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Opinion: The UFC needs to join the NBA, MLB and NFL on domestic violence policy

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The UFC once boasted a zero tolerance policy on domestic violence, but it’s hard not to feel that stance was all talk and no action.

The UFC has mostly taken a hands off approach to personal conduct shortcomings among their fighters. The promotion is often willing to allow the court system to deal with the reported incidents. As UFC president Dana White recently noted after the latest arrest of Jon Jones, “we’ll see how this plays out legally for him and where this ends up going.”

It’s a hands off stance that seems to allow the promotion to maintain maximum distance from controversy. However, when looking at how the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL handle domestic violence, it turns the world’s largest MMA organization into something of an outlier.

In fact, it’s worth noting from the jump, that the UFC does not have a published domestic violence policy. The UFC has a “UFC Fighter Conduct Policy,” but that document is vague and it only mentions domestic violence once, purely in passing:

According to the UFC’s published codes of conduct, discipline may be imposed without limitation, for a variety of reasons, including:

Criminal offenses including, but not limited to, those involving: the use or threat of violence; domestic violence and other forms of partner abuse; theft and other property crimes; sex offenses; obstruction or resisting arrest; disorderly conduct; fraud; racketeering; and money laundering.

The NFL Personal Conduct Policy does not have a specific domestic violence section either. However, their document is notable for the fact that it states a player does not need to be convicted of “actual or threatened physical violence against another person, including dating violence, domestic violence, child abuse, and other forms of family violence,” for that player to be disciplined.

MLB has a 13-page “Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.” And, much like the NFL, it contains specific language, that “a Player may be subjected to disciplinary action for just cause by the Commissioner for a violation of this Policy in the absence of a conviction or a plea of guilty to a crime involving a Covered Act.”

The NBA also has a separate “Joint NBA/NBPA Policy on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse,” and, once again, does not require an “admission, conviction or plea” to have a violation of the policy noted.

“There’s one thing that you never bounce back from and that’s putting your hands on a woman,” Dana White said back in 2014, taking a jab at the NFL and their handling of Ray Rice’s assault case. “Been that way in the UFC since we started here. You don’t bounce back from putting your hands on a woman.” Unfortunately, those words ring hollow in 2021.

The promotion’s tendency to let the court do their heavy lifting for them ignores the reality that many abusers never see the legal system past their initial arrest and charges. Partners are often unwilling to take up the prospect of facing months in court reliving their experiences and having their credibility undermined. While others quickly feel compelled to forgive their partners. Putting the weight of the decision purely on that system opens the door to terrible decision making, like the UFC’s 2014 decision to re-sign Thiago Silva after aggravated assault charges against him were dropped. Silva went on to claim publicly that his wife had made up the charges after he asked for a divorce, shortly after which she released video evidence of his actions causing the UFC to immediately release him from the roster again.

When the UFC signed Cody East in 2016, he already had a rap sheet, including a prison sentence for child abuse and multiple arrests for domestic violence. But the promotion provided him a contract nonetheless. Shortly after his release, just a year later, he was arrested on three felony counts of domestic violence, including threats to kill his girlfriend’s 10-year-old son. Both Silva and East seem like obvious cases where the UFC acted as though the lack of an active criminal case essentially meant a lack of compelling reason not to promote and pay violent abusers.

The very least the promotion could do to fix that kind of decision making would be to establish, publish and enforce a domestic violence policy that does not rely on solely on law enforcement and the court system to enforce it.

*Bloody Elbow asked UFC if it had a privately published domestic violence policy for fighters. The promotion did not respond prior to publication of this story.