By Josh Stein on Sep 27, 2010
There are a handful of writers who have influenced and mentored me as I was a younger guy (literally, a boy) coming up writing about the sport. Early this year, I said goodbye to a dear friend, and (while this is a bit different) it still bears a sort of significance in that I will be a little more independent of the opinions and originative minds that shaped me, and my writing.
Ivan Trembow, the mastermind behind the Independent World MMA Rankings, and one of the best independent bloggers in the sport announced his decision to abstain from watching MMA, a decision that he did not come to lightly. The decision (I recommend reading his arguments yourself, as they are powerful) is one that startled me, as it left me largely responsible for the rankings, and it marked the departure of an interesting, thoughtful writer who I looked up to, forcing me to stop and think.
I revisited my position over and over again on this issue, and I found this: I don’t agree with Ivan’s decision to leave. I respect it. He’s entitled to his thoughts, his feelings, and they have merit. They are not my feelings. But they do iterate thoughts that ought to come to the forefront of MMA, that we don’t discuss in the wake of event previews and matchup speculation.
Ivan expressed a number of thoughts on the health risks of MMA. We cannot pretend that MMA is without its dangers to those athletes who choose to participate. Ivan’s thought is one that should resonate for those who share the collective delusion that there are not serious risks of brain trauma (I don’t know how many people that constitutes, or how embedded they are in my readership; but, either way, it’s a worthwhile point):
Yes, MMA is “safer than boxing,” but I think I must have been kidding myself to ever think that “safer than boxing” meant “relatively safe,” no matter how much the athletic commissions and MMA promoters deny or downplay the long-term brain issues associated with MMA.
This sport is dangerous. We know that.
The question, I suppose, for me, is “What post hoc rationalization am I going to use to justify the enjoyment I take in what may be a very dangerous activity for those participants?”
There is no easy answer. It may very well be that there is no good answer. But the one I have held for years seems sufficient, still, now. There are risks for all sports, inherently, but the venue it presents for those participants to discipline themselves, to pursue a better life, and to test what skills they cultivate, is still a thing that I want to be a part of. We should try to make it as safe as possible, even if the reality is that it will never be as safe as some would hope.
But that isn’t the real point that I think bears reiteration.
However, the facts remain that when you combine the issue of painkiller abuse in MMA with the lack of collective bargaining, medical insurance, pension plans, or any athletic commissions that have the ability (or the desire) to conduct drug testing that is even remotely close to the standards of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and you combine all of that with the avalanche of emerging science about concussions, CTE, Alzheimer’s-like syndromes, and even ALS-like syndromes, it adds up to a recipe for disaster in the years to come, and I just can’t watch it anymore.
This is, functionally, only a concluding endnote for Ivan. But, for me, it is a mantra that bears constant repeating, and I have been discussing this for years with managers, fighters and other writers.
There is no safety net for fighters. The fighters who need medical help (whether it is the painkiller issue or issues with depression and other treatable mental conditions) often can’t get it, because no one wants to place premiums on a professional fighter. The job necessitates a high risk of injury, and because of that high risk, there can be no insulation against injury. This is the paradox of health-insurance: Those who are most exposed often cannot get reasonable treatment.
I don’t have a solution, but I have heard many other ideas on the subject, and it is worthwhile to discuss at length. Certainly, for those of us who (unlike Ivan) accept and partake in the sport, instead of walking away, after acknowledging the reality of the circumstances surrounding the health of the fighters, there is a particular imperative to ensure that those fighters who we so admire (and even those that we love to hate) are not simply left in the gutter as they age. The acknowledgement of that imperative necessitates a discussion on what it means to protect these fighters, and how we ought to go about it.
Filed Under: MMA
About the Author: Joshua Stein is a writer and editor for MMA Opinion. He has worked as a photographer and journalist and has a number of print journalism credits. He also works as a moderator for MMAForum.com and a grappling columnist (covering judo, collegiate wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission grappling) for profighting-fans.com.