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March Madness Musings and More

Sammamish, Wash.

Thanks for telling the truth about this abomination of non-sporting activity. Maybe they could cover it on the hunting page, or on the sheriff's report of recently released criminals. This may be the final comment on the decline of American culture.

Jerry Outlaw

Eagle, Idaho

I was never a mixed martial arts (MMA) fan up until it hit its media explosion in 2005. Since then, I've not only become a fan and supporter, I've also written a book that attempts to situate this violent sport in our violent society. Upon first being seduced by the MMA game myself, I did hold an acute skepticism, and much like you, my cynicism with MMA rested in how it might be ingested by youth and young adults. As a scholar who carries out research on juvenile delinquency prevention (much of it violence prevention) and who has been published in fairly prestigious academic journals, I had to ask myself what drew me to the sport and what that meant given my profession and research interests.

As a former athlete at both the high school (football, wrestling, and track) and NCAA Division I college (track) level, I thought exploring the MMA game would be an interesting scholarly project. So I and a colleague interviewed forty MMA athletes and asked them about safety issues, their sense of responsibility in promoting nonviolent messages, the dominant MMA media, traditional martial arts values, and a variety of other issues. We were able to interview some of MMA's biggest stars (Randy Couture, Quinton Jackson, Guy Mezger), but also made a concerted effort to speak with young men who were relatively unknown in the sport. One might think that by speaking only with mixed martial artists, we would only attain ridiculously biased opinions that glorified the sport. And overall, our interviewees did endorse MMA (obviously), but they also gave some serious suggestions for reform.

What I can say about the men I interviewed was that they were not overwhelmingly insensitive, hyper-masculine thugs. Some of them fit that mold (as is common in all male-dominant sports), but not most of them. And many of them expressed a side of the MMA game that is rarely, if ever, disseminated in the MMA media. We know what sells in the contact and collision sports -- violence. Whether it be physical violence, verbal, or both, it is violence that sells, and consequently, that is what is presented in MMA reality shows, commercials, and pre-competition events.

And the competitions themselves are violent, but I would say no more violent or dangerous than football, hockey, rugby, and certainly not boxing. Given the prevalence of concussions and torn ACL's in women's/girls' soccer and basketball, MMA is about as dangerous as those two sports, as MMA has cuts and concussions, but tends not to have major knee injuries. Honestly, I would not want a cut on my forehead, but I would much rather have that cut than a concussion after reading all the recent research on NFL retirees. Furthermore, the various ways to win or lose a match via submission make MMA far safer than the fledgling skeptic would initially assume. Yes, an armbar hurts while in competition, but as soon as it's released, there is no pain. And as for your gender critique, like soccer, basketball, and other sports, women should be allowed to compete in MMA if they are properly prepared (same as the men).

MMA is not a "so-called" sport, as you put it. It is a sport, with problems like all other sports. Like baseball, track and field, football, swimming, cycling, and so on, it has some steroid issues. Like basketball, football, hockey, soccer, etc., fans sometimes get into fights at events. And finally, MMA is not akin to street fighting. I understand that it is marketed in many ways that way. However, a street fight may consist of uneven numbers, weapons, and other variables that make the situation excessively violent and dangerous. MMA has rules that make the sport relatively safe (I would say no sport is totally safe) if both participants are properly conditioned and know how to defend themselves. The problems emerge when contestants are paired who are unevenly matched, which does occur in some smaller MMA organizations, or when aged-out fighters continue to compete when they should have retired long ago, which unfortunately also happens in boxing.

I suggest you spend some times with a responsible MMA gym, where athletes train who were once elite wrestlers, boxers, and traditional martial artists. You'll see that the MMA marketing strategies paint an extremely narrow picture of the men and women engaged in the sport. And I feel confident in saying that you will also come to respect the sport a great deal more than you do now. You may not like it all together, but I doubt if you will hold the scathing views expressed in your recent article.

David T. Mayeda

Honolulu

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Badgerlen@hotmail.com or badgerlen@aol.com.


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