LAS VEGAS -- The Nevada State Athletic Commission sent a very troubling message to its athletes -- and its own employees -- on Monday.
Apparently, it is acceptable to incorporate personal feelings into the regulation of combat sports.
In my opinion, there is little doubt the NSAC's decision on Monday to suspend Nick Diaz for five years was a personal one. The ruling did not align with actions taken previously by the NSAC and it actually went against a proposed set of suspension lengths the commission itself introduced this year.
If there is one thing the NSAC dislikes more than a guilty athlete, it's a guilty athlete who shows no remorse. And in three separate NSAC disciplinary hearings for marijuana-related offenses, Diaz has shown no remorse.
He has now been suspended by the Nevada commission in 2007, 2012 and 2015. He has been chastised for essentially hiding his marijuana use from the NSAC, but still continues to leave its precious prefight questionnaire blank. And then (gasp), he refuses to apologize for doing so afterward.
During a 2012 hearing, commissioner Pat Lundvall reminded Diaz he had "promised" the commission in 2007 that he would stop smoking marijuana. Lundvall asked Diaz how quickly he had resumed smoking after making that promise.
"I imagine when I got home," Diaz deadpanned.
It was commissioner Lundvall who then refused to allow Diaz to offer a blanket statement during his hearing on Monday. Rather than allow Diaz to universally plead the fifth, Lundvall forced him to repeatedly state the words "fifth amendment," as she asked approximately 30 questions that included whether or not he speaks English.
Diaz's lawyer, Lucas Middlebrook, grew so irritated during this process, he accused Lundvall of a "misinterpretation" of her legal right to publicly embarrass Diaz during his testimony. Lundvall overruled Middlebrook and continued.
Later in the hearing, it was Lundvall again who made a motion to ban the 32-year-old Diaz for life, a move that would effectively end his career.
Ultimately, two commissioners were uncomfortable with a lifetime ban, so a five-year suspension was agreed upon. This potentially life-altering change for Diaz -- a difference between not being able to fight for five years and the rest of his natural-born life -- took the commission about two minutes to discuss.
Near the end of deliberations, NSAC chairman Francisco Aguilar made it a point to say Diaz's case was about "more than marijuana," but that's where he was wrong. This case shouldn't be about more than marijuana. It shouldn't be about making a statement to future athletes or finally putting a rebellious Diaz in his place. It shouldn't be about treating politically correct athletes better than ones who show a disdain for the commission and the job it performs.
Disciplinary hearings are about administering justice -- with due process. It doesn't matter that Diaz referred to each and every commission member as a dork and said the words "fifth amendment" in a way that suggested he was thinking of a different, less professional two-word response. None of that makes him more or less guilty of a violation.
Diaz deserved to be penalized for leaving his prefight questionnaire empty. He routinely tries to operate outside of the administrative rules. But the NSAC seemingly allowed its personal feelings toward Diaz to influence its punishment of him -- and that is unacceptable.
Should an NSAC-licensed referee treat combatants differently, based on personal feelings toward each of them? Should a judge award a close round of a fight to the more respectful athlete in the cage?
Many joke about the NSAC and its tendency to be lenient on athletes who show up to disciplinary hearings and play the game. Answer the commission's questions respectfully, speak well of its members and smile while doing so -- this is widely considered the best defense strategy.
Rarely, though, has an example of opposite behavior produced such an egregious result. The NSAC has taken admirable steps in its regulation of combat sports in recent years, but Monday's disciplinary hearing -- and the message it sent -- was the wrong one.