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Opinion: Dana White could have and should have suspended Conor McGregor

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If MLB can suspend a player with no criminal charges filed, so can the UFC.

UFC 236 press conference Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

Conor McGregor landed in the news a lot in 2019. The majority of that news was bad and not focused on his fighting career. The two ugliest reports about McGregor came from the New York Times. In March, the paper wrote that the former UFC champ was under investigation in Ireland after a woman said he sexually assaulted her in December 2018 inside a Dublin Hotel. In October, The Times reported McGregor was named in another sexual assault complaint where a second woman alleged that McGregor sexually assaulted her in a vehicle outside a Dublin pub in October 2019. McGregor was not arrested, but The Times did say he was under investigation for both alleged assaults.

On Thanksgiving Day, the UFC announced McGregor was booked opposite Donald Cerrone in the main event of UFC 246, which takes place on January 18 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. That proclamation raised more than a few eyebrows. Businesses don’t usually announce big news on a holiday. That is unless that business would prefer not to answer questions about its announcement.

In mid-December, Yahoo Sports got around to asking the question UFC president Dana White might have been trying to avoid. That question was, had he heard criticism about booking McGregor while he was under investigation for two alleged sexual assaults?

”I didn’t even know (about the criticism),” White claimed. “He hasn’t been charged with anything. You can’t accuse somebody and stop them from making a living when they haven’t even been charged of anything.”

It turns out White was wrong about that.

On Thursday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred handed New York Yankees pitcher Domingo Germán an 81-game suspension for violating the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Germán was not and has not been charged with any crime. Sports Illustrated also reported, “There is no indication that a police report was filed or that law enforcement formally investigated.”

The question then becomes, how can Manfred make a disciplinary decision when no charges have been filed against an MLB athlete? The answer to that question comes via the MLB joint policy, which includes two surprising revelations.

The first of those statements is, “The Commissioner’s authority to discipline is not dependent on whether the player is convicted or pleads guilty to a crime.” The second notable item states, “There is no minimum or maximum penalty prescribed under the policy, but rather the Commissioner can issue the discipline he believes is appropriate in light of the severity of the conduct.”

With that, White’s defense of, “You can’t accuse somebody and stop them from making a living when they haven’t even been charged of anything,” goes spinning down the drain.

The joint policy between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association was published in August 2015.

The NFL “Personal Conduct Policy” is similar to the MLB policy:

A player violates this policy when he has a disposition of a criminal proceeding (as defined), or if the league’s investigation demonstrates that he engaged in conduct prohibited by the Personal Conduct Policy. In cases where a player is not charged with a crime, or is charged but not convicted, he may still be found to have violated the Policy if the credible evidence establishes that he engaged in conduct prohibited by this Personal Conduct Policy.

The NHL collective bargaining agreement, which does not have a specific domestic violence or sexual assault policy, gives the commissioner the authority to fine or suspend a player or terminate their contract.

The NBA has a very lengthy — perhaps the most detailed in all major sports — joint policy with the National Basketball Players Association that says in part:

Based on a finding of just cause, the Commissioner may fine, suspend, or dismiss and disqualify from any further association with the NBA and its teams a player who engages in prohibited conduct in violation of this Policy. Repeat offenders will be subject to enhanced discipline.

There is no evidence that the UFC has a specific policy related to sexual assault or domestic violence. However, incidents such as what McGregor is under investigation for seem to fall under the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy.

Early in that policy, which was rolled out in April 2013, it says:

Fighters shall conduct themselves in accordance with commonly accepted standards of decency, social conventions and morals, and fighters will not commit any act or become involved in any situation or occurrence or make any statement which will reflect negatively upon or bring disrepute, contempt, scandal, ridicule or disdain to the fighter or the UFC.

Going strictly on that wording, McGregor is in violation of the Fighter Conduct Policy. If White is bound by that same policy, it’s not a stretch to say that he too is violating the policy by booking McGregor at UFC 246.

The UFC policy does say that criminal offenses are one reason a fighter can be in violation, but the policy does not explicitly state that charges need to be filed or that an investigation needs to be in progress regarding those offenses.

The UFC policy also states that discipline may be imposed for “Conduct that imposes inherent danger to the safety or well being of another person” or “violent, threading or harassing behavior.” Also, there is the catchall clause, “Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the UFC.”

Again, McGregor is in violation of the policy and White could have kept him from fighting.

Under “Disciplinary Process” the UFC policy says, “upon discovery of potential fighter misconduct, UFC will direct an investigation…”

The promotion has not mentioned any such investigation, and there is no way the UFC cannot know about McGregor’s potential misconduct. It was literally in the New York Times on two occasions. Knowing the extent the UFC follows blogs and MMA websites, it’s hard to believe the promotion would ignore the mention of McGregor in the New York Times.

It seems as if White could have handed down a suspension or fine to McGregor if he wanted to. Actually, he still can do that, but don’t expect that to happen.

If a sport with a CBA can issue a player suspension or a fine, then the UFC, which can seemingly do whatever it wants when it comes to its fighters, can do the same. It didn’t and White made an excuse, which seems very weak in hindsight, for doing nothing when it comes to McGregor.

With this evidence, the question once again becomes why did White and the UFC give McGregor a free pass, and where is that investigation the promotion should have performed?

*The UFC was asked if it has a specific domestic violence/sexual assault policy and if fighters get trained on those subjects. The promotion did not respond prior to publication.