In the words of a distinguished philosopher, "So we're throwing spinning stuff now?"
Nick Diaz didn't say
On Thursday evening, Nathan Diaz became the latest fighter suspended by the UFC for violating its code of conduct. The younger Diaz brother had used a homophobic slur hours earlier in a rant about another fighter on Twitter. And that was just the beginning, really, as the fight promotion's dirty laundry then proceeded to go through a spin cycle.
But let's back up to the beginning. The story began when Pat Healy made it known on Tuesday that he'd tested positive for marijuana in a post-fight drug screening at UFC 159 three weekends ago. He was suspended by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board for 90 days and his brilliant rear-naked choke victory over Jim Miller was declared a no-contest. With that, the UFC rescinded the two $65,000 bonuses it had awarded "Bam Bam" for Submission of the Night and Fight of the Night.
This was a shockingly steep price to pay for such a petty offense. Pot is no performance-enhancing substance on the order of, say, the injected testosterone that'll be streaming through the veins of 36-year-old Vitor Belfort when he steps into the octagon for Saturday night's UFC main event against former Strikeforce middleweight champ Luke Rockhold in Brazil (9 p.m. ET, FX). Yes, marijuana is banned and Healy had traces in his system. But did the punishment fit the crime?
You might remember the uproar in the boxing community when Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. tested positive for pot in February and was fined an outrageous $900,000 by the Nevada Athletic Commission. That was 30 percent of his purse. Healy's lost bonuses of $135,000 (including $5,000 for the win) represent approximately 800 percent of his $17,500 base pay for the April 27 fight.
Nate Diaz was one of many fighters, fans and media columnists (myself included) who expressed contempt for Healy's disproportionate penalty. Nate had a personal reason for his outrage, having seen brother Nick be fined a Chavez-like 30 percent of his purse and stripped of a Fight of the Night bonus after testing positive for marijuana for a second time last year. But what seemed to really irk the younger Diaz in this case was that part of the bonus money taken back from Healy had been awarded to Bryan Caraway, who'd scored the only other submission win at UFC 159.
Now, no thinking person would take issue with Caraway accepting the $65,000. He didn't steal it from Healy's wallet. The bonuses had already been yanked away. Was Caraway, who beat Johnny Bedford via third-round guillotine, supposed to just stand aside and watch the UFC stuff the cash back under the mattress?
The problem was, Bryan couldn't simply pocket his check and quietly walk away. The first thing he purchased with his financial windfall, apparently, was a soapbox. "All I've got to say is that's some expensive weed," he gleefully told MMAjunkie.com when asked if he felt for Healy, a former training partner. Caraway did go on to say he likes "Bam Bam," but then launched into a diatribe about what he doesn't like. "I hate weed," said the native of Washington, one of two states to recently legalize marijuana. "I cannot stand it. I've never tried it. I've never smoked a drug in my life. So I have absolutely zero tolerance for people that do it. I don't care if it's legal in some places or not."
Hmm. Where do we begin? Let's just say ignorance and intolerance go hand in hand, and leave it at that.
Nate Diaz couldn't leave it at that, though. The 28-year-old lightweight took to Twitter, the unfiltered rhetorical playground where "Think before you speak" goes to die, and wrote, "I feel bad for pat Healy that they took a innocent mans money and I think the guy who took the money is the biggest Fag in the world."
Really, Nate? It's admirable that you expressed empathy for Healy, but did you think using a homophobic slur was going to fly?
It didn't, of course. UFC president Dana White soon took to another popular online gathering place for MMA fans, the Underground Forum, and wrote, "He will be cut or fined for that tweet. [Expletive] ridiculous."
The official company statement was a bit more tame: "We are very disappointed by Nate Diaz's comments, which are in no way reflective of our organization. Nate is currently suspended pending internal investigation and we will provide further comment once the matter has been decided."
You want further comment? Look no farther than to Diaz's new manager, Mike Kogan, who decided to turn the matter into a lesson in semantics. He went back to Twitter to suggest that those offended by the Diaz slur should "educate yourselves" and offered a link to the Oxford English Dictiona-- oh, no, actually the link led to that definitive source of linguistic cred known as the Urban Dictionary, which defines
Oh, so Nate wasn't making a homophobic slur. He simply was ridiculing Caraway for his choice of which brand of motorcycle in which to sink a chunk of his $65,000. No, that's not it, Mike? OK, then, here's how Kogan elaborated to MMAjunkie.com: "The word
Now, it's pretty obvious that Diaz wouldn't be referring to Caraway as homosexual, considering that it's common knowledge within the MMA community that Bryan dates former Strikeforce women's champion Miesha Tate. We get that, Mike. But what you and your client don't get is that this isn't about Nate criticizing Caraway. It's about using a word that, regardless of what the Urban Dictionary says, is a homophobic slur. Try getting away with referring to "Rampage" Jackson with the N-word just because you believe he fits an Urban Dictionary definition: "an ignorant, uneducated, foolish individual regardless of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, etc."
So Mike Kogan's spin is a bit twisted. But the brash manager did hit on some applicable wisdom, not in his comments Thursday night but in an interview months ago with the blog Bloody Elbow, in which he addressed the UFC code of conduct in a broader sports context. "Certain athletes get away with [expletive] and others don't," he said. "If you're Tom Brady, you can say whatever you want. If you're some no-name lineman that's just a number, then you need to keep your mouth shut. That's just the way it is."
It's not true that Brady can say anything with impunity, but still, no one would deny that there's a star system in place in professional sports. So that begs the question: What position on the field does Nate Diaz play? There was a time when the Diaz brothers were as stellar as the Manning brothers, but now both Nate and Nick are riding two-fight losing streaks. And their training team, led by jiu-jitsu maestro Cesar Gracie, has at times been a contentious pain for the UFC. Even though Nick has generally been the headache, not Nate, might the behemoth fight promotion be tired of dealing with Diazes?
The UFC has to bring the hammer down sometime. What Diaz said was far less offensive than what Matt Mitrione spewed in his verbal assault on Fallon Fox. But after referring to the transgender fighter as "a lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak," the manchild appropriately known as "Meathead" was hit with a suspension that lasted all of 16 days. So what does Nate get: a weekend off? If the UFC continues down this road, well, bad behavior is just going to follow right behind. For as long as enforcement of its code of conduct is toothless, the UFC will continue getting bitten in the backside.