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Dana White ensnares company in Gina Carano controversy, ESPN releases statement

Karim Zidan delves into Dana White’s decision to defend Gina Carano at the expense of ESPN reporter Ariel Helwani. 

Dana White has once again engulfed his organization in unnecessary controversy.

The UFC head honcho was asked about Gina Carano, the former MMA fighter-turned-actress who was fired from Disney’s “The Mandalorian” for a string of controversial social media posts ranging from blatant anti-Semitism to spreading disinformation and dangerous conspiracy theories. Instead of questioning Carano’s actions, White immediately came to her defence while attacking ESPN reporter Ariel Helwani.

“Leave her alone. We make mistakes, we all make mistakes,” White said during the UFC 258 pre-fight press conference. “For everybody to go in on her … I love how Ariel Helwani made it all about him, such a douche.”

Carano was fired by Disney and Lucasfilm following a social media post where she compared being a Republican in President Joe Biden’s America to the plight of being Jewish in Nazi Germany.

“Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews,” Carano’s post said, which has since been removed from her account. “How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”

White’s defence of Carano’s anti-Semitism as well as his decision to target a reporter in the process drew criticism from the likes of former ESPN host Dan Le Batard, who referred to White as a “bully” for targeting Helwani and questioned ESPN’s decision to stay silent on the matter. Several of Helwani’s colleagues, including Jorge Sedano, Cassidy Hubbarth, and Kevin Negandhi have since defended him on social media.

It is worth noting that Helwani is a Jewish reporter who was understandably impacted by Carano’s comparison. He shared his perspective on social media, revealing that “as a Jewish person, and as a human being, [Carano’s comments] just doesn’t sit well. And I wish she would have never posted that. And quite frankly I wish someone would have talked to her about her social media posts over the past year. Some of them not even political. Just in general, they felt off to me. I am sorry she has gone down this path.”

White’s decision to call Helwani self-centered for attempting to share a Jewish perspective on Carano’s comments is both tone-deaf and irresponsible. It is also comes to the aid of an entitled actress who uses her massive platform to spread propaganda and disinformation while presenting herself as a victim of left-wing politics.

Carano has had a long history of controversial social media posts based on her conservative ideology. In November 2020, the former fighter posted a series of anti-mask memes along with disinformation that disputed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. She has also posted about QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory that claims a cabal of elite pedophiles made up of Hollywood actors, Democrats, and other high-ranking officials is behind a global child sex-trafficking ring. The conspiracy movement asserts that Trump is currently fighting the cabal and is planning a day of reckoning known as “The Storm.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation has labeled the movement a “potential domestic terror threat.”

Several months ago, Carano added “boop/bop/beep” to her Twitter name in a poor attempt to mock the use of preferred gender pronouns. Preferred gender pronouns are those pronouns that an individual prefers people use when referring to them. The most common gender pronouns are “he, him, his” and “she, her, hers,” while transgender and gender nonconforming people may prefer to use pronouns that better reflect their identity, such as “they, them, theirs.”

Carano’s social media outbursts and the pushback they drew from progressive fans made her a liability for Lucasfilms and Disney. Her decision to compare the current U.S. political climate to being Jewish during the Holocaust was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Following her explosive ouster from Hollywood, Carano signed a movie deal with The Daily Wire, a conservative media outlet founded by right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro. She also doubled down on her views, claiming that she had been silenced by a “totalitarian mob” and that she has “only just begun using my voice, which is now freer than ever before.”

“This is just the beginning,” she tweeted following Shapiro’s announcement. “Welcome to the rebellion.”

White’s decision to defend Carano at the expense of a Jewish reporter puts him in company with the likes of Canadian white supremacist Lauren Southern who tweeted, “Ok, let’s start firing people for making silly comparisons to Nazi Germany. Your turn now progressive media,” along with the hashtag #CancelDisneyPlus. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio showed his support for the former fighter on Telegram. Even QAnon adherents have rallied in support of Carano. “[Carano] is bad ass,” wrote the administrator of a QAnon Telegram channel. “They can’t corrupt martial artists’ minds.”

It is worth noting that White has always had a hostile relationship with the media. In 2008, White uploaded a now-infamous video where he called veteran MMA reporter Loretta Hunt a “stupid fucking bitch” and her sources “fa***ts” in response to a Sherdog article on the UFC’s attempts to sidestep managers and agents when dealing with fighters. He previously banned Helwani from receiving press credentials after he reported on two big fights without contacting the promotion beforehand. And most recently, White tweeted a propaganda video proudly produced by the UFC which targeted journalists and media outlets who criticized the promotion’s decision to hold events during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. (Author’s note: My March 2020 article for The Guardian was included in the video, alongside my name highlighted in red.)

White’s latest attack on a journalist is even more concerning because Helwani works for ESPN, which is a UFC rights partner. ESPN currently streams 30 Fight Night events and 12 pay-per-view UFC events a year as part of its ESPN+ streaming service. While the billion dollar broadcast company has since released a statement saying that “Ariel is a valued colleague and an exceptional MMA reporter. His record speaks for itself,” it remains unclear whether they plan to take any action against White for his behavior.

While Dana White has proven himself as an indispensable asset during the UFC’s darkest days, he has grown to be a controversial and problematic figure for many involved in the sport. Over the past few years, White has been involved in a public disputes with notable fighters, including UFC champions such as Tyron Woodley. He has also targeted reporters and defended the inclusion of convicted domestic abuser Greg Hardy on UFC fight cards, among countless other controversies. While his unfiltered approach was once endearing to hardcore fans and personified the UFC’s counter-culture attitude, it continues to serve as a barrier to the UFC ever being taken seriously as a mainstream entity.

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