decided it was a good idea to refer to Fox as "a lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak."
This wouldn't have been a major news story if Mitrione was privately celebrating over a few beers and voicing his opinion on a subject he evidently knows little about. That's a daily occurrence in bars across the globe. Depending on the clientele of the establishment in question, Mitrione's offensive comments may have been met with approbative cheers from like-minded bigots, an uncomfortable silence, or combative arguments from people who aren't down with public demonstrations of hate speech. Whatever the reaction his comments elicited, if Meathead had merely been holding court with whoever was sitting next to him the issue would have likely faded away into the recesses of memory along with the next morning's inevitable hangover.
The problem was though, Mitrione wasn't just a guy voicing his unenlightened opinion to a few fellow drunks at the bar; he was a representative of the UFC using the very public platform provided to him by the The MMA Hour to serve up some lame jokes about Fox, topped with a heaping helping of bigoted vitriol.
What's more, judging from appearances he was relatively sober when he did so. Not that intoxication would excuse what Mitrione said, but it would at least offer some explanation as to why he showed such a lack of judgement. One would think that just a few seconds spent running down a mental checklist of fighters who made controversial remarks and then faced severe repercussions would have been enough to dissuade Mitrione from framing his argument about Fox in such venomous language, but evidently Meathead either didn't think before going on his transphobic rant or he was anxious to join Miguel Torres, Forrest Griffin, and Frank Mir in the unofficial UFC Offensive Statement Hall of Shame. After all, as if the comments about Fox weren't questionable enough, Mitrione took a page out of Torres' playbook and told an inappropriate joke about his UFC on FUEL TV 9 opponent Phil De Fries being proficient in "the rape choke" since he is a student of Lloyd Irvin. Because, you know, making rape jokes did such wonders for Torres' career.
It didn't take long for the UFC to react to Mitrione's rant about Fox. They issued a statement decrying the former NFL player's "offensive and wholly unacceptable" comments and announced his contract had been immediately suspended due to a breach in the UFC's code of conduct.
What exactly this suspension will lead to is anyone's guess. Did Meathead talk himself out of a job? Will all be forgiven if he agrees to attend sensitivity training and make a donation to a non-profit that assists transgender people? One can only hope he is given a talking to by the UFC's new Vice President of Athlete Development and Government Regulation Matt Hughes, who in addition to being the official charged with overseeing the company's code of conduct, also referred to Fox as an "it" rather than as a "she" during a recent fan Q and A.
Dana White - himself no stranger to landing in hot water over offensive statements - weighed in on the subject today and opined there was "no point" for Mitrione to have done the interview on The MMA Hour in the first place since he wasn't promoting an upcoming fight. This would seem an odd line of reasoning from a promoter who gives out bonuses to fighters who garner the most Twitter followers. What makes one method of forging a bond with fans considered profitable to the company and another "pointless?" Maybe the issue isn't the medium fighters use to connect with fans, but rather fighters themselves not taking more time to think over what impact their words might have when they interact with the public.
Defenders of "free speech" may argue that Mitrione has a right to voice his opinions however he sees fit. That's not what's at issue here though. When Mitrione speaks in public he's doing so, whether he realizes it or not, as a representative of the UFC. As such he can't go around making hateful remarks like calling a transgender person a "a lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak." Well, he can if he wants to - there aren't any laws against being a jerk - but if he decides to use such language, he also needs to realize the UFC are also perfectly within their rights to punish or even fire a fighter who makes public statements that reflect badly on the company.
While there is definitely still room for civilized debate on whether or not Fox should be licensed to fight women considering she was biologically born in a male body and not enough research has been done to determine whether or not that gives her an unfair advantage, making Fox's transgender status the target of an ugly diatribe doesn't help Mitrione's case that she shouldn't be allowed to fight women. Mitrione called Fox an "embarrassment" to the sport of MMA, but his heterocentric hate speech was the real embarrassment - to Mitrione himself, to the sport, and most importantly to the UFC.
It's a lesson other fighters on the UFC roster would do well to learn from: every time you send out a tweet, give an interview to reporters, or appear on camera, the main reason anyone cares what you have to say is because you're a professional fighter in the UFC. If you can't keep yourself from making needless offensive statements, then don't be surprised when Zuffa tries to distance themselves from your comments. In fact, those who push the envelope far enough may just end up pushing themselves into the unemployment line.