Opinion: After latest arrest, it’s time the UFC helps Jon Jones help himself

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In March 2016, Jon Jones, faced facts.

“I was a drug addict,” Jones said of his affinity for marijuana. 

At the time of that interview, Jones was not the UFC light heavyweight champion. The promotion stripped Jones of that title and suspended him in April 2015 for his involvement in a hit-and-run accident. Jones reached a plea deal in that case. He was sentenced to 18 months’ probation.

In December 2018, Jones admitted he was not sober. He also said he did not plan on living a sober lifestyle. 

“I’m not ready for it,” Jones said of sobriety. “It’s not who I was and not who I am in my life, in my career. And… I’m at a place where I can be honest with myself.”

According to the Albuquerque Police Department, Jones was far from sober on March 26, when he was arrested and charged with one count of aggravated DWI (driving while intoxicated), one count of negligent use of a firearm, one count of possession of an open container, and one count driving with no proof of insurance. The current UFC light heavyweight champ was over two times the legal limit according to a breathalyzer test administered after he was taken into custody.

Jones, has a previous DWI charge on his record from 2012. He crashed his Bentley into a telephone pole in New York. Jones pleaded guilty to that charge.

During his recent arrest, the 32-year-old father said, “My family, man. So scared for my family…Everything’s been going bad. I just wanna be with my family.” 

Perhaps in that moment Jones realized what was happening and how he had once again screwed up. Maybe, just maybe, that will be a turning point in the life of Jon Jones. 

If Jones were an NHL player, he could turn to the joint Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program of the NHL and the NHLPA. If Jones were an NFL player, like his brother Chandler, he could enter an intervention program. If Jones played for the NBA, he could also get help. However, since Jones is an independent contractor and not an employee of the UFC, it’s unknown what type of help is available to him without him dipping into his bank account. 

The NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, which began in 1996, is a confidential program that provides players and their families with assistance with mental health, substance abuse and other matters. Because of the confidential nature of the program, the only notice the NHL gives is that the player has taken a leave of absence. 

To enter the NHL/NHLPA program, a player needs to call a 24-hour toll-free number. The call is confidential and help is available for any player and their family. The assistance program offers trained counselors on topics such as substance abuse, financial issues, domestic abuse, family relationships, stress management and more. 

An NFL player can enter the intervention program in one of three ways – a positive test result, behavioral or self-referral. NFL players are employees and as such, the NFL can put players into the program for past behavior. If Jones were an NFL player, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find him in that position. The UFC often treats its independent contractors as employees (Reebok deal, USADA whereabouts, etc.), so the behavior clause might be something the UFC could invoke, that is, if the UFC has a help/treatment program. The self-referral is just that, self administration. Like the NHL, the NFL program is also confidential.

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are close to naming a Director of Mental Health and Wellness. Once appointed, that person will oversee an independent mental wellness program.

Through his actions, Jones has shown that he needs some type of help. The UFC, Jones and his management team, Front Row Management, need to see that he gets the assistance he needs.

This is where things get a little dicey.

Jones could ask for help, but that’s never an easy thing to do. Many people only reach that point when they bottom out. Perhaps Jones hit that point when he spoke of his family during his recent arrest. 

The UFC could step in and place conditions on Jones. The promotion could require him to seek help and then make sobriety or at the very least staying off the police blotter part of his contract. That would be an unorthodox step for an employer to take with an independent contractor, but the UFC has always played fast and loose with its definition of how it treats its fighters. 

As for Jones’ management team, well, it’s hard to say what they could or should do. Jones is a valuable client and if he’s not fighting, he’s not making money for himself or his team. Despite that, everyone who works with Jones needs to help him stay out of trouble in any way they can. If that includes getting him drug and alcohol help or some other therapy, that should be the highest priority of Jones’ management team.

Bloody Elbow reached out to the UFC to see if it has a program to help UFC fighters in need. The promotion did not respond. If it does not have an established program, the UFC needs to provide this service, after all, UFC president Dana White has been hitting fighter health and safety very hard these past few weeks and a program of this sort would fall under that heading.

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