Finding a balance

MMA has come a long way in recent years, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  The sport is either banned or not regulated…

By: Luke Thomas | 16 years ago
Finding a balance
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

MMA has come a long way in recent years, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  The sport is either banned or not regulated in over half of states nationwide.  Iowa – home of Pat Miletich – doesn’t want to regulate the sport so they don’t have to be liable “when” a fighter suffers seriously injury.  That position itself sounds like a fairly reasonable one, insofar as while wrong, it’s well-intentioned and

But Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, says the state should just ban ultimate fighting. “It is a barbaric, disgusting, degrading and subhuman activity that really has no place here in the state of Iowa,” Quirmbach says.

Quirmbach argues that “ultimate fighting” isn’t really a sport. “There’s nothing (sportsmanlike) about holding someone down and beating them over the head,” Quirmbach says. “There’s nothing (sportsmanlike) about drawing blood profusely. There’s nothing sportsmanlike about people being permanently disabled.”

If there’s nothing sportsmanlike about drawing blood, why go to a hockey or boxing match?  If there’s nothing sportsmanlike about people being permanently disabled, why watch NFL games?

Here’s a tip for fans of MMA: learn the extent to which other sports cause injuries.  No one has ever been paralyzed in a MMA fight, but they have in the NFL.  Take the case of Mike Utley.  Don’t remember?   Here’s a refresher:

It was November 17, 1991 and Detroit Lions guard Mike Utley was doing what he always did which was protecting his quarterback and blocking his heart out to help his team win.

Late in the fourth quarter of that game against the Los Angeles Rams, Utley attempted to throw a block in pass protection when he went down with an injury that would change the course of the rest of his life. He had fractured the 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae in his spine and was paralyzed.

Remember, that was live on television and in front of thousands of fans, kids included.  Apparently, that’s not brutal enough.

Or how about hockey’s high sticking?  Is that not “sub-human”?  Remember when Marty McSorely was tried on misdemeanor battery charges for his attack on an unsuspecting Dante Brashear?  No?  Here’s the video:

Watching that, MMA seems quaint by comparison.

And if that’s not enough?  Remember when someone died during a sporting event?  No?  I do:

“Barbaric”, no?

Those examples are all rare and don’t happen everyday.  In fact, they happen once every few years or less.  But they do happen.  And even when no one is severely hurt, paralyzed or killed, all sorts of lesser but troubling injuries happen along the way.  Yet we accept that risk.  We accept it by trying to find a balance of goods.  We allow football and hockey and racing because a) severe incidents are rare, b) we try to take as much precaution as possible to prevent harm, and c) we enjoy the game.  The balance or the line for what’s acceptable differs across the human experience, so I understand why Iowa is grappling with the issue.  But when there’s confusing, look at the hard data.  It’s the best tool to measure safety across sports.  And that’s where MMA does well.  Injuries and trauma are part of MMA, but an argument can be made that the balance of goods leans in favor of legalizing the sport.

I think promoting a sport by saying there’s a never been a death (in a sanctioned event) reeks of “least common denominator” syndrome even though it’s important.  I also think saying MMA is “less dangerous” than another dangerous sport isn’t that helpful either.  What we should be saying is that, yes, MMA is dangerous.  Like all sports, there are risks to this one.  And yes, at times, MMA is violent.  But there’s a balance going on here; a balance that’s taken a lot of years to get right, but a balance that appears to be working.  There’s a balance that prevents mismatches, prevents more serious injuries, and prevents the unqualified from getting involved.  Lo and behold, it also preserves all the entertainment value.

That should come as no surprise.  After all, if we – the fans of MMA – care about fighter safety and don’t enjoy gratuitous violence, the only way we can enjoy it is when a proper balance is achieved.  Part of the success of the Zuffa-owned UFC has been the effort to get this balance right (and also a hefty dose of television exposure).

So don’t get mad or find others to be blind to the truth every time someone says the sport is violent.  Our sport is also a reasonable activity.  Not everyone will like it, but you can only deny – or ban – the obvious for so long.  Eventually only the intellectually dishonest will find a way to oppose the legalization of MMA.  Here’s to reasonable people everywhere.

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Luke Thomas
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