After it was revealed that USADA flagged Brock Lesnar for a doping violation in a sample taken 11 days before his UFC 200 fight against Mark Hunt, Fox Sports writer Elias Cepeda penned a column criticizing the USADA and the UFC because the positive test wasn’t revealed until six days after the fight. (It’s worth noting here that the UFC waived its own anti-doping policy that says a fighter must submit to four months of drug testing in order to allow Lesnar to fight.)
It was a fair and logical column to write—drug testing shenanigans seem to happen a lot with the UFC—but apparently went too far for Fox Sports, and the column can no longer be found on their website. On Friday night, Cepeda wrote on Facebook that Fox Sports informed him his column was pulled because of concern that,“it would offend the UFC.” He also noted that it was, “the second time this has has happened in the past couple months.”
You can read the full text of Cepeda’s pulled column here, and his statement below:
My column published earlier tonight (“UFC’s dangerous drug-testing inconsistency and hypocrisy demands answers”) at FOXSports has been taken down because, I’m told, there is concern that it would offend the UFC. This is the second time this has happened in the past couple months. The merits of the story, to my knowledge, have not been called into question this time or the previous time. I stand by both stories. This most recent one is most certainly a strong opinion piece, but I believe it is well-supported. More than anything, the discussion needs to be happening. I will post the entire column as it was published, above, in case anyone wants to read it or share.
Fox Sports and the UFC are broadcast partners, with Fox Sports reportedly paying $100 million a year to broadcast UFC events. Last month, top MMA reporter Ariel Helwani revealed that while working for Fox’s pre- and post-fight shows he was paid directly by Zuffa (UFC’s parent company), not Fox, and has alleged that he was ultimately fired from that gig at the UFC’s behest.
All broadcasters have to negotiate tricky waters when reporting on leagues they have a business relationship with. Most famously, ESPN put the kibosh the fictional Playmakers series and pulled out of a joint investigation on concussions with PBS at the NFL’s urging. But ESPN’s abdication of responsibility in those instances—and they still had dozens of reporters covering the league critically—pales in comparison to Fox’s contentedness at being the UFC’s lapdog.
At this point, Cepeda’s revelations are hardly surprising. That Fox Sports would delete an article critical of the UFC is simply the operating assumption at this point, one more drop in an ocean full of examples that Fox Sports doesn’t give a shit about journalism, only pandering to the lowest common denominator.
Fox Sports didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Update (5:09 p.m.): Fox Sports sent over the following statement:
The article was removed because the author circumvented our editorial process by publishing the story directly to the site without first submitting to an editor for review. Furthermore, the author made unsubstantiated allegations that compromised the integrity of the report.
Update (8:05 p.m.): Elias Cepeda has resigned his position because of “philosophical differences” between himself and the FoxSports.com executive leadership. You can read his whole note here, or a portion of it below.
My reasons for leaving have nothing to do with my staff writer colleagues or my editors. I’ve resigned because, speaking broadly, it has become clear to me that there are philosophical differences between myself and the executive leadership there on important issues of journalism ethics.
We can’t ever know for certain if we’re in the right when we take stands on issues, but we can be ourselves and do our best to do our work in the way we believe it should be done.
Update (8:46 p.m.): Cepeda has also taken down the deleted column that he posted on Facebook (heh), writing that “FOXSports has claimed intellectual property rights to it and requested that it be removed from this page.” You can read a cached version here.