UPDATED 1/19/2015 with full interview video:
By: Rich Bergeron
For Mixed Martial Arts fans enthralled by the controversy surrounding Jon Jones and the accidental test that snagged him in a cocaine scandal, “The Interview” is not a comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen.
The above clip shows just a few snippets of the full Fox Sports 1 sit-down session surrounding the results of a December 4th “out of competition” test that most MMA fans around the world are now all too familiar with. For those on a different planet who didn’t hear the news, the test revealed Jones had cocaine metabolites in his system.
Tonight, Jones is appearing in a long-awaited “come to Jesus” moment in front of the cameras, but instead of Barbara Walters asking the questions, it’s Charissa Thompson. The Jones Interview is slated for an 11PM EST time slot, long after all the little kids who look up to him go to bed. For more details on what will be covered, check out this preview put out by Fox in advance.
It didn’t take very long after reports of the positive test surfaced for the Scarface jokes , memes and parodies to start circulating. Though the situation is far from funny to many folks who are truly disgusted by these developments, it’s really hard not to laugh at some of the stuff plastered all across the Twitterverse about Jones. Making matters worse are reports that the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion spent only 24 hours in rehab, but folks on Twitter once again found a few ways to poke fun at that development as well:
The one promising development to come out of the whole situation is that the UFC finally stepped up and levied some limited punishment on Jones. Though it seems a day late and a few thousand dollars short, the promotion hit their poster boy with a $25,000 fine and issued the following statement:
“Jones tested positive for cocaine during an out-of-competition drug test conducted by the Nevada Athletic Commission on Dec. 4, 2014. The $25,000 will be donated to a substance abuse prevention program.
The UFC came to this decision after reviewing the facts surrounding the issue, and after receiving confirmation from the Nevada Athletic Commission that Jones passed all required drug tests following his bout at UFC 182 on Jan. 3.”
Did the UFC just remember they have a code of conduct they require all their contracted athletes to follow? It’s a fair question, but complicating matters is the fact that the Nevada Athletic Commission technically overstepped their bounds by even subjecting Jones to a test for something that is not actually banned in an out of competition environment. The UFC’s legal bigwigs had to take a step back and figure out how to defend whatever punishment Jones would face in light of the test.
A code of conduct violation seemed like an open and shut case to most experts, but making the penalty too costly would likely give Jones an avenue to dispute the fine. All he would have to do is call attention to the athletic commission referring to the test itself as an “administrative oversight.” Making the fine into a donation seems like a great way to prevent any legal challenge by Jones.
Still, regardless of which side of this issue you are on, the whole incident smacks of unhealthy favoritism shown by the UFC toward Jones. It’s easy to imagine someone who fights on the UFC’s preliminary cards getting immediately thrown out of the organization if caught in the same situation. Yet, Jones is slapped on the wrist with a minimal fine and literally given high praise for confronting the issue like the champion he is. He even gets to go on national television and explain why he “messed up.”
Even though most cases involving UFC fighters who tested positive for pot in recent years involve completely different scenarios regarding in competition tests, Dana White did not come out in any of those instances talking about how much those fighters needed help. He did not line up any interviews for any of those fighters with a major network the UFC has a multi-million dollar broadcasting deal with.
Some Jones fans might argue that most of the harsher penalties dished out for marijuana users were cases of repeat offenders. Granted, this is a first offense for Jones when it comes to drug testing. Yet, we also cannot ignore the fact that he wrapped his Bentley around a telephone pole, earning a DUI, a few thousand dollars in fines and penalties (including $7,000 to replace the pole) and a six-month driver’s license suspension for his actions on the morning of May 19, 2012. There was no official punishment by the UFC for the crash. He was allowed to defend his title in September of the same year.
