ESPN on Monday finally issued a response to UFC president Dana White, who on Friday — three days before the network issued a statement — called well-known MMA reporter Ariel Helwani a “douche.”
ESPN and UFC are corporate partners, with the former holding exclusive rights to UFC’s pay-per-view events. That might explain the network dragging its feet to issue a statement. Regardless, it received considerable backlash, even among its own reporters, for refusing to back Helwani after White’s comments.
The network on Monday issued a two-sentence statement to USA Today, which read, “Ariel is a valued colleague and an exceptional MMA reporter. His record speaks for itself.”
White’s comment stems from an Instagram post Helwani shared late last week. In it, Helwani criticized former MMA fighter Gina Carano for social media comments she made comparing contemporary criticism of political views to Jews being beaten in Nazi Germany. Carano’s post has since been scrubbed, but the actress — who has also echoed former President Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election — was fired by Lucasfilm from her role on the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian.” She also received public backlash for the post.
Like Lucasfilm, ESPN is owned by Disney.
“Obviously, I am very disappointed in what she posted,” Helwani, a Jewish man, said in the Instagram video. “To be honest, I have not agreed with a lot of things she has posted over the past year.
“This last post essentially comparing being a Republican in America or having a certain political view to being a Jew in Nazi Germany during World War II is asinine. It is an absolutely crazy comparison to make. … The Gina that I knew back in the day was a very kindhearted, warm soul. I just hate to see what has happened. When she posted that — to me — it was a real letdown. It was very disappointing.”
White, also a Trump supporter, defended Carano at UFC 258 while taking issue with Helwani’s post; he said it “was all about him.”
Neither Helwani nor White have responded to ESPN’s statement.