Dana White and the UFC have a close relationship with ESPN, and a former star of the network is waiting to see how it responds to White’s recent scandal.
The UFC president was caught on video getting into a physical altercation with his wife Anne at a New Year’s Eve party in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, an altercation that saw Anne slap white and culminated in White slapping Anne at least twice.
Dan LeBatard, a longtime ESPN host who parted ways with the network in 2021, spoke about the White incident on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, specifically questioning to what degree ESPN will cover the news given that it is currently a broadcasting partner of the UFC.
“I am curious how ESPN is going to cover the news of Dana White and video of him slapping his wife at New Year’s festivities,” LeBatard said. “Apologizing, saying there’s no excuse, saying that he had been drinking. If it had been Roger Goodell or an owner of an NFL team, I imagine it would be covered with a great deal of zeal even though ESPN is a corporate partner of the NFL.
“In this case, Dana White is the most famous person in this sport, is he not? The most famous person in the sport even with all the fighters, because he’s the face and voice for a sport. If he’s not, he’s close to it. It’s not even the crime, it’s the size of the fame of the criminal. How does ESPN cover that one?”
Currently, the White story leads the “Top Headlines” of ESPN’s MMA section, though it does not appear on the ESPN front page as of this writing. The story was also covered on the Tuesday evening edition of SportsCenter.
LeBatard wonders if the story could be receiving more attention, given that video of the incident is widely available.
“Usually with these things if there is video and there is mainstream media pressure, and ESPN is the one most capable of applying mainstream media pressure — but they have an uncomfortable relationship with Dana White that ran off the one journalist that they had in that sport, Ariel Helwani, and we ran into it because Dana White has a great deal of power at ESPN,” LeBatard said. “How is that story going to be covered? How is that story supposed to be covered?”
ESPN has been a broadcasting partner of the UFC since 2018. ESPN signed a five-year deal with the promotion that was extended by two more years in 2019 as the UFC continues to provide a steady stream of live content for both its television channels and the ESPN+ streaming service. White subsequently signed a seven-year deal with the UFC to remain president of the organization.
One of LeBatard’s concerns is that a lack of mainstream media coverage could result in a lack of accountability.
“This doesn’t stay in the news stream unless there’s media pressure,” LeBatard said. “There needs to be a media pressure, there needs to be a media outrage in order for this to have consequences. They’re the worldwide leader in sports and they do tend to help with how this stuff happens, and they’re compromised here by a business interest.
“I don’t think there will be consequences for this, because there can’t be consequences for it unless the level of outrage stays in a place.
“[White is] so powerful, so independent, and can even control, to a degree, the media monster with which he has a partnership, that I don’t know what the consequences will be to video of you slapping your wife at a party, slapping her back because of the fight that you’ve gotten into. No matter the quotes from your wife saying how out of character it was, usually that video to a person of power is hugely damaging everywhere in sports. Everywhere in sports.
“But this guy works on a plane with his own outfit and a power that doesn’t come with a great deal of governance. Who is there to punish him? And if it happened with Goodell or an owner — [White is] not a commissioner — but if it happened with Goodell or an owner, do you imagine that it would be quiet? Because I don’t. I don’t imagine if we had video of that it would be quiet.”