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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
The UFC's continued progression into being a "mainstream" sport has featured the acquisition of some bigger-named sponsors, perhaps the biggest of which has been Anheuser-Busch's "Bud Light" brand. However, that relationship has become strained due to a number of public incidents by UFC fighters, and the alcoholic-beverage giant has now threatened the UFC with action if things don't get cleaned up.
"We've communicated to the UFC our displeasure with certain remarks made by some of its fighters, and they have promised to address this," A-B said in a statement to AdAge.com. "If the incidents continue, we will act."
The "alpha-male" nature of combat sport has resulted in several of the UFC's athletes - as well as UFC President Dana White and UFC commentator Joe Rogan - making sexist or homophobic remarks to fellow fighters, reporters, and fans alike. Often it's been brushed aside as "that's how fighters are" or "it's hard to control every fighter," but that line of thinking may not be enough moving forward.
For their part, the UFC says they are making more of an effort to crack down on this issue, though they acknowledge their efforts in social media inherently contain some issues with policing these issues.
"With over 425 athletes on our roster, there have unfortunately been instances where a couple athletes have made insensitive or inappropriate comments," a statement from the UFC read. "We don't condone this behavior, and in no way is it reflective of the company or its values."
"Unlike most other sports leagues, we encourage our athletes to engage online. It is part of our company culture, and whenever you are at the forefront of a trend or initiative, it comes with its own pitfalls. We will continue to embrace social media while looking for better ways to stay in front of the issues. This includes a mandate for our athletes to attend sensitivity training and a seminar on proper use of social media."
Penick's Analysis: This could potentially be a very real problem for the UFC. Losing big-league sponsors over what they've tried to essentially sweep-aside in the past could cost them millions, and hurt their image further in areas where they continue to try to gain acceptance. A big issue on this front is that fighters likely feel they can get away with a lot more because White, as the president and outward face of the organization, doesn't have much of a filter when it comes to expressing his feelings on things. That example from the top trickles down, and though he's not slipped up on the level of his infamous rant against reporter Loretta Hunt in the last several years, the fact that the video and incident is widely known doesn't help him either. This is an issue that really does need to be addressed in-house; that may mean fines by the UFC are necessary much the same way that the other big-league sports treat these types of incidents. If they continue to let things slide without much more than a talking-to, they risk a regression in progress overall.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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