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Clergy join fight against sanctioned MMA

By Jessica String
Staff writer

Professional mixed martial arts fighting, which is currently banned in the state, may become legalized after the Senate passed a bill that would regulate the sport. Faith leaders say the fights are too violent. Photo by AP.
May 06, 2013
Clergy members and their allies in the Assembly are joining the fight to kill the bill that would lift the ban on professional mixed martial arts fighting in the state if passed by the Assembly. The bill (A.6506/ S.2755) is under scrutiny by clergy members and some legislators for the sport's violent nature, the damaging effects it may have on children, derogatory statements by fighters toward women and the Ultimate Fighting Competition's [UFC] handling of that recent misconduct.

The latest opposition comes after women's advocacy groups voiced their concern about the sport two weeks ago during a press conference attended by Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan; Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Greenwich Village; and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern.

"This is truly a moral question," said Father John Duffel from the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Manhattan. "This particular piece of legislation if passed will not in any way help us walk the earth as brothers and sisters."

The bill in question would legalize professional mixed martial arts fighting in New York state, which has banned the sport since the mid 1990s. Mixed martial arts fighting is a combat sport that uses many elements of fighting and is the only sport that allows kicking, hitting and grappling either standing or on the ground. Assemblywoman Jaffee compares the sport to a gladiator-like spectacle where the brutal, physical defeat of the opponent is the object of the game.

"We claim [New York] is a progressive state but this is a regressive and very dangerous move forward … mixed martial arts is a brutal barbaric pseudo-sport — the modern equivalent to gladiatorial Roman combat with the audience screaming and howling with every blow," said Jaffee, quoting the former Rockland District Attorney Michael Bongiorno.

From left, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Rabbi Debora Gordon, and, at the podium, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton speak at a press conference to encourage the Assembly to kill a bill that would lift the ban of professional mixed martial arts fighting. Photo by Josefa Velasquez.
Lawmakers and clergy members joined the women's advocacy groups in opposition, who said at a recent press conference that the derogatory and sexist misconduct of fighters through social networks is something that should not be condoned.

Among the explicit behavior that sparked anger among women's advocacy groups is a YouTube video by MMA fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson where he pretends to try to rape a woman in a parking garage using chloroform and zip ties.

Opposition also points out that some MMA fighters wear clothing that represents white power or racist ideologies. One fighter in particular, Melvin "Man O War" Costa, has a Nazi eagle and swastika tattoo on his chest. The opposition fears these sort of hate-beliefs will be attractive to some viewers of the events.

"It will brutalize everyone in New York state," said Dr. Jonathan Fahey, chairman of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice. "A study [by the Southern Poverty Law Center] on cage fighting says it especially attracts Neo-Nazis and skinheads and men who hate women. Is that what we want in New York City?"

The Southern Poverty Law Center stated in a report that white supremacist websites have "rapidly" established forums dedicated to discussing mixed martial arts fighting.

Fr. John Duffell, from the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Manhattan, spoke against the violence and hate that might spread if professional mixed martial arts were regulated in the state. Photo by Josefa Velasquez.
Steven Greenberg, from Greenberg Public Relations, who represents the Ultimate Fighting Championship in New York, said it may be violent but that is the individual's own opinion and their choice to not be involved in the events.

"If people don't want to watch it they shouldn't watch it," Greenberg said. "It is moral and legal and ethical in 48 states."

Other than New York, only Connecticut bans regulated professional mixed martial arts fighting.

Fahey, along with some legislators, raised the question of how constantly putting a fighter in the ring effects them physically and psychologically.

"This is no way for human beings to make a living, this is not how men should work; beating, hurting, and damaging each other," Fahey said.

Fahey also said that once a fighter is too injured or physically incapable of continuing fighting, they are "thrown out."

But those who want to see MMA in New York say this is simply not true.

"UFC provides health insurance for all fighters," Greenberg said. "Fighters have to go through extensive medical tests before and after a fight."

Those tests include blood tests for HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis C as well as testing for substances, neurological testing, radiology and eye exams.

"'Sport' is a misnomer in my view," said Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca. "It may already be out there as people are saying …available on TV but, that is not a reason for government to give it sanction by allowing live fights in New York."

As many supporters of the MMA bill have pointed out, mixed martial arts is allowed in the state but not on a professional level.

"I don't see why they are protesting professional mixed martial arts and not amateur fighting," Greenberg said. "There are far more injuries in football, boxing, hockey… than in mixed martial arts."

The MMA bill passed the Senate in March and remains in the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development. Despite the bill having more than 60 sponsors in the Assembly, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, D- Ridgewood, said she doesn't believe it has the votes to make it to the floor.

  1. print email
    Legalize MMA in New York; Stop Albany Shenanigans
    May 06, 2013 | 08:02 PM

    As a lawyer, a single mother of four kids (one of whom studies MMA), a feminist, a Catholic (albeit a disillusioned one), and an avid enthusiast of MMA, I have to question the clergy's motivation for its eleventh-hour renouncement of the bill to legalize MMA. The comments of Rev. Duffel and the aforementioned lawmakers reveal an alarming ignorance of the sport of MMA which suggests that their motivation is less than pure. There simply is no statistical support to justify the position that MMA is a greater health hazard than any number of sports. Indeed, there has not been a single death associated with the UFC - the largest and most highly regulated MMA organization in the world. And as compared to both football and boxing, MMA may as well be ballet when it comes to long-term serious injuries. Sure, every sport has its bad apples who make sexist, racist, homophobic or any number of offensive comments. There are misogynists and bigots everywhere, and the MMA is no exception - but neither is it a club of skin-head rapists - any more than the Catholic church is a club of pedophiles or the General Assembly a club of sexual harassers. The bottom line is that professional MMA is a highly regulated sport that requires an extraordinary amount of skill, training, and discipline - it is truly an art form. My 11-year old son has studied MMA since he was 6 years old. he is a straight-A student, an artist, a member of his school's chess team, treats his male and female classmates with the utmost respect, and has never been disciplined for poor behavior. I largely credit his MMA training for his success as a student and respectful, motivated, and hard-working young man. Albany politicians and even some of the clergy might benefit from studying the sport. At a minimum, institutions with as much power and influence as the church should educate themselves about the sport before mindlessly renouncing it.

    Jennifer Bonjean
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