It’s hard to imagine even the best athletes in any other sport getting the same treatment by their bosses. Consider the case of Diego Maradona, arguably the best soccer player ever. He was suspended from the sport for 15 months in 1991 after failing a drug test due to cocaine. Back in 2007, Martina Hingis tested positive for the same metabolites found in Jones, but her levels were actually below the acceptable level in the United States military’s drug screening protocol. The International Tennis Federation still suspended her for two years. These are two sports where the stated objective is not to hurt your opponent in order to win. MMA is a different animal, and even in training fighters can often get hurt.
Even though “out of competition” does not include the official fight a particular mixed martial artist is paid to compete in, it’s a period when a great deal of sparring could happen. Though few would argue cocaine is a performance enhancing drug, there’s a reason the phrase “hopped up on cocaine” is so common. If Jon Jones was under the influence of the drug during any training sessions where sparring occurred, he could have put himself and/or his sparring partner in serious danger. Not to mention the damage a long-term cocaine habit can do to a person. Though he insists he’s not an addict, that’s a common refrain of people who have serious drug problems.
Many times, people in positions like Jones just cannot handle the fame and attention that comes with stardom. They then turn to mind numbing substances of the legal and illegal variety. It’s easy to understand why Jones is having these issues, but at the same time it is all the more necessary to refuse to give him such an easy way out.
Even more so than the average Joe who ends up experimenting with drugs, someone like Jones can easily afford to have a really bad habit, and he has every reason to hide it from the general public. This means the hallmark of addiction–using while alone–could conceivably be concealed by Jones for a long period of time.
Offering up minimal punishment, acting like it’s not a serious problem, and allowing him to go on the record to officially deny he has any problem with cocaine could be extremely detrimental to his recovery. This is especially true if he indeed does have a serious problem that he’s trying so hard to avoid admitting.
The worst part of this whole scenario, though, is the message sent by the revelation that there is no hard rule forbidding cocaine use out of competition, at least as far as the Nevada Athletic Commission is concerned. I doubt many mixed martial artists or boxers knew that before this incident made headline news. Now they do, and that could create a very serious problem.
Fighters often come from harsh backgrounds, and instead of perpetuating the behavior that only leads to jail, they turn to fighting to escape from drugs and crime. This incident makes it clear to every fighter who might have refused to get involved with cocaine in the past that he or she can now get away with doing it on a whim, once or twice, or whenever they are not fighting. How many of these fighters will jump right back into that old lifestyle once they get to the edge of the cliff?
How many lives could potentially be destroyed, how many role models will be exposed as frauds, and how many careers will be permanently derailed because fighters now know without a doubt that they can do illegal drugs of all kinds as long as it’s not detected in that small “in competition” window? We will never know, because as it stands we can’t know. We’re not supposed to know. That way the scourge stays forever hidden, which is where drug use and abuse festers and grows more rampant and dangerous to the user and those around him or her.
Whether Jones is an addict or not doesn’t matter. The fact is, he made a bad choice that countless fighters could make if put in the same position. Sometimes it just takes one poor decision to start a downward spiral that only ends in tragedy. Treating this guy differently just because he can get in the cage and throw down with the best in his division is a recipe for disaster.
Even if it’s a six-month suspension from the sport, something more should be done by the UFC to send a different and more important message. The UFC needs their fighters to know this is not OK, will not be tolerated, and should not be repeated by anyone on their roster. The company does not need their fighters thinking that the higher level of fame and status they earn in the sport means the more troubling behavior they can get away with.
This whole idea that stardom or athletic prowess equates to special treatment is exactly what gives the NFL so many headaches every year and puts so many celebrities in early graves. Fighters are supposed to be held to a higher standard, and the best message to send is one that shows it is better to avoid all intoxicants and troubling behavior if you want to be successful in combat sports. Accidents and mistakes happen to the best of people who have the strongest character, but these tiny molehills can become mountain ranges when left unchecked.
I would really like to see the UFC bite the bullet and bring in an organization like the World Anti-Doping Agency to do the kind of random drug testing they once promised they would subject all fighters on their roster to. That testing should include random tests for illegal street drugs in addition to PEDs. If the company brass really cared more about the fighters than their own financial bottom lines, they would want to know how many of their employees don’t have a problem and just need “help.”