UFC fighter Sean Strickland wearing a white graphic t-shirt with a championship belt over his shoulder.

ESPN is sending a clear message to LGBTQ+ sports fans: When it comes to condemning virulent homophobia, business takes precedent over decency.

For the cynical among us, that may not come as much of a surprise. Companies regularly sacrifice values for profit.

But the latest slight from ESPN is shocking, even by those low standards.

This weekend, the network is airing UFC 297 on its ESPN+ platform. One of the biggest names on the card is Sean Strickland, who will be defending his Middleweight Championship.

In the lead-up to the big show, Strickland spewed maybe the most homophobic rant we’ve ever heard from a pro athlete. And Walt Disney Co., which touts its supposed commitment to inclusion, refuses to condemn his vile words.

How shameful!

The incident in question happened a couple of days ago, when Strickland exploded on a reporter who asked him a perfectly fair question about his previous statements rejecting a gay son.

The fighter said if he had a gay son, that would mean he’s failed as a man.

When MMA journalist Alex Lee brought up Strickland’s past comments, the octagon star berated him. First, Strickland asked Lee if he voted for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, before calling him the “enemy.”

Then Strickland asked Lee if he was gay. Lee, to his immense credit, kept his composure throughout the ugly ordeal.

“You’re part of the problem. Go f*ck yourself!,” Strickland shouted. “Everything that is wrong with the world is because of f*cking you.”

Lee told Outsports he couldn’t allow Strickland to escape accountability for his previous anti-LGBTQ+ stances. The writer hails from Toronto, and felt obligated to broach the uncomfortable subject on behalf of the city’s vibrant gay community.

In other words, Lee was doing his job. And Strickland calls him the “enemy,” along with other profanity-laced insults.

Yet ESPN, which employs thousands of journalists, can’t even offer modest pushback. When Outsports reached out to ESPN, the network said it “wasn’t commenting.”

How sad.

Later in his presser, Strickland attacked transgender people.

“Here’s the thing about Bud Light, 10 years ago, to be trans was a mental f*cking illness,” he said. “And now, all of a sudden, people like you have f*cking weaseled your way in the world. You are an infection. You are the definition of weakness. Everything that is wrong with the world is because of f*cking you.”

The fighter continued, “The world’s saying, ‘No, there are two genders. I don’t want my kids being taught about who they could f*ck in school. I don’t want my kids being taught about their sexual preference.’”

The irony of Strickland, who parades around in skimpy outfits for the pleasure of gawking men, reacting so viscerally to LGBTQ+ people isn’t lost on us. When checking out his Instagram, it’s debatable whether he’s getting ready for a championship fight, or the Atlantis gay cruise.

His cute little look would be welcome at any gay circuit party.

“Sean Strickland shows RIPPED new physique ahead of UFC 297 title,” beams the Daily Mail.

UFC competitors have an inglorious history of bursting into anti-gay tirades. Just a few months back, Charles Radtke launched into a homophobic rant following a match that he won.

“It felt great. And so f*ck you all you f*ggots up in the f*cking crowd,” he said.

Radtke’s opponent that night, Manel Kap, also heaped homophobic insults on one of his rivals.

“No-one, no-one is going to do anything, you know why? All your teammates is a bunch of f*ggots,” he said.

Classy guys!

There is one out fighter in UFC, Jeff Molina. He came out as bisexual last year following a video leak.

Unsurprisingly, UFC president Dana White doesn’t seem compelled to clean up the rampant homophobia in his organization. When asked about Radtke’s and Kap’s remarks, he said he doesn’t make his fighters apologize for anything.

With that in mind, White almost certainly won’t discipline Strickland, or even criticize him. But sadly, ESPN, which has a seven-year agreement with UFC worth about $300 million annually, won’t go there either.

When USA Today reached out to ESPN, a network spokesperson passed the buck. “I’d suggest you speak with UFC since Strickland is a UFC employee and they handle athlete relations,” said the person.

Any doubts how that would go?

National sports talker Mike Ryan Ruiz, who used to work for ESPN, laid into the network on Dan Le Batard’s show this week.

“While the UFC isn’t going to do anything about it, I would challenge ESPN to make a public statement on this because that kind of hate is going over their airwaves, The Walt Disney Company,” he said. “Like, are you a chickensh*t that you allow this with impunity? Regularly? But it’s never been this vile.”

While ESPN’s stature is diminished, along with the rest of the cable industry, it still provides one of the biggest platforms in sports. ESPN may need UFC, but UFC needs ESPN, too.

It’s hard to figure out ESPN’s fear. Execs couldn’t possibly think UFC would walk away from the network and $300 million annually, right?

In this case, doing the right thing is easy. ESPN is coming up woefully short.

Don't forget to share:

Help make sure LGBTQ+ stories are being told...

We can't rely on mainstream media to tell our stories. That's why we don't lock Queerty articles behind a paywall. Will you support our mission with a contribution today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated