What is it about Twitter that makes people say dumb things?
It's a powerful tool. I remember thinking that Twttr—as it was known back then, when dropping the vowels from your company name was the cool thing to do—seemed to be a neat method of keeping in touch with friends, planning events and maybe updating your immediate family on which kind of bacon you had for breakfast.
I never saw Twitter becoming the social monstrosity it is today. I don't think anybody did. Today, Twitter is nearly as ubiquitous as email or Facebook. Your local mom-and-pop diner is just as likely to urge you to look them up on Twitter as, say, Google or Microsoft.
But with that size and power comes the potential for misuse. And make no mistake about it: Twitter is misused. By regular everyday people, movie stars, politicians and athletes.
Each summer, the UFC holds a conference for fighters at the Red Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. During this conference—which is mandatory for all UFC fighters, no matter their stature—the UFC teaches them how to manage their money, how to make sound business decisions and how to avoid doing dumb things on social media.
We're addressing that last one now, after yet another incident of a UFC fighter saying something offensive on Twitter.
This time around, Nate Diaz was the offender. If you haven't heard, Diaz tweeted the following on Wednesday afternoon:
I feel bad for pat Healy that they took a innocent mans money and I think the guy who took the money is the biggest Fag in the world ..— Nathan Diaz (@NateDiaz209) May 16, 2013
Obviously, this is bad all the way around. Dana White's response was swift, as the UFC president told John Morgan of MMA Junkie that Diaz would be fined and suspended or cut. On Thursday night, the UFC issued the following response:
"We are very disappointed by Nate Diaz’s comments, which are in no way reflective of our organization. Nate is currently suspended pending internal investigation and we will provide further comment once the matter has been decided."
Now, I don't know what the UFC specifically teaches in its yearly conferences at Red Rock. But if I could lock every fighter on the UFC roster in a room and tell them two things, I would tell them this:
1. You're a public figure. Act like it.
People can read what you post on Twitter. If you post something dumb, people are going to read it. If you post something derogatory toward any specific slice of society, it's probably going to be news, and you are more than likely going to be in major trouble. You might lose your job or get one of these new UFC suspensions that aren't really suspensions at all.
When you agree to take a paycheck for your services as a professional athlete, you're giving up some of the privacy that the rest of us enjoy. It comes with the territory.
2. You can't say things in public that you say in front of your friends.
We've all been there, haven't we? We're hanging with our buddies at the bar, having a few brews and watching the fights. In this setting, we may say something that we'd never say in front of anyone else. Things get a little loose and conversational, and we use words or phrases that aren't fit for public consumption.
I'm not saying that it makes your usage of words like the one Diaz tweeted OK, because it's not OK. Not by any measure. But there is a measure of forgiveness that comes with uttering socially unacceptable words around your friends.
Those words absolutely have to stay in that setting, however. It doesn't matter if a word means something entirely different in the neighborhood you grew up in. It's an offensive term to an entire group of people—one that the UFC has embraced wholeheartedly in recent years, no less—and that means that you cannot say it.
Not if you want to keep your job. Or your hard-earned money.
What punishment should Diaz face?
If I had to guess, I'd say that Diaz won't find himself on the unemployment line.
Remember the last time the UFC suspended a fighter "pending an internal investigation"? That was Matt Mitrione, and his suspension lasted all of a few weeks before the "investigation" was concluded and Mitrione found himself booked in another fight.
Diaz will be the recipient of the same treatment; he is, after all, someone of name value to the company, and that gives him a little leeway when it comes to situations like this one.
But that's another story for another day.
Right now, my hope is that someone can corral these fighters and make them understand that they don't just represent themselves. They don't just represent the UFC.
They represent an entire industry that is still young enough to take heavy damage when one of its athletes uses an offensive slur. And the more that this kind of thing happens—and the more that the guilty party gets off with a slap on the wrist from the UFC—the less chance there is of mixed martial arts reaching those lofty heights that Dana White claims are so attainable.