Gov. DeSantis loves to talk about sports. So why is he silent about Dana White?
Hey, you have to give Gov. Ron DeSantis credit.
For all of the relentless energy DeSantis expends imposing his Dear Leader-level of control over our state each day – rejecting a high school African American Advanced Placement History course in the morning, working to wipe away a renowned college’s legacy in the afternoon and settling old scores over the pandemic just before bedtime – the guy still finds sufficient time to stick an omnipresent oar into the world of sports, too.
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So in the spirit of DeSantis’ past history as a star baseball player, let’s run down a batting order of the governor’s unwelcome intrusions into sports over the past few years:
∎ His office issued a menacing threat to the National Hockey League because the NHL, which has an employee base that’s 83% white and 62% male, wanted to hold a diversity-oriented job fair in Fort Lauderdale.
∎ He launched a personal and insulting attack on Lia Thomas after the transgender athlete won an NCAA women’s swimming event – and, in the process, callously used Sarasota native and 2020 Olympic medalist Emma Weyant as a political prop.
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∎ He signed a mean-spirited and toxic bill – on the first day of Pride Month in 2021 – banning transgender girls and women from playing on female high school or college sports teams in Florida.
∎ He targeted the Tampa Bay Rays for petty financial retribution after the Major League Baseball team posted a tweet calling for an end to gun violence.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 26, 2022
∎ He demanded Special Olympics Inc. drop a COVID vaccination requirement for athletes competing in an Orlando event – an order the organization quickly complied with to avoid a potential $27.5 million fine.
∎ He aggressively recruited college football teams and players to play games in Florida as COVID-19 ran rampant and unchecked across America – which in turn made it easier for irresponsible lemmings elsewhere to follow his dangerous lead.
No accountability for White
Now you can look at that list – and my, what a “meddler’s row” it is – and clearly conclude that: a) DeSantis simply enjoys sports, and b) DeSantis knows that when he does get involved in sports-related issues, it usually makes an impact.
And that's why it's so puzzling DeSantis has had little to say about the biggest scandal in sports right now.
It's the fact that Dana White – the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) mixed martial arts organization and someone DeSantis has praised and collaborated with in the past – remains a high-powered sports figure who has escaped any accountability for being captured on video slapping his wife, Anne, during a New Year's Eve dispute between the couple.
So where are they?
Where are they?
Where are the fiery statements from DeSantis – a governor who has made a great show of declaring Florida is a state that doesn’t tolerate violence – explicitly condemning White (who has publicly acknowledged striking his wife)?
Where are the attention-grabbing vows from DeSantis to block any UFC events in the state until White makes a sizeable donation – $27.5 million sounds about right to me – to help address domestic violence in Florida? The same Florida where, according to the National Coalition on Domestic Violence, nearly 4 out of every 10 women experience some form of intimate partner violence?
Where is Florida's Jock in Chief now? Why is Gov. DeSantis suddenly so mum?
Speak up, governor
OK, I should admit now to a couple of biases that absolutely shape what you’re reading here.
Here they are:
∎ I detest mixed martial arts fighting – period. I’m sorry, but to me it’s little more than glorified, barbaric street brawling with bare feet and a cage. Seriously, am I wrong about that?
∎ I have never, ever been an admirer of Dana White. I mean, there's really not much to admire about someone who – even before the slapping incident – proudly cultivated an image as a foul-mouthed buffoon and a less-than-empathetic boss.
But do you know who does love mixed martial arts? And who has all but worshiped White over the years?
It’s Gov. DeSantis – who, after all:
∎ Helped White hold a closed-door UFC event in Jacksonville during the height of the pandemic in 2020 – and then another one with a full crowd one year later while COVID remained widespread in Florida and vaccines were still being rolled out.
∎ Referred to White as a “legend” who is “always welcome in Florida.”
It was great to meet with the legend @DanaWhite in Jax ahead of the big fight between @GameBredFighter and @USMAN84kg this Saturday in a sold out @VyStarVetArena! #UFC261 pic.twitter.com/C47XWlsgCK
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 22, 2021
Thanks to @danawhite and @ufc for being the first sport back! You are always welcome in Florida – let’s have fans next time! https://t.co/I5SMFLF6e2
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) May 18, 2020
∎ Took, with White's encouragement, a conquering autocrat-style stroll down the arena aisles while attending an April 2022 UFC event in Jacksonville.
Frankly, DeSantis is as devoted a fan of White as you can be without becoming an actual fanboy.
But here's the funny thing: If there are going to be any true consequences for White after his abominable behavior, they will only come when influential, powerful White acolytes like DeSantis – people who hold far more relevance and clout in society than White yet still revere him – stand up, speak out and begin to publicly distance themselves from this bully.
Trust me, it's already obvious that we can't count on the sports media to hold White accountable. Sadly, there are still too many sports journalists who are roaring tigers when it comes to criticizing and micro-analyzing coaches, athletes and other easy targets – but deferential sheep when the moment calls for questioning and scrutinizing the industry power brokers, like White, who control the access to press boxes (and, let's be honest here, to press box buffets).
And that's why we need DeSantis to once again indulge in meddling in sports – because for a change, it would actually do some good. It would actually be a constructive act, instead of a merely divisive one.
When it comes to Dana White, DeSantis needs to stop hiding under the bench and start opening his mouth.
Opinion Editor Roger Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RBroown_HTOpin.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Gov. DeSantis should speak out about Dana White's disgraceful behavior