By Zach Arnold
Casual readers of The Los Angeles Times newspaper had a chance to read an article by Lance Pugmire about the financial chaos that the California State Athletic Commission is facing. The reader’s takeaway from the article was basically the following:
“Those knuckleheads in California, yet another incompetent politician in charge of a bureaucracy that can’t handle a budget.”
Followed by a person throwing up their hands in the air or shaking their head. This is exactly the reaction that the Department of Consumer Affairs wants you to have. They want you ill-informed about the real story in California in regards to the way DCA has handled business affairs for the athletic commission for many years.
So, they rely upon the fact that media writers treat covering commission issues like covering a city hall meeting that’s focused on an explosion of dog poop littering sidewalks. They rely upon combat sports fans who suffer from ADD and don’t care about anything other than the fights they see on TV. The dumber you are, the happier DCA is.
Lance Pugmire didn’t go to the CSAC hearing on Tuesday in El Monte, California. Neither did any of his colleagues. Previously to his Thursday write-up, he had not commented once about the on-going political civil war involving the Department of Consumer Affairs. The end result was an article that, on the surface, was accurate but in reality was littered with propaganda & talking points from DCA about one man, George Dodd, who supposedly is this big, bad wolf that single-handedly led the California State Athletic Commission into insolvency.
You know better than that. The writers know better than that. The fans know better than that. The fighters and promoters damn well know better than that. Which is why it’s instructive to pay attention to the actions of the various parties involved in regards to the on-going civil war in California politics.
I first started covering CSAC issues with a laser focus during the time the commission was debating whether or not to allow fighters exemptions for testosterone usage. Third parties have been pressuring state athletic commissions & doctors to let fighters use testosterone, which is the base chemical of all anabolic steroids. It’s legalized doping. You can’t deny it’s a performance-enhancer — otherwise, none of the fighters would want to use it in the first place if it didn’t work. It’s a hell of a statement to have grown men proclaim the need of testosterone in order to compete, which makes for a great selling point to encourage children and teenagers to get involved in combat sports, right?
On top of the testosterone issue, I focused on CSAC affairs after an ill-fated California state Assembly law, AB2100, was up for discussion. The law would have changed the structure of contracts for MMA fighters in the state of California. It was a bastardized version of the Ali Act on a state level. However, the process quickly unraveled and AB2100 was rewritten over several times, resulting in a horrific Frankenmonster piece of legislation that died in the Assembly’s Appropriations committee. AB2100 and testosterone are the two issues that got me to focusing more on what was happening in California.
And right around this time, CSAC started bleeding money because revenues were declining. Suddenly, a story fell into my lap. From my perspective, a story is a story. I don’t care how much traffic I lose or how disinterested readers are, if I think a story is hitting me in the face then I will cover it without fear. That’s what writers are supposed to do. However, writers are also tortured souls who often don’t make a lot of money and would rather have a good time networking with the people they cover than going hardcore into the scandals & negative stories that impact what ends up happening in the ring via outside business activities.
So, with the budget mess that the CSAC is facing, I started focusing on an investigation first into the members of the board of the athletic commission. It resulted in two articles (here & here) that created the foundation for something much bigger and something I had not planned for. After I had completed an initial investigation into the CSAC itself, I was tipped off to pay attention to a June 4th CSAC hearing that was taking place in San Diego, California. An insider notified me that there would be an announcement regarding an insolvency letter facing the commission. It was the kind of tailor-made story that I was sure would grab attention. So, I waited for the audio & video of the hearing to be released. Six days after the hearing, I wrote this report discussing how the athletic commission went broke. The result? Turmoil erupted at both CSAC & DCA. I had numerous sources telling me that a civil war between the two parties was brewing. It turned out to be more real than I imagined. Less than a week later, the Department of Consumer Affairs called an 11126 (due process hearing) to terminate George Dodd as Executive Director of the California State Athletic Commission. DCA was ready to throw him under the bus.
As the news broke of DCA’s impending coup d’etat of George Dodd, I had been ready to released a budget analysis of the commission’s financial affairs over the last four years. The time period for analysis was set for the period after Armando Garcia’s departure from the commission. The end result was a full-scale analysis of where taxpayer money went and why it was spent the way it was. After this budget article was published, immediately I had sources within DCA and CSAC talking on background. I was quickly tipped off on taking a look at California state laws & codes in relation to the inspectors that the CSAC uses. This proved to be fruitful, as it was discovered that the Department of Consumer Affairs was rubber-stamping taxpayer funds to be spent on full-time state employees. This meant that full-time state employees, who are unionized, were getting paid time-and-a-half overtime rates plus having all their travel & meal costs picked up. This is why costs have exploded for the athletic commission in California. A political game was happening. The Department of Consumer Affairs, which approved the baselines in CSAC budgets, suddenly was looking to make George Dodd their scapegoat because their political games started backfiring as revenues from shows declined.
