Forrest Griffin has a sense of humor, but his humor is often different than other people’s, and there are times when he won’t be bound by something as communal as sense.
It’s this sort of thing that makes his Twitter feed entertaining. He’s witty, he’s crotchety, he’s funny and he’s mean -- often in the same hour. By now you’ve seen him toe the line between good and bad taste, and know that he doesn’t mind teetering. It’s like this when he writes books, and when he talks to media, too.
When in Rio de Janeiro for UFC 134, I spoke to him about the significance of beating Mauricio Rua a second time. As he likes to do, Griffin punctuated a serious response with a trailing joke.
“Winning a fight feels a lot better than losing,” he said. “You get a lot less stupid questions for the next month when you get home, you know? Then you don’t have to beat your wife as much. It’s win/win. Winning a fight’s good.”
At the time, his wife was just about to go into labor with their first child. And, if you recall, he flew back on Dana White’s private plane immediately after his fight to get there in time. Win or lose, Griffin doesn’t beat his wife (he lost); it was an obvious joke, strangely timed, oddly delivered, randomly thrown out there, in purposefully questionable taste. This was an example of his sense of humor, which happily goes in for left field shock value. That’s just Forrest; he’s usually very likeable.
But his recent tweets making light of rape during the emotional pitch of the Penn State situation fell flatly over to the side of poor taste. Griffin tweeted “rape is the new missionary,” after a series of other tweets to that end that have since been deleted. It must have struck him as witty, because he actually tweeted it twice. Funny never showed up, and he continued his tirade as the backlash rolled in. “Following me is a privilege” he wrote to somebody who unfollowed him. After offending at least one female follower, he apologized and tweeted, “I’m sorry I’m gonna go ahead and put myself on twitter restriction until next week.”
That was it, and this will have to do.
It’s doubtful there will be any major repercussions, even though he is a professional athlete representing the UFC. The rule of “don’t go around saying dumb s---” is loosely interpreted. If it were the NFL, say, a slip up like that might banish him from the league. Remember when Kansas City running back Larry Johnson tweeted a homophobic slur towards a fan? It cost him $213,000 and not just his spot on the roster, but ultimately his standing in the NFL. And then there was Maurice Jones-Drew, who questioned Jay Cutler’s resolve on Twitter. Even something as subjective as that had the Jaguars running back defending himself against scrutiny.
“I wouldn't apologize because I didn’t do anything wrong, I don’t think. I didn’t commit a crime,” he said. “I didn't kill anyone or rape anyone or anything like that. I mean, I stated my opinion, and it seems like you get more backlash for that than committing a real crime in some sense. I feel like I didn't do anything wrong. I just said what everybody else was thinking.”
Griffin said the opposite of what everybody was thinking, and his punishment might be limited to a self-imposed sentence of depriving himself of Twitter for seven days.
Which is all backwards. A few weeks ago, Griffin won a bonus from the UFC for his creative tweeting. Maybe he was taking some creative license, but he picked a funny time to make a reckless statement -- this is the week that the UFC debuts on national television, where scrutiny becomes part of the long-term partnership. What’s more, it’s a moment Griffin himself played a major role in helping to realize with his seminal fight against Stephan Bonnar in the original “Ultimate Fighter” finale.
He’s blowing on the house of cards he helped build, and historically he’s been allowed to. But it’d be better if he just didn’t.
The bottom line is that Dana White refuses to muzzle himself when he wants to get something off his chest, and he won’t muzzle his fighters. This is usually refreshing, particularly when rote answers are a plague in other sports.
And yet, there are times when that sort of leeway is disastrous. If we were five years down the line, to the projected heights that White and Lorenzo Fertitta are taking the sport, tweets like that will carry too many associations. The kind that may hurt the brand image, and burn sponsorship bridges, and steal away control over careers. In short, a tweet like that could bring upon Griffin a profound feeling of the very verb that he treated so lightly.
But that time’s not right now. Right now, if Griffin has any concerns at all, it’s probably just to rethink his punch lines.