Lawmakers and women’s advocacy groups are lobbying against a bill that would allow professional Mixed Martial Arts fighting events in New York state. Following cases of tweets and jokes by fighters about sexual assault, the lack of disciplinary action that followed, combined with the violent nature of the sport, the groups believe bringing the fights to New York will condone violent behavior. Photo by AP.
April 29, 2013Lawmakers and women's advocacy groups are lobbying against a bill (A.6506/S.2755) that would allow professional Mixed Martial Arts fighting events in New York state.
Following demeaning tweets and jokes about sexual assault by professional fighters, the lack of disciplinary action that followed, combined with the violent nature of the sport, the groups believe bringing the fights to New York will condone violent behavior.
"Cage fighting has no place in a civilized society," said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern. "Except for those who stand to profit from this barbaric entertainment… it harms the fighters who risk their lives, who are often seriously injured, it harms women who are victimized by glorification of distorted masculinity."
Mixed martial arts fighting is a combat fighting sport, generally taking place in a cage, that combines many different forms of fighting.
The groups who held a press conference in Albany last week say some fighters have been spotlighted for sexist or racist comments via social networks while the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a mixed martial arts organization, was criticized for not disciplining its members.
Among the explicit behavior, including graphic commentary on a woman's sexuality and derogatory language, the groups refer to a video where Quinton "Rampage" Jackson jokingly pretends to attempt to rape a woman with Chloroform and zip ties.
"They go out there [and think] that it's okay to violate women, it's okay to physical assault women, it's okay to rape women," said Zenaida Mendez, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) of New York. "Some of them even have videos of how you can 'get a women fast' as they say. So this is a concern to us."
The groups fear the violent sport and demeaning behavior indicates a culture that condones assault and oppression of women.
From left, Zenaida Mandez, president of the National organization for Women, Sen. Krueger, Sen. Hoylman and Deborah Tucker, executive director of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence oppose the bill that would allow professional mixed martial arts fighting in the state because of past incidents of fighter conduct and the violent nature of the sport. Photo by Tanique Williams.
"The essential damage to people in the community being influenced to believe that violence against women is acceptable and actually used by people who they are coming to admire," said Deborah Tucker, executive director of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence.
"The influence particularly on young men is something we are concerned about. We do not want to see any messages to young boys and young men that encourage sexual assault or violence," Tucker said.
A spokesman for the UFC in New York said the league is addressing these concerns and also notes every sport is forced to deal with misconduct by athletes.
Steven Greenberg, from Greenberg Public Relations, a firm representing the UFC in New York State, said fighters are not the only professional athletes who have been less than a role model.
"There is a minority of MMA fighters who do unfortunate things," said Greenberg, referring to offensive tweets and videos by fighters. "There are also football players, Hollywood entertainers… that's our society."
The UFC has released a "Fighters Conduct Policy" this month, which states that, among other illegal and damaging behavior, disciplinary actions may be imposed by using "derogatory or offensive conduct, including without limitation insulting language symbols, or actions about a person's gender." However, it is up to the UFC to impose investigations and disciplinary actions, which can be "… fines, suspension, and cessation of service."
Lawmakers who oppose lifting the ban on mixed martial arts fighting in New York say it is an inhumane practice and was banned in the first place for this reason. In 1997, the state banned professional MMA sports because they "considered it barbaric and were concerned that children would be desensitized by such extreme violence," according to Jaffee.
"Most martial arts have nothing to do with violence but rather self defense," said Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan. "But when you get into the commercial mixed martial arts cage fighting… it's very clear that that sport has a different message ... It follows none of the rules of what are recognized as good sportsman like behavior … it's almost a model of supported, free for all violence."
Greenberg said that mixed martial arts is not the only sport that uses such tactics to win a competition and that professional MMA fighting, as opposed to amateur fighting, has rules that give the sport meaning beyond just violence.
"The purpose of MMA is not to get your opponent," said Greenberg. "It is one of the most highly skilled sports; it takes karate, jiu jistu, boxing..." to be successful.
But Krueger believes that despite the violence and player misconduct in other sports, mixed martial arts is crossing a line.
"I do think it's reasonable to say that there is a continuum; that there is obviously aggressive competition in many American sports," Krueger said. "I think what we are saying here is that there are lines that should be drawn by legislative bodies about when too far is too far."
Some lawmakers are pushing to allow professional mixed martial arts fighting, hoping it will help the upstate economically by creating jobs and bringing tourism. But Jaffee and Sen. Brad Hoylman say the economic benefits are overstated and believe it is counterproductive to a progressive state.
"This is somehow going to bring tens of millions of dollars to the state?" asked Hoylman, D-Greenwich Village. "To me that is a pathetic and desperate attempt to salvage a sport that a lot of people know should not be sanctioned professionally."
Krueger said she has proposed a two year moratorium on mixed martial arts that would allow studies to investigate the long term health and psychological effects on fighters, to which Jaffee plans introduce in the assembly as well.
"We have some studies done in …other counties documenting the physical harm that takes place during the fights," said Krueger. "But we haven't had any longitudinal studies of the long term impact of being choke-held and beat at this level of professional sports."
Krueger noted that studies now show many negative long term impacts of professional boxers years after they retired. Hoylman also plans to purpose legislature that will create a health and wellbeing fund for the fighters, in case the MMA bill does pass.
"What the fighters don't have are basic protections," said Hoylman. "Long term health guarantees, an ability to organize-what I could consider-the essence of a civilized and decent workplace; which is being able to bare the risks of such a dangerous sport."
Hoylman said it is only fair that promoters would be the contributors to the fund.
A bill allowing mixed martial arts in New York passed the Senate and was referred to the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development this month.