The NSAC Threatening Fighters’ Free Speech is a Fool’s Errand

February 3, 2019

EDITORIAL — Sticks and stones will brake my bones, but names will never hurt me… unless I’m a UFC fighter, according to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Earlier this week, the NSAC had a hearing handing out punishments to Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor, and a few other participants for their involvement in the infamous UFC 229 post-fight brawl. But what stood out that day amongst everything else was the fascination the commission had with the escalation of “trash talk” in the sport of mixed marital arts with much of the blame leveled at McGregor.

As Executive Director Bob Bennett said, This has “become totally unacceptable. There’s not any other athletes that I’m aware of that have spoken in various press conferences in the way Mr. McGregor has.”  He went on to say, “We should reign it in,” but also added, “we have no precedent for (doing so).”

Chairman Anthony Marnell jumped in during McGregor’s portion of the hearing saying, “The verbal part of the promotion, in my opinion, has gotten so out of line that it’s embarrassing.”

During a scrum with reporters after the hearing, Marnell gave an ominous warning, “Verbal instigations are not where we go… yet.” He then added, “I have to adjust. Again. Just like oral Turinabol, we’re gonna have to discuss mouthy fighters and the things that they say prior to fights and what the consequences are for that.”

During this time, I am thinking, what is going on here? What country am I in? Have you heard of the 1st Amendment?

But what if Chairman Marnell is right?  Have McGregor and other fighters gone too far? There are forms of speech that are not protected by the United States Constitution, such as libel, obscenity, calls to imminent lawless action, asking people to commit crimes, blackmail, and fighting words that are a call to violence. But hate speech is actually not one of them as many popularly believe. The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of protecting hate speech unless it’s a call to violence.

Remember the church group, the Westboro Baptists, that protested outside a fallen soldier’s funeral. Even as abhorrent and emotionally damaging as it was to the family and friends of a man that died for his country, the protest and speech was upheld by the court. 

Marnell seems to think that if they follow some sort of procedure and protocol that they can dance with this suppression of speech. He said, “I think we can be as strict as we wanna be. What we don’t wanna do is come in out of nowhere and just do this. What we wanna do is properly discuss it quickly, take feedback, follow the public process, make sure that it’s well documented – what our expectations are – issue a code of conduct policy that’s maybe a little more elaborate, and furthermore encourage our promoters to follow their own code of conduct policy.”

Sometimes we get caught up in our little corner of the universe and imagine it more important than it really is, but remember this game of MMA is a sport and it’s entertainment. These utterances from fighters at press conferences and on social media are simply words, no matter how offensive, uncomfortable, or disgusting they might be. They are still just words. And no matter what Chairman Marnell thinks about them, there are many people who find it entertaining or they wouldn’t have shelled out millions of dollars for seats at the arena or to watch on Pay-Per-View making UFC 229 the highest grossing UFC event in history.

This is the “moral line” in Marnell’s words being crossed. The public heard and the public voted with their dollars. This doesn’t mean just because there is a massive audience who will pay for it that it’s protected by the constitution, but if Marnell wants to drag the NSAC down that road, they will have a long haul and I believe he will be disappointed. 

When asked about a possible 1st Amendment challenge as he is part of a government agency, Marnell responded, “I haven’t thought that far. I guess you can say whatever you want at any time, but that doesn’t mean you should earn a privileged license.”

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And if the NSAC withholds a fighter’s “privileged” license over this, the NSAC as a government entity will be inhibiting a fighter’s free speech.

In America, we don’t have a right to be free from discomfort that some words may cause. This is the price of admission to living in a free society.  You have to make a choice. Is it worth having the government protect your sensibilities from being bruised? Because one day it will be the heavy boot of government keeping your tongue in check.

Nevada Commission Threatens to Sanction Fighters Who Trash Talk

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