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ESPN and UFC fall short in addressing sexual assault allegations against Conor McGregor at UFC 246 press conference

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Everyone should have seen this coming when Ariel Helwani failed to pointedly ask McGregor about “sexual assault allegations”

It came about ten minutes into the pre-fight press conference for Saturday‘s UFC 246 fight card. It being the one question that needed to be asked in a public setting of one Conor Anthony McGregor, who appeared more on the police blotter in 2019 than he showed up to compete on UFC fight cards.

The man who asked the question was Canadian journalist Morgan Campbell. When it was Campbell’s turn to address McGregor, UFC president Dana White or McGregor‘s UFC 246 opponent Donald Cerrone, Campbell focused on the former two-division UFC champion.

“A couple quick questions for Conor about your legal issues,” Campbell began. “What can you tell us—” and that’s when the fans — well, let’s assume it was only fans — who were in attendance for the event, began to shower Campbell with boos.

Before the fan derision died down, UFC company man, Cerrone, played the good dog and said, “We’re here to talk about a fight, nothing he does outside of fighting. Why does everybody keep going there?”

As expected, UFC president Dana White attempted to point to the interview Ariel Helwani did with McGregor on ESPN, which must be pointed out, is the UFC‘s broadcast partner.

“He answered these questions yesterday on ESPN,” White claimed.

Campbell then had the audacity to do actual journalism and pushed forward with his question.

“Can you tell us anything specifically about the status of the sexual assault allegations in Ireland?”

“He answered that yesterday on ESPN,” White repeated.

“Was there ever a point where you guys were concerned that it might imperil this fight?” Campbell then asked.

“No,” White said and Campbell handed the microphone over with the boos for his questions still hanging in the air.

Now, about White‘s assertions that McGregor answered the question about the sexual assault investigations, which were reported by The New York Times, during McGregor’s ESPN interview. That didn’t actually happen. McGregor answered questions about “allegations,” but during the multiple camera shot UFC video interview, McGregor did not answer a single question about sexual assault allegations. That’s because he was not asked a single specific question about the sexual assault allegations.

I know what Helwani was asking during the interview. MMA fans likely know what Helwani was asking as well, but the regular sports fan who doesn’t follow MMA, that fan might not have had any clue what McGregor was being asked about. Helwani, knowing he works for an organization like ESPN, that is not specifically focused on MMA, should have pointedly said “sexual assault allegations.” He didn’t.

Helwani fell short. Now, being an ESPN employee, he might have fallen short because he might have been told to not say “sexual assault.” Helwani might have fallen short because the questions might have been reviewed and approved in advance by McGregor, his team and the UFC. There’s also the chance, that Helwani, who knows what can and can’t be asked of UFC fighters, worded those questions in that manner knowing the expectations of the promotion. Whatever happened on the questioning side, it was a failure of journalism.

Campbell shouldn’t be criticized for asking the question that needed to be asked at the UFC 246 press conference. Anyone who booed him, anyone who said he didn’t do his job, anyone who thinks a UFC press conference isn’t a place to ask a tough question is part of the problem. Fans can carry water for an organization, team or fighter, blind allegiance is part of being a fan. But journalists? They should always ask the tough questions, no matter the potential repercussions. Morgan Campbell did that. He should be applauded, not booed.

On the flip side, ESPN and Helwani should be asked why the words “sexual assault allegations” were reduced to “allegations.” The removal of those two very important words allowed White, McGregor and the UFC to proclaim the question answered when in reality it’s still an open inquiry.