More than any other sports league, UFC needs to avoid an image that its athletes are, to borrow a phrase from Bill Parcells, thugs and hoodlums. The sport of mixed martial arts is going mainstream, but if the average fan thinks the violence isn't limited to the Octagon, the average fan is going to be turned off.
That's why the case of UFC fighter Jon Koppenhaver is so important. As Mr. Sunshine lays out, Koppenhaver pleaded guilty to felony assault after putting a man in a choke hold and punching him in the face while he was unconscious. (The judge later changed the plea, so that Koppenhaver is not considered a convicted felon, but none of the facts of the case are in dispute.)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would give a long suspension to a player in that situation, but during Dana White's press conference to promote UFC 82 (listen here), he tried to downplay the seriousness of the incident:
"Things happen. It depends on how you carry yourself, how you deal with it after. Everybody makes mistakes ... These guys are young. He's a young kid, and he's dumb, he's out there, he did something stupid, and I think he did the right thing after, so we let him stay. ... Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody. I do, you do, we all do. These guys are put on a big pedestal and they make mistakes too and it depends on how you carry yourself, and I was happy with how he did, so he's back."
A "things happen" and "everybody makes mistakes" attitude is the wrong response from White. All it will take is a few Koppenhavers in his organization, and all the credibility White has worked so hard to build for the sport will be gone. UFC ought to follow the NFL's lead when it comes to cracking down on unacceptable personal conduct.