A few days later, the DCA released a copy of the insolvency letter they sent to members of the CSAC. The letter contained an illegal threat to George Dodd that he would be personally liable for any CSAC debt. The fact that DCA’s legal department even allowed this to happen is shocking. It is an invitation for a lawsuit claim by Dodd for retaliation, and rightfully so. The insolvency letter was included as part of a nine-page propaganda PDF packet by the DCA to the CSAC members. It was designed in such a way to manipulate budget data & trajectories to make Dodd look as if he had not proposed any changes. The DCA’s political games were on full display. I continued to write on the subject, hoping that people were taking notice — even if they were silent and not commenting. Soon, I would have proof that this was the case.
I had media, on background, approach and thank me for covering the chaos in California. I had sources indicating to me that major promoters, fighters, and officials in the California combat scene were on full alert about what was going down. They were paying very close attention to what was going on. I already knew that government lifers in Sacramento & Los Angeles were furious at me personally. This would be validated when one official at the CSAC meeting in El Monte, California last Tuesday mistook someone else for me and wanted to get in a fight. When I told people that there were government lifers who were out for my blood, there was great skepticism that I was being hyperbolic. Those people found out very quickly how serious I was.
And the Department of Consumer Affairs found out how quickly the blowback was coming in response to their ham-fisted political shenanigans. They got hit an age discrimination & retaliation lawsuit that has the bureaucrats frightened. Then the DCA’s motives in their civil war with the CSAC were exposed for the public to see. Then, all hell broke loose for the DCA when referees, inspectors, observers, judges, and promoters stood up in El Monte, California to speak out on behalf of George Dodd. Representatives from All-Star Boxing, Golden Boy, and Goossen-Tutor were on hand. It was DCA’s worst case scenario. They were there to terminate George Dodd’s career and messed the whole damn thing up.
The internal fallout in Sacramento has been swift. The outpouring of reaction from those in California who have the most skin in the game for the health of combat sports justified every article I had written about the on-going civil war between DCA and CSAC. And, yet, strangely, the media silence was deafening. Only one reporter, Josh Gross of ESPN, had the balls to show up to the El Monte hearing. Nobody from any Southern California media outlet showed up. There was advance warning of 10 days. No excuses.
And so, kicking and screaming, some elements of the mainstream & combat sports media are starting to cover the civil war. However, the coverage has been the worst mixture of incompetence, blissful ignorance, spin, and obfuscation. Lance Pugmire of the LA Times beclowned himself with his article work. His performance is shameful. Additionally, there has been an active blackout campaign in some media quarters in regards to mentioning the story because my name is somehow attached to the matter. I can’t help it if I figured out that a story was a story long before you did. And, yet, because I’ve been covering the story for a couple of months now, this mysteriously means that in the minds of some writers that they just simply won’t cover a real story because a kooky conspiracist like me is on the case. It’s that kind of logic that I saw on display when the MMA media refused to cover the implosion of PRIDE in 2006. It was a tailor-made story for all the media to write about given that the subject was the yakuza. Instead of covering a story that was ready-made for traffic appeal, there was self-censorship going on at a rampant pace. You would have thought that media behavior would have changed years later after they missed the boat on a big fight scandal. I guess the old adage about the more things change the more they stay the same is true.
Does this mean that I want the media to keep their self-imposed blackout about the on-going civil war between the Department of Consumer Affairs and the California State Athletic Commission? Hell no. I want the media to get on the bandwagon — with one caveat. Before you spout off DCA talking points and make a jackass out of yourself, take a look at the work that I’ve done covering the matter. It will open your eyes up to what is really happening in Sacramento and why the story is so important for those who have a vested interest in seeing the climate improve for California combat sports. The fans, promoters, and fighters are ahead of the curve as compared to the media and the politicians. It’s not too late to get on the bandwagon. I won’t scold you like Anna Wintour and say, “Don’t be late.” Just don’t write politically hackish remarks once you get on the bandwagon. Buckle up.