After a weekend of backlash aimed at UFC president Dana White for calling ESPN reporter Ariel Helwani "such a douche," the network released a statement backing Helwani on Monday.
“Ariel is a valued colleague and an exceptional MMA reporter," a network statement to USA Today reads. "His record speaks for itself."
Gina Carano controversy sparked White's insult
The statement did not mention White by name. ESPN and UFC are corporate partners, with the network carrying exclusive rights to broadcast UFC's pay-per-view events. ESPN also operates under parent company Disney, which was at the center of the news that launched the controversy involving White and Helwani over the firing of Gina Carano.
How this all started
Disney's Lucasfilm fired "The Mandalorian" actor and former MMA fighter Carano last week after she shared a social media post on an Instagram story comparing criticism for political views in the United States to the treatment of Jews during Nazi Germany.
“Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors…even by children," the post read. "Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views."
Carano is a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump who echoed his false claims about the November election being stolen and mocked the use of masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared the Instagram post during Trump's impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate last week.
Helwani criticized Carano for referencing Nazi Germany
Helwani, who is one of ESPN's most prominent UFC reporters and personalities, criticized Carano for her post. Helwani has covered Carano and interviewed her multiple times over the course of his career. He is Jewish.
“Obviously, I am very disappointed in what she posted,” Helwani said in an Instagram video last week. “To be honest, I have not agreed with a lot of things she has posted over the past year.
"This last post essentially comparing being a Republican in America or having a certain political view to being a Jew in Nazi Germany during World War II is asinine. It is an absolutely crazy comparison to make. ...
"The Gina that I knew back in the day was a very kindhearted, warm soul. I just hate to see what has happened. When she posted that — to me — it was a real letdown. It was very disappointing."
White on Helwani: 'Such a douche'
White, a prominent Trump supporter who appeared multiple times on the campaign trail for the ex-president, chastised Helwani for his response during a Friday news conference ahead of UFC 258.
"We all make mistakes," White told reporters. "For everybody to go in on her — I love how Ariel Helwani made it all about him. Such a douche."
ESPN talent rallied around Helwani
As ESPN remained silent over the weekend, Helwani received public support from several of his colleagues at the network.
Former ESPN host Dan Le Batard took a more pointed approach with his ex-employer. Le Batard recently left ESPN following a long-term tenure amid disagreement over his ability to speak openly on topics beyond sports.
Neither White nor Helwani have responded to ESPN's statement.
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