Dana White, the president of the UFC, is an example of how sports leagues ought to handle the issue of free speech on controversial topics.
In a press conference after a victory, fighter Colby Covington called the Black Lives Matter movement “a complete sham.” He continued, “It’s a joke. They’re taking these people that are complete terrorists. They’re taking these people that are criminals. These aren’t people that are hard-working Americans, blue-collar Americans. These are bad people. They’re criminals. They shouldn’t be attacking police. If you’re breaking the law and you’re threatening the cops with weapons, you deserve to get what you get. Law enforcement protects us all. If we don’t have law enforcement, it’d be the wild, wild West.” He also called a fellow fighter who supports BLM a communist, a Marxist, and someone who “hates America” and “stands for criminals.”
Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Covington could perhaps have phrased things a bit more diplomatically, but I agree overall with his sentiments. Of course, given the political environment of 2020, fellow UFC fighters and sponsors promptly erupted in outrage, calling Covington and his comments “flat-out racist” and “disgusting.”
To his credit, White defended athletes’ freedom of speech. “These guys all have their own causes, things, their own beliefs,” he said. “We don’t muzzle anybody here. We let everybody speak their mind. I don’t know what he said that was racist. I don’t know if I heard anything racist that he said.”
More coaches, teams, and leagues should adopt similar attitudes. True diversity and inclusion require tolerance and acceptance of a wide range of political views. With athletes almost unanimously expressing support for the BLM movement, usually with the wholehearted endorsement of their teams and leagues, it is important to consider the rights of those with dissenting views. If athletes can speak out in favor of BLM, fairness requires that they also be free to speak out against BLM if that is how they feel.