© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Keith Strudler: Fighting The Good Fight

If you’re a New York State resident and a fan of mixed martial arts, then yesterday was a good day. Yesterday the state assembly removed a nine year ban on the sport, allowing leagues like UFC to bring their events and their fighters to Manhattan, Brooklyn, Albany, and beyond. Yes, if you’ve always fancied boxing too civilized, or football far too restrictive, then MMA – where athletes basically attack each other until one quits or get incapacitated, will satisfy your cravings. The sport has a robust global fan base, as evidenced by sold-out stadiums and arenas for marquis events, not unlike boxing. That includes a small number of highly publicized female athletes, most notably Rhonda Rousey, who last year lost her UFC title to overwhelming underdog to Holly Holm – who by the way also lost the belt to Miesha Tate, an event that cost Holm a possible huge payday for a rematch with Rousey. But, like most sports, the revenue stream is much deeper on the men’s side, even if the salaries are far, far below the mega-dollars given to the world’s top boxers. So there’s no $400 million fight like Mayweather/Pacquiao – at least not yet.

Perhaps that could change someday with the increased legalization of the renegade sport. New York was the last remaining American holdout, and many suggested that was simply a fight over unions and organized labor, not the morality play it was positioned as. There are several developed nations that don’t allow the sport – like France – but its popularity is growing globally, and the trend seems to be more than less. So if you assumed, like I did, that mixed martial arts was simply an awful fad that would go away, like say parachute pants, then you’re sadly mistaken, at least for the time being.

It’s not that there isn’t downside to the sport, assuming you see death and serious bodily harm as downside. There have been a limited number of deaths in sanctioned bouts in the sport’s short history – although clearly nowhere near the hundreds that have died from boxing throughout its much longer and more robust tenure. Perhaps more importantly, MMA creates serious repeated concussion risk from prolonged and pronounced head trauma, even more than boxing and football, according to recent medical research. So for all the talk about the NFL and CTE, my home state has just welcomed a sport that’s likely riskier and perhaps impossible to truly make safer. You can talk all you want about safety measures and medical protocol, but when the goal of sport is to knock the other athlete into submission through virtually any means necessary – and spare me about the limited rules of the game – and you’re going to have the potential for gruesome and enduring injury.

Lots of people will argue that professional fighters know exactly what they’re getting into when they step into the ring, or octagon, or cage, or whatever the stage may be. It’s a libertarian argument about personal destiny and responsibility. It’s one I tend to disregard, because I do believe our government has the moral obligation to protect society from itself, even at the cost of some personal liberty. And I’m just not convinced that prohibiting people from mauling each other in some capitalized blood sport is an unreasonable infringement of our rights.

But just as importantly as the medical realities of this game are the sociological ones. When New York State joined the rest of the union in sanctioning mixed martial arts, it sent a clear message around violence. Instead of regarding the sport as simply immoral and harmful to society at large, politicians took a far more politically expedient stance of giving people what they want. That includes fans, arenas, sponsors, and everyone else who stands to profit off our more brutal pastime, with all due respect to football and NASCAR. But even those sports have a nobler, or least less savage set of goals. Like get the ball across a goal line, or finish first in a race. Not so for mixed martial arts, whose goal is essentially its process – that is, knock someone out. And even if it’s legal and regulated, from my perspective, it’s still wrong.

We spend a whole lot of time trying to figure our brutality and inhumanity, from fights at political rallies to far more destructive and deadly violence that riddles the globe. And we all throw up our hands and wonder why it happens. Yet when given a chance to prohibit the glorification of this very construct, New York State, like every other state in the US, takes a pass. Because that’s easier than fighting the good, if but unpopular fight.

I suppose for mixed martial arts fans in New York, yesterday was a good day. For fans of humanity, perhaps not so much.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related Content
  • For the citizens of Louisiana, this is not just a budget crisis. It’s truly an existential one. It’s the end of days, the apocalypse, cats and dogs living…
  • If you grew up in certain humid southern parts of this country like I did, mosquitos are simply a part of daily life and culture, especially in the…
  • We’ve all failed tests. It's never pleasant, but for the most part, it's a learning process. That's certainly what I told myself when my college astronomy…
  • There is no story more universal in sports than David vs. Goliath. It is the foundation of entire bookshelves of sports movies, starting with, say,…