From MMATorch.com |
PENICK: The Public Image of UFC Champ Jon Jones in Wake of DUI Arrest
May 19, 2012 - 4:30:06 PM
By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
Jon Jones isn't perfect.
No, the 24-year-old UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, while an incredibly gifted athlete and an amazing MMA fighter, is a human being. He has flaws. He makes mistakes. He has more temptations surrounding him than the average person his age, and it's impossible for him to always be in the right on every decision he makes.
That's why news of his arrest for suspicion of DUI on Saturday morning isn't really all that surprising. Disappointing? Absolutely. Enraging? For many, yes. Surprising? Only if you've truly bought into the show.
For the last few years, the UFC hyped up Jones as a mature, bright, immensely talented rising prospect, and when he captured the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship from Mauricio "Shogun" Rua last year that was amplified. He was the UFC's squeaky clean, All-American Champion, a future megastar who could exemplify all of the good of the sport and be an ambassador for MMA and the UFC.
But fans weren't all buying it. His opponents weren't buying it. Underneath the surface there's always been the self-assured, confident, and at times cocky and arrogant kid who knows he's better than everyone in the cage. Sure, he put on the face of the humbled, pious, righteous Champ, but it's not something everyone connected with. Some, like opponents Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Rashad Evans - also a former teammate and friend - went so far as to call him out publicly and label him "fake."
His next opponent, Dan Henderson, has even said he doesn't get the feeling that Jones' public persona is genuine, and many fans have felt the same way for some time.
Any hopes of keeping those appearances up and proving the doubters wrong are gone with this morning's arrest. It's the exact contradiction to his public image - and even public statements that he's made - that in fact breaks that barrier completely. Take what he said just a month back in an interview with USA Today when talking about why the UFC would endorse him for his UFC 145 fight with Evans.
"I'm very comfortable with the UFC putting me out there and trying to use me as one of the guys to promote the sport and bring it to a new level," he said. "I think if I was a knucklehead and I was a guy who you would have to worry about getting a DWI or going out and doing something really stupid, they simply wouldn't promote me. I think they see the guy that I am and they trust that, even though I'm a 24-year-old, I'm a trustworthy 24-year-old."
It's not even a month later, and here he is with a DUI arrest. We don't know the exact blood alcohol content in his system at the time of the arrest, but the arrest came at 5AM after he smashed his Bentley into a pole. That says enough in and of itself.
The point of this isn't to vilify Jones; what he did here was absolutely stupid, reckless, dangerous, and could have led to something much more serious, but it thankfully didn't. The point is, however, that he can't pretend to be something he isn't. He's not this squeaky clean young man with a maturity level beyond his years. He's a ridiculously talented professional athlete who now makes loads of money and feels untouchable.
Does that excuse this in any way, shape, or form? Of course not. He'll be held accountable for what is a really selfish and stupid thing for anyone to do in driving while under the influence of alcohol, and some will turn against him over it. That's their prerogative, and it's a reasonable stance to take for them.
What makes this worse is the fact that Jones has plenty of money, and had no reason to drive himself at 5AM after a night of drinking. He can afford the cab ride from wherever he is to wherever he'd like to go, and deciding to get behind the wheel showed immensely poor judgment in that moment.
He's not the first, nor will he be the last professional athlete to make a stupid decision. He's lucky here nothing worse happened, and it's something he absolutely must learn from in order to move on. But he's human. He may take a more precipitous fall in the public eye because of that fact, but it's why the image that has been portrayed for years now hasn't caught on.
Jones is human; his fellow fighters and many fans have known it all along. The pedestal the UFC tried to place him upon is somewhere he didn't belong, and this unfortunate incident simply shattered any semblance of it being still intact. The most important thing now, given no one was seriously injured here, is for Jones to learn from this arrest so this incident isn't repeated. From there, he can try to rebuild his image as a real person, and show everyone who he truly is.
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