Miguel Torres’ firing by the Ultimate Fighting Championship has sparked an unprecedented response by fans and the media, both in support and in criticism, but the move by the Las Vegas-based fight promotion is hardly anomalous.
Employees losing their jobs for comments made on social media platforms is common. In fact, Torres isn’t the first UFC fighter to be handed his pink slip for comments made on a social media site. War Machine, born Jonathan Koppenhaver, was fired in 2008 after posting on his Myspace page that he thought the late Evan Tanner committed suicide, despite the investigation into his death ruling otherwise.
Penalties and firings for Twitter posts have been all over the headlines, almost as long as Twitter has existed.
The NBA fined Orlando Magic guard Gilbert Arenas in June for posting tweets that degraded women and compared them to slaves.
Last month, Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison was fined $500,000 for comments he made on the labor negotiations during the NBA lockout.
In September, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves called IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart a “circus clown” on Twitter and was fined $30,000 and put on probation.
Aflac fired comedian Gilbert Gottfried in March for comments made about the Japan tsunami.
Torres recently tweeted, “If a rape van was called a surprise van, more women wouldn’t mind going for rides in them. Everyone likes surprises.”
When the remark was brought to the attention of UFC president Dana White, he promptly fired Torres.
The critics of the UFC’s actions are calling for consistency. Torres isn’t the first UFC employee to make offensive remarks on Twitter. Former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin recently tweeted twice about rape.
On Nov. 8, Griffin tweeted, “Rape is the new missionary.” The comment that appeared to be meant as a joke quickly drew attention and criticism. Griffin removed the tweets and issued an apology. He later made a donation to a rape victims charity.
The organization recently offered a Twitter incentive to fighters, encouraging them to use Twitter more. $5,000 bonuses were handed out for most followers, highest percentage of growth in followers, and most creative tweets. Griffin received a bonus in the most creative tweets category.
On Wednesday, at a press conference to promote the UFC on Fox 2 card, Rashad Evans referenced the situation at Penn State surrounding assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and his alleged sexual assault on children during an exchange with his opponent and Penn State alum Phil Davis.
Davis mentioned that Evan’s former training partner Jon Jones questioned his chin.
“You’re going to have to find out for yourself. I bet you won’t be able to put your hands on me, though. I bet you’ll be the first one to take a shot. I guarantee you’ll be the first one to take a shot,” Evans said. “Cause I’m going to put those hands on you worse than that dude did to them other kids at Penn State.”
Following the press conference, White met with Evans and discussed the contentious comments. “He said something stupid, probably one of the dumbest things you can say. He gets it. He knows it was a stupid thing to say,” said White after the UFC 140 pre-fight press conference in Toronto.
White explained to MMAFighting his reasoning for letting Torres go and the difference between his situation and what Griffin and Evans did.
“I thought this was offensive. I thought it was absolutely ridiculous and stupid, and I’m sure offensive to many people,” White told Ariel Helwani about Torres‘ firing.
“There have been cases here where things have happened that people have been offended by some of the things that the fighters have said. We have the Forrest Griffin incident, we’ve got the Rashad Evans incident, and now the Miguel Torres incident. The way that I handle these things with guys is, we’re all going to make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes,” said White.
“We don’t come out at the UFC with these canned statements that are written by our lawyers. We handled everything on a case-by-case basis with the idea that people are going to make mistakes and it’s how you handle yourself after you make that mistake.”
On the surface the situations look to be extremely similar, but with drastically different disciplinary measures taken by the fight promotion. Dig down to the next stratum and the incidents aren’t at all similar outside of the three incidents being about fighters publicly making offensive comments.
“The thing that happened with Forrest Griffin, just to walk everybody through the history of this, so we can really understand what’s going on. Forrest Griffin sent a tweet that said, ‘rape is the new missionary.’ Okay? So when I call him… I call these guys and I’m like I can’t wait to hear this one. Let’s see how he’s going to make sense of this.
“When I called him, he said when he woke up in the morning he turned on the television and the Sandusky thing was happening, right. He switched the channel and literally the next news channel was talking about a woman who was raped in Las Vegas in one of the hotel rooms. He changed the channel and the third channel that he went to was a completely different rape. So his thing was, you never used to see this stuff or hear about it on TV and now it’s so, every channel, they are talking about rape. It’s the new missionary,” explained the UFC president.
“Forrest chose the wrong forum to do it on Twitter where there’s only so many characters. You can’t explain yourself and it can be taken out of context. How Forrest handled that after… First of all when I called him, I had no idea how he could make sense out of this, but he did,” said White. “In no way, shape or form was he joking or being light-hearted about rape or anything like that.”
Rashad Evans’ situation is acutely different than Torres’ or Griffin’s. Evans said exactly what he meant to say. It wasn’t a joke. He wasn’t taken out of context. But an onion has many layers.
“This thing that happened yesterday in Chicago with Rashad Evans, again, another intelligent guy. Him and (Phil) Davis get into this heated back-and-forth. Davis went to Penn State. Rashad wrestled for Michigan and Rashad wanted to stick it to him and Penn State, so he had said the Sandusky thing.” White told MMAFighting.
“Obviously a dumb thing to say in the heat of the moment, but he said, ‘listen, this is why I said it. I went after him.’ Okay, I can make sense of that,” added White.
It’s intent that separates Torres from Griffin and Evans. Intent is why he is unemployed today and Evans and Griffin received no disciplinary action.
“It was just a joke, and that’s not a funny joke to me. That’s not, it’s just not something you tweet,” said White about the Torres situation. “If that’s your sense of humor, keep it at home around your buddies and keep it to yourself. It’s not something you put out on Twitter. And there’s no explanation for it. I can’t make any sense of it.”
White isn’t going to start monitoring his fighters’ social media interactions, but he did have some advice for them or anyone using social media sites.
“When you’re getting ready to twitter, or you’re getting ready to say something, think about what you’re going to say. Think about what you’re going to tweet and use a little common sense.”