Athletes and Codes of Conduct

The Ultimate Fighting Championship made headlines this week when they announced that they suspended Matt Mitrione’s contract, following the heavyweight fighter’s remarks toward Fallon Fox.

No stranger to controversy herself, Fox was the target of a verbal tirade from Mitrione during a recent interview, in which he called the transgendered fighter “a sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak.”

The UFC issued the following statement regarding Mitrione’s suspension:

“The UFC was appalled by the transphobic comments made by heavyweight Matt Mitrione today in an interview on “the MMA Hour”…  The UFC is a friend and ally of the LGBT community, and expects and requires all 450 of its athletes to treat others with dignity and respect.”

It goes without saying that athletes are heavily scrutinized. It is imperative that they choose their words carefully, in order to uphold the positive public image that is expected of them.

In Mitrione’s case, his lack of discretion cost him tens of thousands of dollars in potential fight purses and sponsorship. But for higher profile athletes competing in more lucrative organizations, personal misconduct can cost them even more.

The National Football League, the most profitable sports league in the world, introduced in 2007 a conduct policy to help control off-field behaviour by its players and preserve the league’s public image.

Following the one-year suspension of Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, and the eight-game ban for Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry, two players notorious for their off-field issues, the message from commissioner Roger Goodell was clear: players are to hold themselves to higher standards and are expected to conduct themselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful.

For Jones and Henry, their failures in adhering to the policy resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in salary, while also severely tarnishing their public image, and, what was probably most important to them, the inability to play the game they love.

Jones was never able to shake his public perception as a promising talent who was always on the wrong side of the law. For Henry, the consequences were even graver. In late 2009, he and his fiancée were engaged in a domestic dispute when he fell out of her moving vehicle, tragically succumbing to injuries from blunt force trauma to the head.

For both aforementioned cases, the outcomes were different, but the message was the same. Mitrione was subjected to the UFC’s continuous desire to establish itself as a sport rather than a spectacle, choosing to make an example of one of their athletes who they felt did not embody their values. Jones and Henry were simply adjudged to be unfit to represent the most popular and prestigious sporting organization in the world.

Professional athletes practice their skills rigorously, but they are now responsible to practice much more than just the physical demands their respective sport requires. With so much at stake, and so little privacy, they must always be fully aware and understanding of their public image.

— Etienne Dale

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One Response to Athletes and Codes of Conduct

  1. Tommy Nguyen says:

    It is imperative that athletes maintain a professional image throughout their career. However, in the case of Matt Mitrione’s harsh words directed towards Fallon Fox, this does raise some key points that the sport needed to address in order for situations like these to not happen again in the future. From a public relations point of view, the UFC needed to take actions that would give the organization the image of a neutral party, this led to Mitrione’s suspension. But, It is up to the athletic commission to revoke or suspend combat licences to the athlethes that are competing under unfair advantages, and not the job of the UFC to regulate these circumstances.

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