NYU News: High time for MMA in New York

April 24, 2011

By Eli Epstein

As opinion editor, I often undertake the grim duty of siphoning through all of the unfortunate events going on in our world. I read about Libya and Japan and scores of other struggles and tragedies, but what often hits the hardest is the fight over the New York state budget and the continual discussion of what stays and what goes. Though I'm not originally from Manhattan, nor am I any sort of fiscal expert, it hurts to see that the state has to make education cuts year after year. I've spent time volunteering in New York City public schools, where I've witnessed firsthand just how important education funding is in hiring motivated teachers and enhancing the futures of our city's youth.

What makes this all the more disturbing is how the state has handled the legalization of Mixed Martial Arts, which failed to make it through the legislature last year despite passing through the Senate and two Assembly committees. The bill was left out of ex-Gov. David Paterson's budget after assemblyman and constant MMA kryptonite Bob Reilly sent a letter signed by 48 members of the assembly asking the governor to leave the sport out of his proposal. Again this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo left the sport out of his budget, ignoring the potential $23 million it could bring the state each year — money the state could use instead of slashing more and more educational and medical funding. While it may seem delusional to many that I'm arguing that "violence" is the key to helping our schools, I believe the two go hand in hand in New York.

First, let me clear this notion of "violence." Assemblyman Reilly has made a career these last few years of attacking MMA as the most egregious of public spectacles — not a sport, but a 21st century gladiator contest. The assemblyman's rhetoric is strong and his prose convincing, but nothing could be further from the truth than describing MMA as a carnivorous detestation. Around the eve of this year's legalization battle, New York native and newly minted UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones wrote a letter to Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle describing the sport as "full of strategy, fluidity," a sport where "highly conditioned athletes look for momentary points of leverage and advantage — combining karate, jiu jitsu, wrestling and kickboxing, which can take decades to master."

Jones, not so surprisingly, captures the sport's nuanced beauty wonderfully, as well as its position as the purest form of athletic competition. No savage beast, like many characterize MMA fighters to be, Jones is a highly decorated wrestler — an Olympic sport we hold in the highest esteem — as well as a college graduate and a humanitarian, having given his time and services to numerous charities and foiled a robbery earlier this month, the morning before the most important fight of his life.

In a world of hyperphysical competition, MMA has arguably the most comprehensive and cautionary forms of medical screening and oversight. Just recently, fighter Brian Foster was pulled from an upcoming bout because a pre-fight MRI showed a brain hemorrhage. You tell me the last time any NFL teams offered pre-game brain MRIs, and I'll be the one to show you how Dave Duerson's suicide could have been prevented, and how one of my favorite pro football players of all time, former Patriots LB Ted Johnson, would not have had to seclude himself in his house for ten days due to chronic depression, headaches and pain. In an era of advanced science and a heightened awareness of head trauma, the NFL continually receives a free pass while MMA remains the barbaric ogre.

Unfortunately, Reilly and those who devour his bloated, uninformed barbs are holding back the progress of much more than just a sport. When they fight tooth and nail and make it their career goal to block the passage of MMA, they're stunting the growth of the state as a whole. When your school cuts teachers or your hospital can't provide like it used to, I suggest you ask Assemblyman Reilly why. I'm sure he'll have an explanation.


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