On a recent "Outside the Lines" piece, ESPN's John Barr trotted out Ken Shamrock to criticise the UFC pay structure. The move displayed an astonishing lack of journalistic integrity, as Ken Shamrock sued Zuffa in order to fight under a UFC contract, and lost. And when the courts ordered him to pay the UFC $175,000 in court costs, Shamrock offered to pay off the debt by fighting.
The man ESPN put front and center to criticise UFC contracts actually sued to try to get one. Indefensibly, that was not revealed to the audience.
Response to the piece was swift. The UFC aired the entire interview with Lorenzo Fertitta, which had been selectively edited by ESPN. A wide variety of fighters, from stars to those just starting out, leapt to company's defense, including Matt Serra who said he had been interviewed by Outside the Lines, and all said that the pay structure was outstanding.
Now, in an extended interview with Eddie Goldman's No Holds Barred podcast, Barr tries to defend himself.
"It's clear to me that if the UFC really wants to mature as a sports entity, it's going to have to be able to shoulder and weather the criticism. I live in Philadelphia, OK? You know, probably outside of New York, maybe Boston, I can't think of a more passionate fan base in terms of, you know, columnists who are critical of the local sports teams, sports radio hosts who bring it every day with no holds barred, pardon the expression, critiques when you know the leaders of their local sports teams don't call those shots the right way. Heck, there were people calling for Andy Reid's head after the third week of the season. But those columnists go to press conferences every week, multiple times a week, they go into the locker rooms and talk to players, they're not banned. You know, they're big boys, they can take the slings & arrows. You know, if you want to really prove that you've arrived then put up with it, you know? That's my take."
"If every story that comes out that's mildly critical or takes a critical view of what you do if every story is to be responded to by somebody coming out with a series of half-truths and, you know, what was rather telling when UFC put two videos out. One of them was a 10 minute video that included interviews with Chuck Liddell, who by the way wouldn't talk to us for our story, Matt Serra who by the way wouldn't talk to us for our story, and Forrest Griffin who we never contacted. But it also included several clips from the interview that I did with Lorenzo... I didn't tally them up but I think he may have made 10 to 15 salient points during the course of that UFC-produced video and easily 7 of them were either in the TV piece that we did or the dot-com piece that we did."
"Look, we're not, it's not our charge to do your public relations. You hire people for that. I had a news director years ago who told me, ‘PR people distort the truth, you report the truth.' You know, that sounds like, you know, I'm trying to say I fight for truth, justice, and the American way but at the end of the day that's all we want, that's what we try to get at - the TRUTH. I know people are out there just convinced that we have this agenda and there are some people that are the conspiracy theorists who think (UFC) signed a deal with FOX so ESPN's out to get them! And that's convenient and it fits into somebody's paradigm but it's just not the way we work, you know?"
"I can tell you, I can reel off the last dozen stories I've done, there have been stories that have been critical of the NFL. We did a piece recently that was critical of the quality of NBA officiating. We put hundreds of millions of dollars in the NBA's pocket every year, you know. This is not about that. It's about journalism, it's what we do, and this is a story that we thought was important to do. Heck, we don't cover Mixed Martial Arts enough, you know, and the few times we do it we get blasted for not doing it in a way that essentially would have us be nothing more than shills of the UFC. That's not the kind of reporter I want to be."
"Look, [Dana] wasn't a big fan of ESPN to begin with. He's still hacked off about a profile that our friends at E:60 did about him some months ago. You know, a very fine reporter Tom Farrey who I work with who I respect a lot did that story. He's still upset about that and that was the reason cited for Dana not agreeing to not do an interview with us, it's just the lingering... I guess ill-will he feels towards ESPN because of that feature. I actually thought that the piece was pretty fair, you know... I thought it was a pretty accurate reflection of a guy who... is, you know, at times profane, at times always passionate... and just... you know, one could argue an extremely aggressive and one might even argue ruthless businessman. But, what are going to do?"
“I’ve never received (feedback) like this, but it is what it is. It’s not going to change how I do what I do. At the end of the day, if you wake up and feel good about what you’ve done and if you feel like you’re true to your moral code, that’s all that really matters, you know. There could be 3,000 people on ESPN.com ripping me for being a lousy reporter, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to buy any of it. You’re never as good as they tell you are and you’re never as lousy as they tell you that you are. Like I said before, you throw out the Russian and the American judge and you settle for what’s left.”
On Ken Shamrock and if he they handled his grudge with the UFC correctly:
"So, there's all sorts of challenges and on some level the UFC's in a good spot because you wind up getting guys who, you know, in their minds and in their characterizations often have baggage. Does Ken Shamrock? Absolutely, he has baggage. Did we report that ... that he was involved in a lawsuit with Zuffa? We did. Did we do it within the context of the story? No. Bob Ley mentioned it after the story but we got the information in there. We actually received a letter from UFC's attorneys not after the piece ran but after a short tease of the story ran and there was one little comment from Ken Shamrock in that piece and I'm not sure who saw that and who decided to pick up the phone and call the lawyers but as soon as somebody saw Shamrock they had their attorneys send us a letter and... look, to be fair, yeah, we should be mentioning that Ken Shamrock was involved in a lawsuit with the UFC and he lost and he owes them legal fees. Does that make what he was saying wrong? You know, I'll leave that up to others to decide. I know what I heard from over two dozen fighters not named Ken Shamrock, so... I felt pretty comfortable with airing what we did as far as what Ken's comments were."
"I would hope that things would quiet down and that we’d all just move on with our lives. Will we continue to cover the sport of Mixed Martial Arts? I don’t think there’s any question that we’re going to.”
Read entire transcript...
Listen to entire interview...