A union veterans committee's battle royale with the Ultimate Fighting Championship may have more to do with union organizing than its claim that the brutal sport reflects badly on the U.S. Marine Corps, which has spent roughly $4.5 million sponsoring the bloody bouts.
Veterans who are members of UNITE HERE, a union representing roughly 250,000 hotel, food service, gaming and manufacturing workers, have mounted a campaign to urge Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos to drop sponsorship of UFC fights, which they claim promote violence and bigotry. But Jim DuPont, a former Marine and the chairman of UNITE HERE's Veterans Committee, acknowledged that the effort would not have happened had it not been for the ongoing union dispute between UNITE HERE and Las Vegas’ non-union Stations Casinos, which are owned by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who also head the UFC.
“We wouldn’t have found this connection if it had not been for the larger union fight, so it’s obviously linked and we’ve not in any way tried to hide that,” DuPont told FoxNews.com. “I think we’ve been very clear about it. We’re not trying to hide it in any way. Could we have done more? Maybe, I don’t know. But I’ve been up front about it.”
For more than a decade, UNITE HERE has unsuccessfully tried to unionize 12,000 employees at Station Casinos. DuPont, who served in the Marines from 1971 to 1975, acknowledged the nexus between the union fight and a petition seeking the dissolution of the relationship between Marines and the UFC’s “mercenaries,” but claimed the larger issue is the “disservice to servicemen” due to that link.
“I don’t follow the UFC and I don’t know the cast of characters, but when I see the Marine Corps using them as recruitment vehicle and they’re using these made-up characters to say things that I find personally disgusting, I’ve got to take action,” DuPont said. “The Marine Corps should not be associated with that.”
In letters to Amos and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, DuPont and heads of other state and local organizations have called on the Marine Corps to end its sponsorship relationship with Zuffa LLC, the UFC’s parent company.
“We believe the homophobic and sexist statements of people associated with the UFC are deeply at odds with the values of the Marine Corps and conflict with the Defense Department’s stated commitment to tolerance and respect for diversity,” an Aug. 1 letter to Panetta reads. “The owners of the UFC have tolerated incidents of hate speech, jokes about rape, homophobic slurs and sexually explicit remarks that are demeaning toward women.”
Those remarks, according to the letter, include comments made by UFC President Dana White — who later apologized for using a homophobic slur — and UFC fighter Rashad Evans, who taunted his opponent in December 2011 by saying he was going to “put those hands on you worse than that dude did them other kids at Penn State” in an apparent reference to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky.
“The Marine Corps I was in had certain values that were respectful to just about everybody and the American way of life,” DuPont said. “The American way of life is not to hate people or to bash people or to fight for money. That’s not what the Marine Corps does and to equate them to that is very troubling.”
The Marine Corps, in a statement to FoxNews.com, said it has “expressed its concerns” to the UFC regarding issues cited in the union’s petition and letters involving alleged or substantiated inappropriate conduct.
“The UFC has been forthright in addressing the issue and have proactive measures in place to deal with those isolated transgressions,” the statement reads. “We continue to monitor the issue and evaluate the effectiveness of this advertising and lead generation partnership. We reserve the option to respond accordingly.”
Fiscal Year 2012 marked the third year the Marine Corps Recruiting Command contracted New York-based advertising agency JWT in its partnership with UFC. Less than 2 percent of the Marine Corps’ annual advertising budget was committed to the deal, or roughly $1.5 million each year. Plans for Fiscal Year 2013 have yet to be finalized, according to the statement.
Since May, more than 10,000 people have signed a petition at UnfitfortheCorps.org, calling on the dissolution of the Marine Corps-UFC partnership. An accompanying two-minute video on the website details “depictions of sexual harassment, as well as strongly offensive language” uttered by UFC personalities.
“Every piece of it makes me upset,” DuPont said of the video. “I can barely watch it. It’s a major disservice to our servicemen overseas to have that linkage … and they seem to be proud of it.”
Asked if he was surprised that Marine Corps officials have thus far failed to promise an end to its relationship with the UFC, DuPont said: “We will figure out a way to get their attention again. They’re making a mistake thinking they can wait us out on this. Those of us in the service are really upset about this.”
UFC officials, meanwhile, cited “ulterior motives” by UNITE HERE/Culinary Union Local 226 regarding the petition in a statement to FoxNews.com.
“Recently, the management of UNITE HERE/Culinary Union Local 226 launched an aggressive campaign against the UFC and the Marines under the guise of concern about the UFC's conduct,” the statement read. “However, the leaders of UNITE HERE/Culinary Union Local 226 have their own agenda that has nothing to do with the issues they have raised.”
According to the UFC’s statement, the union is targeting business partners in the hope Station Casinos would “cave to the pressure” and force its employees to join.
“This whole issue with the Marines is really not the issue at all,” UFC Executive Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence Epstein told FoxNews.com. “It’s all about the culinary union here in Las Vegas trying to organize workers at the Station Casino properties.”
The statement also acknowledged that White was "rightfully" criticized in the past for inappropriate comments and that the UFC president has publicly apologized. It also noted that the connection between the UFC and the armed forces "runs deep," citing that the company makes all of its programming available to troops free of charge through the Armed Forces Network and has hosted events at Fort Hood and Fort Bragg.
"We regret that UNITE HERE has chosen to mischaracterize the UFC with libelous representations in order to further its corrupt and dishonorable plan to raise money," the statement concluded.