Evans' Sandusky comment hits low note
December, 7, 2011
By Josh Gross
Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesBy trying to "keep it real," Rashad Evans instead made things real awkward.Let's be as real as it gets, since this is the Ultimate Fighting Championship we're talking about.
If any other athlete said what Rashad Evans said to Phil Davis Wednesday, it's a big story. An unfortunate one. Especially on a day like today.
But in the UFC, where the boss says what he wants when he wants, there are few things if any that qualify as beyond the pale. For good or for ill, that's simply the unvarnished reality exposed in the wake of this wild rocket ship to the top of the sporting world.
For those who missed it: The UFC held a news conference in Chicago Wednesday featuring UFC president Dana White and six fighters -- Evans, Davis, Chael Sonnen, Mark Munoz, Michael Bisping and Demian Maia -- slated to compete on the company's official start with FOX. It was a terrifically entertaining scene. Funny. Witty. Charming. Sweet, even. Evans brought his young son, who ranked only second to his dad on the day's best-dressed list, and placed him atop his lap until temptation and a microphone got the better of the lad.
Fifty minutes into a 52-minute event, Evans and Davis, light heavyweights set to square off in the main event on Jan. 28 at the United Center, began jawing at one another. It was a fan who prompted the exchange. Someone wanted to know from Evans which version -- vicious striker or controlling grappler -- he should expect to see against Davis, a NCAA Division I champion wrestler for Penn State University in 2008.
Evans happily took the bait. Davis needed to be knocked out, he said.
Not that anyone needs to be knocked out, but it was good-natured stuff. We love this. Fans beg for it. Promoters pine for it. Media loves the copy and the angles that spin out as a result. Davis smiled and came back sharply, referencing reigning UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Evans' sincerest rival, who apparently questioned his former teammate's ability to take a punch. Again, nothing wrong with that; all's fair in love and MMA.
"You'll have to find out for yourself, right?" Evans retorted.
"I was already thinking that," said Davis.
Evans, his son no longer on his lap, turned up the volume.
"I bet you won't put your hands on me," Evans said. "I bet you'll be the first one to take a shot."
They talked over each other until Evans again guaranteed Davis would be the first one to take a punch.
His reasoning: "cause I'm going to put those hands on you worse than that dude did them other kids at Penn State."
White stood between the fighters at the dais, smiling, wringing his hands and giggling. The crowd laughed, clapped and gasped, knowing full well Evans had just used Jerry Sandusky as a punchline. Davis flung his head to the table, like an ostrich, looked up and had no response.
How does one respond to something like that? A couple more questions from the audience and that was that.
Evans apparently had no idea that Sandusky was led from his home in handcuffs again on Wednesday after two more victims revealed to police horrific accounts of the former Penn State football coach's alleged sexual abuse. In the green room awaiting the mid-afternoon news conference in Chicago, Evans instead watched the sentencing of another disgraced public figure, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who received 14 years on federal corruption charges today.
I'm not suggesting Evans can't say what he said. Of course he can. The question is -- should he?
Will the UFC, as positioned by its ownership, emerge as the biggest sport in the world if its marquee fighters continue to speak on the organization's largest public stages the way Evans spoke today? Hey, they've made it this far, warts and all. Sure they have. But that was then and this is now. White suggests the first two years of the FOX deal are the most important 24 months in the history of the company. Why? People will watch like they've never watched before. That surely includes people who don't understand -- and never will understand -- the backward culture that has long existed in MMA that makes Evans' statement just another shoulder-shrug moment.
Even if it was made in jest, even if it wasn't premeditated, which Evans' publicist Jen Wenk said it wasn't, even if it was a one-time declaration that won't be uttered again during the promotion of the fight, which Wenk said it was and won't be; even if you believe it was somehow appropriate to suggest, let alone at an event attended by his own little boy, there has to be some threshold. Some crossable line.
Or can the language used from time to time by UFC fighters and management continue unabated like that rocket ship to the stratosphere of sport?
I don't know the answer. I tend to think not. But one thing seems certain: we'll eventually find out.