Among commissioners of major American sports leagues, Dana White is something of a black sheep. The head man of the Ultimate Fighting Championship leads the world's premier mixed martial arts organization with all the tact and subtlety of a cage match. In media interviews, White drops profanity and speaks his mind with unguarded candor. In post-fight press conferences, he is as likely to chastise an athlete for a boring show as he is to award cash bonuses for the night's top knockouts. Video blogs of his activities during fights depict a man with a deep emotional connection to the sport, a true fan, more interested in giving spectators what they want than presenting a sophisticated image.
That absence of public-relations polish endears White to fans and fighters alike. It also makes enemies. In the wake of UFC 131 this past June, the colorful commissioner blasted the judges responsible for scoring the fights. In one particular match between Darren Elkins and Michihiro Omigawa, White defied the judges' unanimous decision for Elkins, declaring Omigawa the victor and granting him a cash bonus for the win. "I could go on for days what's wrong with the officiating in this thing," he said. "The guys who did those 30-27s tonight should never score another fight again. You have to absolutely not know what you are doing to score that fight 30-27."
By contrast, the commissioners of professional baseball, basketball, and football routinely slap fines on players or coaches who question the integrity or ability of officials. Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan earned a $35,000 fine this past spring from NBA commissioner David Stern's office for critical comments he directed toward officials after a loss. Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress paid out that same amount as consequence for his remarks on officiating mistakes in a game against the Packers last fall. Commissioner Roger Goodell's office privately admitted Childress was correct but levied the steep fine, nonetheless.
For White, such discrepancy between backroom realities and public statements is not an option. He tells it like it is, sticks his neck out, and accepts whatever consequences may come. In a world of tough men willing to stick their necks out in hand-to-hand grudge matches, such raw honesty earns respect. Might the practiced politicians who sit atop other leagues have something to learn? Few baseball fans would appreciate commissioner Bud Selig emulating White's foul mouth. But who could resist a leader with the moxie to reveal the true state of the game?
Before owners and players reached agreement on a new labor deal, the NFL lockout had threatened to keep thousands of players, stadium workers, and local vendors out of work. Now that the season is a go, the NFL will keep millions of fantasy football junkies from working. In North America alone, an estimated 27 million people will participate in fantasy football this season, drafting and managing a team as they compete in statistics-driven games against other players in their league. Revenues from the business of fantasy football will top out at more than $1 billion this year. Meanwhile, companies will lose thousands of productive hours as employees addicted to the pastime fritter away the work day tracking statistical minutia. Fantasy sports have forever changed the way many fans watch professional football. They might also necessitate a forever change in employers' projections for fall production.