‘Ultimate Fighting’ erodes respect for life

One of the issues that continues to be debated at the State Capitol is the potential legalization of mixed martial arts (MMA). MMA is a full contact combat sport that proponents say is a combination of karate, judo, jujitsu, tae kwon do, boxing and wrestling.  I don’t have anything against the traditional martial arts. They seem to be useful for things like self-defense, physical fitness and discipline building.

But MMA is different. It involves two near-naked contestants, without armor or weapons, who get into a ring and go at it like two roosters in a cockfight. They use techniques like “sprawl and brawl,” where fighters stand up and repeatedly strike each other, and “ground and pound,” where one contestant takes the other to the floor and keeps pummeling until the opponent either submits or is knocked out.

MMA is bloody, brutal and barbaric.  It’s obscenely violent. It’s dangerous. There have been at least two deaths in the United States from brain injuries sustained in so-called “ultimate fighting.” And worst of all, it’s considered entertainment.

Those who champion legalization of MMA in New York, like the general managers of large arenas such as the Nassau Coliseum, point to the increased revenue that MMA will bring into the state.  Just one big event, they say, will generate more than $11.5 million in economic benefits: ticket sales, hotel accommodations, restaurants and other non-lodging visitor sales.  Why should New Yorkers have to travel all the way to New Jersey to watch human beings bash, beat and body slam each other to a pulp inside a cage?

Has our society become so desensitized to violence that we now have no moral qualms about selling it?

New York State should not sanction violence — in any form — just to make a buck. The state is supposed to set the example by protecting the health and welfare of the citizenry and enacting policies that teach us what is morally appropriate. Just look at what New York has done in recent years to stop harassment and bullying of students. The anti-bullying sentiment has caught on … schools are putting curricula and codes of conduct into place, local governments are cracking down on cyber-bullying, and the legislature is now focused on reducing workplace bullying. The message is clear: bullying is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated.

Our state’s approval of MMA would send precisely the contrary message, particularly to children: it’s OK for human beings to beat each other up, and it’s OK for the rest of us to cheer them on.
I know that other sports, legal as they are, can be violent: players get concussions in football games, boxing results in serious injuries, fans watch hockey tournaments just to see the fights. I know MMA events can already be viewed on cable television, and live in person at the Foxwoods Casino. I know movies and video games glorify carnage and violence day in and day out.

But do we really need to add to that? Shouldn’t our state be condemning violence, in all its ugly forms, and discouraging violent behavior? In so many areas, the government works hard to do so: getting illegal guns off the streets, preventing domestic abuse, decreasing sexual and bias-related violence, shielding children from other obscenities. All fifty states ban dog fighting. Aren’t people more precious than pit bulls?

Earlier this month, Vermont became the 46th state to legalize mixed martial arts. New York, then, is considered behind the curve.  Many say it’s inevitable. I hope not.

Although the New York State Senate has passed the bill to legalize MMA, some of the most liberal Senators joined with some of the most conservative Senators to vote against it. A recent Siena College public opinion poll found a majority of New Yorkers (52 to 38 percent) opposing it as well. And last week the State Assembly announced they would not be voting on the issue any time soon because there was so much division among elected Assembly representatives. That gives me hope. And it gives us time.

The Catholic tradition has a great deal to offer in this and many other policy debates, starting with our biblical values of respect for human life, peace and justice.  We are called to be peacemakers. Being a peacemaker means restoring civility in our conversations, eliminating anger in our hearts, ending hostility in our daily interactions, and building a culture of harmony and non-violence. There is no place for ultimate fighting in this calling. Let’s encourage our elected officials to be peacemakers, too.     

Kathleen M. Gallagher is Director of Pro-Life Activities for New York State Catholic Conference, 465 State Street, Albany, NY 12203.