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Jon Jones Sheds ‘Fake’ Tag by Finally Keeping it Real

Jon Jones lied three months ago. He told the truth last night.

We should applaud the latter rather than bellyache over the former.

“Nike did not drop me because of that fight,” Jones told me on a UFC 182 conference call about a sponsorship deal killed in the wake of a press-conference melee. “I kind of owe an apology to Nike for saying that they dropped me because of the fight. They actually didn’t.”

Sports figures on a Jon Jones-level, like all corporations, lie all the time. They generally come clean only when caught red-handed, and even then not always.

Has Roger Clemens ever told the truth about steroids? Were you satisfied with Bill Belichick’s explanation of Spygate? How many years did Lance Armstrong live a lie before tapping out to the truth?

Jon Jones didn’t have to tell me the truth. I asked him a question based on a suspicion without knowing the answer. The UFC, as one can tell from the audio, cut off any potential answer to my follow up question. So, Jones could have filibustered without further objection, and none would have been the wiser.

After Jones brawled with UFC 182 opponent Daniel Cormier at an August press conference, he told the Nevada State Athletic Commission that he had already been punished by the loss of a six-figure endorsement deal, specifying Nike as the departed sponsor. Given that Nike stuck with Tiger Woods through his marital troubles and Kobe Bryant through a rape accusation, the idea that the sneaker company would abandon Jones over a press-conference brawl—practically obligatory for big-name fighters—seemed hard to believe. When Jones soon resurfaced with a Reebok deal, and the UFC announced a massive sponsorship agreement with the sneaker manufacturer as well, it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to suspect something amiss with the original story.

So I asked and he answered—truthfully.

We shouldn’t throw a parade for the fighter because he did what he should have done in the first place. But we shouldn’t condemn the guy, either. By blasting Jones, we incentivize athletes to stonewall, obfuscate, and dissemble.

Strangely, fans rally around athletes who stubbornly cling to a falsehood and abandon ones who admit a mistake. It’s as though Jones, a superhuman in the octagon, behaving as a mere mortal when the four-ounce gloves come off commits an offense against the fans who believe they made him and not a make-believe him, instead of God. Fans should be honest with themselves in their own relationship with the truth. Perhaps that demands too much from a group that derives its name from a compression of “fanatic.”

Now that the cage fighter has come clean, how about the promoter? Inquiring minds what to know if the UFC pressured its marquee performer to dump Nike because the promotion sought to enter into its own deal with a rival company. Did Jones manufacture the story to avoid punishment by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) or for other reasons unknown? Did the NSAC first learn last night that Jones had fibbed before them?

The truth, to the teller and the told, is addictive. Once we get a taste, we want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

“I’ve been hearing that I’m fake for so many years,” Jones explained during the conference call. “It’s like, ‘Okay. Who cares if I’m fake?’ I win fights. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m not here to win you over in my personality.”

Honesty surely classifies as an ingredient in a winning personality. Jones forthrightness, belated as it was, demonstrates that the guy possesses a conscience and prefers telling an inconvenient truth to a comforting lie. He certainly gained more by maintaining the falsehood than in telling the truth.

Jones lived up to that “fake” designation in September. He wasn’t fake last night. We might instead call Jones, were it not already spoken for, “the real deal.”

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