January 9, 2023
Seven days after disturbing footage surfaced of UFC CEO Dana White slapping his wife at a New Year’s Eve party, parent company Endeavor continues to dodge the controversy.
Ari Emanuel’s silence on the matter has raised eyebrows around Hollywood given that the Endeavor CEO has been quick to chime in on various scandals and misconduct over the years, writing two recent op-eds on the scourge of antisemitism that dubbed Kanye West a “cartoonish … clown show” for praising Hitler and having previously called on the industry to shun Mel Gibson “even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line.”
So what’s behind Emanuel’s newfound reticence to call out bad behavior? Addressing the White controversy could certainly affect Endeavor’s bottom line, considering that UFC is the crown jewel in the entertainment conglomerate’s portfolio. In fact, UFC is one of the biggest contributors to Endeavor’s growth, with the division posting $288.5 million in Q3 revenues. (Endeavor, which went public in April 2021, posted $1.4 billion in Q3 revenues overall.)
“I understand why Ari is saying nothing,” says one top agent at a rival firm. “Look at what UFC means to his business. This isn’t like losing a big client. His calculus is, ‘Do I want to say anything and give it fuel? Or do I want to not give it fuel and hopefully let the flame die down?’”
In the immediate aftermath of the Jamal Khashoggi killing in 2017, that flame only intensified, prompting Emanuel to act. At the time, the Hollywood powerbroker felt the pressure to return a $400 million investment from the Saudi government as several clients threatened to jump ship if the company sat by idly. (Sources say those client threats, however, did not influence his decision to sever ties.) But in the case of White, there has been little public clamoring for Emanuel to address the violence, despite the fact that WME reps such stars as Halle Berry and Rihanna, who have been vocal about domestic abuse. Still, some say ignoring the incident sends a problematic message.
“There’s a danger of having a double standard, where athletes get held accountable for acts of domestic violence and owners don’t,” says Liz Roberts, CEO of Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization. “There does need to be some accountability here, and that’s setting a consistent standard. This is a moment to really stand up and say, ‘No, that’s not what we’re doing anymore.’”
A spokesperson for Endeavor declined to comment on this article.
Though Hollywood has been quick to publicly distance itself from all manner of scandal in recent years, the Netflix-Dave Chappelle contretemps may have changed the course of how high-profile companies handle intense outrage. In October 2021, groups like GLAAD slammed Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer” for being anti-trans. Despite rising calls to do something, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos defended the comedian and the special. The controversy eventually died down, culminating with a sparsely attended protest at Netflix headquarters.
Emanuel himself is no stranger to missteps, having once been sued by former agent Sandra Epstein for allegedly saying, “Blacks don’t swim,” with regards to Epstein’s push to send client Wesley Snipes a script about Navy SEALs. (Emanuel denied the allegation, and the agency settled with the agent for seven figures.) And while White has apologized for the New Year’s Eve incident that took place in the VIP section of a Cabo San Lucas nightclub, he, too, has courted controversy in the past. In 2018, White hired former NFL player Greg Hardy, who was found guilty of assaulting and threatening an ex-girlfriend (Hardy appealed, and the case was eventually dropped.)
For its part, TBS didn’t kill its upcoming reality series on White with the now-unfortunate title “Power Slap: Road to the Title.” Instead, it moved its debut a week, from Jan. 11 to Jan. 18.