Part of Joe Rogan's charm as an announcer is that you can never be sure what's going to come out of his mouth next. Sometimes Rogan's quick witted quips can be highly entertaining, but other times it seems like he opens his mouth before thinking.
My first reaction when hearing this was to think, "Really? A Lance Bass joke in 2012? What's next, a cutting edge Snakes on a Plane reference? Urging fans to 'friend' the UFC on Myspace?"
Upon further reflection though I realized Rogan's remark was more than just dated and lame: it was also offensive to a large segment of the UFC's potential customer base. What's more, it gives the UFC's enemies dirt to use against them and opens the door to problems with mainstream sponsors.
Now if you're the type of person who thinks criticism of a tossed off gay joke is much overly PC ado about nothing, allow to cut you off at the pass. Unless you happen to be gay you really don't get a say in the matter as to whether or not the LGBT community should find comments like this offensive. Unless you know what it's like first hand to go through life as a member of a particular minority group then you're not in the position to dictate terms to them regarding how they wish to be portrayed.
Personally I didn't find the joke hateful so much as unfortunately ill considered. In the bigger picture though it doesn't matter what I thought. What's most important here is the negative consequences remarks like this can have for the UFC, and by extension Joe Rogan.
To begin with, it's never a good idea for a business to alienate a segment of their potential customer base. In a lot of ways Rogan is far more "the voice of the UFC" than Mike Goldberg thanks to his more prominent role during the broadcast. When he makes cracks about gay sex on the air it sends a message to the LBGT community that the UFC doesn't care if it offends them. Even if this is only a small percentage of the UFC's overall audience, it's bad business to tolerate behavior that could turn away customers, especially when it's completely unnecessary.
What could be even worse for the UFC's bottom line is if a group like GLAAD catches wind of this and brings it to the attention of blue chip sponsors like Anheuser-Busch and Harley Davidson. Anheuser-Busch - makers of Bud Lite and Bud Lite Lime - already warned the UFC about fighters making sexist and homophobic comments back in April. One of the incidents A-B was referring to was Rogan calling journalist Maggie Hendricks the C-word in a post on the Underground last year. It won't look good when his name is brought to A-B's attention yet again for making an insensitive remark.
And make no mistake about it, Rogan's offhand joke will eventually be brought to the attention of all of the UFC's major sponsors. Las Vegas' Culinary Workers Union Local 226 will see to that.
You may have heard Dana White going off on one of his trademark tirades about the Culinary Union before. In a nutshell, the beef between Zuffa and the Culinary Union stems the Fertitta brothers' Station Casinos resisting unionization efforts. In order to get back at Frank and Lorenzo the Culinary Union have repeatedly attempted to cause trouble for the UFC. Their lobbying efforts have been a major factor in keeping MMA - and thus the UFC - illegal in New York and they were also behind an MMA fighter's bill of rights in California that would essentially keep the UFC from running there.
Remember that warning Anheuser-Busch issued the UFC to crack down on the sexist and homophobic slurs? The Culinary Union was behind that one as well. They sent a letter to the North American president of A-B alerting him to some of the questionable things UFC talent have said over the years. If that wasn't enough they also created a website to document offensive faux pas from those associated with the UFC.
Judging from their low rent unfitforchildren.org website it might seem like the Culinary Union are a bunch of fringe cranks with an axe to grind, but the fact that they got a major company like Anheuser-Busch to issue a warning to a business partner and have the power to influence lawmakers proves they are a formidable opponent with the potential to throw a serious monkey wrench in the UFC's business plans.
Which is why Joe Rogan needs to be more careful. He can go off about how people are too PC and uptight all he wants but it won't change the fact that we live in a world where you can't get away with making offensive comments on national television without repercussions. Rogan is a huge asset for the UFC and it would be a marked blow to the quality of their product if they were ever forced to take him out of the broadcast booth due to outside pressure. He's an extremely witty and well spoken guy who doesn't need to resort to comments that might be construed as sexist or homophobic. Here's hoping the UFC at least gives him a warning that comments like his Lance Bass joke won't be tolerated going forward.
After all, when you have a powerful enemy who is trying their best to shoot you down, why give them more ammunition?
Follow me on Twitter @BorchardtMMA