I’m not a big fan of government telling consenting adults what they can and can’t do. If two men or two women want to have consensual sex, get married and raise a family, they have a right to do that. And if two men or two women want to step inside a cage and beat each other bloody until one of them is unable to continue in some capacity, they have a right to do that as well. Somehow, New York State disagrees with me.
Because of this, Mixed Martial Arts will remain illegal in the state of New York. And there’s absolutely no excuse for this.
Now, after that opening paragraph, I know what some of you might be thinking; “Why would anyone want to sanction such barbaric violence? Think of the children!” Well, you’re not alone. For the past few years, a New York assemblyman by the name of Bob Reilly has pretty much used that exact same argument to prevent MMA from being legalized in New York. In particular, Reilly has cited that “One of the criteria [for victory in the sport] is damage to your opponent.” Reilly’s reasoning here goes something along the lines of “if the object of an activity is the harm of another person, that activity is immoral and ought to be illegal.”
Never mind that this criteria is technically no longer true; for all intents and purposes, it’s still how MMA fights are determined. But this concept – the inherent intent to harm another person stemming from the rules or objectives of a sport – also applies to boxing, which is legal in New York. Truth be told, it applies to football as well. Sure, you can say that a victory in football is determined by who scores the most points. But part of that equation is determined by preventing the other team from scoring points. You know how that’s done? Through violence and the intimidation that stems from physical punishment. Fortunately, Mr. Reilly and the members of the New York State Assembly are taking steps to eradicate these barbaric pastimes and… wait, actually they’re continuing funding for public school football programs and boxing isn’t on their radar.
Hypocritical moralism aside, it’s important to realize that despite its violent reputation, MMA is a safer sport than boxing and football. In boxing, you are only allowed to use your hands and strike above the waist; this leads to many more strikes to the head than MMA. In MMA, kicks are allowed so fighters must maintain a greater distance from each other, and fighters are allowed to attack any part of your opponent (save the groin, eyes, back of the head and a few other spots), and so are less inclined to aim for the head. You also have to factor grappling in; not only does grappling reduce the amount of striking in a fight, it also reduces the amount of times you are struck during practice. The need to be proficient in grappling inherently limits the amount of time spent training in striking and, as a consequence, being struck in the head.
And football? The sport that gives over 2 million teenagers concussions per year? The poster child for a brain condition that turns a 40-year-old man into a 70 year-old Alzheimer’s patient? Don’t get me started. The bottom line is that MMA is safer than sports that are currently legal in New York, and it’s utterly illogical for that to continue. Would it make any sense to ban pet owners from keeping pit bulls, but allow them to have grizzly bears? Of course not. (Although this would be kind of awesome.)
How can you justify legally and morally abiding two sports more destructive than the one you’ve banned? It’s simple; you can’t. Unfortunately, Reilly and his cohorts got that help thanks to substantial support from the Culinary Workers Union of Nevada. Why is a union from Nevada involved in legislative battles in New York, you ask? Because Vegas casinos owned by the Fertitta brothers – the men who own the UFC, the predominant MMA organization – are anti-union and won’t hire their workers.
I’m not saying the union doesn’t have a legitimate beef with the Fertittas. But attempting to retaliate by denying MMA fighters the right to fight in New York State is not the proper course of action. I don’t suspect the union is actively manipulating politicians so much as assisting those with views convenient to their goal, as there are plenty of politicians who don’t want MMA in the state. They’re entitled to their opinion of the sport. But much as politicians can’t prevent adults from doing harmful things like smoking cigarettes, boxing, or trying to sit through any show on TLC (suicide has never seemed more appealing), they shouldn’t prevent adults from engaging in consensual, monitored violence.
Even with its recent surge in popularity, MMA is stigmatized because of the variety of strikes involved, the lack of padding on the gloves, and striking an opponent on the ground. It looks bad, and I won’t deny it’s violent and people get seriously injured. But when it comes to actual safety, particularly concerning the brain, it is safer than other, "less violent" sports. All of its components – Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu jitsu, wrestling, boxing, etc. – are legal, yet it is not. It’s nonsensical. Here’s hoping by next year New York comes to its senses.