More Ignorance: A response to Fred Bowen’s Article on “Ultimate Fighting” in the Washington Post

Posted: November 17, 2011 in Boxing, College Sports, Fandom, Football, Hockey, Journalism, Judo, Karate, Kick-Boxing, MMA, UFC
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If you can't handle the truth, hide from it.

One of the most prestigious papers in the country, the Washington Post, published an op-ed piece by Fred Bowen entitled, “Ultimate fighting is too brutal to be considered a sport, even if it’s on TV.” Rather than place this long of a response in the comments, I simply pointed to this article. This is my response to Bowen’s disturbingly unprofessional commentary on what he calls, “ultimate fighting.”

———————–

Your article is confused and intentionally misleading, and you should be ashamed of your willingness to protest a subject about which you know so little. You take many factual missteps in you op-ed piece. For starters, the sport is called, “mixed martial arts” (“MMA”) “Ultimate fighting,” is a throw back to the early 90s when the only MMA promotion was the Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”). Your ignorance isn’t limited to the sport you hate. Your claim that 15-round fights are the norm in boxing is also wrong. A simple internet search shows that the last 15-round boxing match in America (among the major organizations) was held in 1988. It’s these easily-verified factual discrepancies that cast doubt on your qualifications to address this topic; however, dismissing you outright would be lowering myself to your level and give you an “out.” Despite your apparent lack of concern for logic and factual evidence, let’s examine some of your more ridiculous claims.

Danger, Will Robinson!

To say that “almost anything goes” mischaracterizes the sport. Though you’ll likely deny it, you’re clearly trying to imply is that there are dangerous techniques (e.g., eye-gouging, fish-hooking, strikes to the spine) permitted in MMA, which is not true. The sport is a mix of many different martial arts, but everything that’s legal in the UFC (and some things that are not legal in the UFC) are legal in all of those other sports. That is, throws are legal in judo, punches are legal in boxing and kickboxing, kicks are permitted in kickboxing, and joint locks are legal in jiu-jitsu and judo. As a combination of multiple martial arts disciplines, all of these techniques are available in MMA. This means that there is a broader variety of techniques available to the fighters, but not that there are more dangerous techniques available. These are the same techniques to which you don’t seem to object in those other contexts. There’s simply no reason to jump to the conclusion that having all of these techniques available is somehow more dangerous.

In fact, there’s reason to assume the combination is less dangerous. The fact that some fighters choose to use grappling techniques to subdue an opponent rather than striking techniques to knock them unconscious would suggest, on average, a safer track record than a competition in which the only option available would be to use striking techniques to knock out your opponent. Is this true? Let’s go to the data.

LiveScience.com recaps new evidence showing that the most dangerous sport for high school and college females is cheerleading: Another study found that between 1982 and 2007, there were 103 fatal, disabling or serious injuries recorded among female high school athletes, with the vast majority (67) occurring in cheerleading.”

This one point addresses Dana White’s comments on cheerleading in particular, and it’s a bit more scientific than your “I’ve watched some ultimate fighting” argument. I also direct you to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, and in particular their Annual Report on catastrophic sport injury for 2010, which covers high school and collegiate athletics. Here are some highlights:

For the 28-year period 1982-1983 – 2009-2010, high school fall sports had 771 direct catastrophic injuries and 747, or 96.9%, were related to football participants.

 

For the 28 years, 1982-2009, there were a total of 163 college direct fall sport catastrophic injuries, and 156 were associated with football.

 

As shown in Table IX, high school winter sports were associated with four direct catastrophic injuries in 2009-2010. All four were associated with ice hockey – one death, two disability, and one recovery. High school winter sports were also associated with four indirect fatalities and three indirect injuries with recovery during the 2009-2010 school year (Table XI). Basketball was associated with all seven indirect injuries. All four of the fatalities were heart related.

So, as an example, the number of deaths nationwide in 2009 for high school hockey alone is twice as great as the number of deaths in American professional mixed martial arts in its entire 18 year history. (Neither of those deaths occurred in the UFC.) The same can be said for the non-contact sport of basketball! Do we dare add the data from professional sports? Should we pull equestrian sports into this equation? I’m sure you wouldn’t want to ban that brutally violent and dangerous sport. (Which, by the way, you shouldn’t. Though it’s been proven by many studies performed around the world to be the most dangerous spectator sport, it’s still much more safe than riding in a car.) Combat sports in general, and the UFC in particular, are far and away the safest spectator sports in the United States. The data backs up that claim, but again, I’m not sure your concern is with minor details such as “data” or “logic.” It seems your focus is on making sure no one’s feelings are hurt. (For those that do care about such minor details, I suggest the Journal of Combative Sports as a starting point. When you consider the number of deaths per 1,000,000 participants, combat sports compare quite favorably to other spectator sports.)

But They Look Like They’re Hurting Each Other’s Feelings!

Your concern of the glorification of violence suggests you’re not much of a sports fan, which is fascinating in light of your position with the Washington Post. What’s more violent than a strong hit against a defenseless receiver in a football game, a hard check in hockey, or a fatal car accident? The fact that some of these (not all, as you state) are “accidents” doesn’t change the fact that their heightened frequency makes them more dangerous. It also doesn’t change the fact that those sometimes-fatal events are what the fans are waiting to see. That, by definition, is the glorification of violence, and if it doesn’t invalidate football, hockey, or auto-racing as sports, it doesn’t invalidate MMA as a sport either. (Auto racing isn’t a sport for a different set of reasons.)

On top of all of this is an intangible that shouldn’t be ignored (though I admit it’s immeasurable). Some people are better able to handle pain and damage than others. While I’m certain you couldn’t handle competing in a real martial art (i.e., not a dime-store “black belt factory” you might attend in the suburbs), these guys can. In short, for them, “pain don’t hurt,” and their superior athleticism means it doesn’t easily cause them long-term damage either. They’re ready for this, even if you’re not.

On one point we can both agree: You need to change the channel. I’m not sure you can handle the real world. The Washington Post, on the other hand, should be ashamed of themselves for permitting you to write on this topic. There must be some other writers that oppose MMA but are capable of doing research and putting together a sound argument.

Make sure to listen to Fight Fans Radio Monday through Thursday at 3pm for MMA news and analysis. Also listen in on Saturdays at 3pm before fight cards for my live Stupid Predictions™ segment.

Follow me on Twitter @MMADork
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Follow the Washington Post on Twitter @WashingtonPost
Don’t follow Fred Bowen on Twitter even if you can find his Twitter handle (I couldn’t). He’s not worth reading.

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Comments
  1. I got a response from Fred Bowen, who of course declined an interview. I am still pushing him for it but he included in his response to me a letter he has sent to several people in response the criticism he received:

    “Dear Readers:

    Thank you for your emails. I received many comments about my column concerning Ultimate Fighting/ Mixed Martial Arts (“UF”) and its entry into prime time television sports. Many of the emails and comments were extremely belligerent. In keeping with my policy concerning such communications, I will not respond to those. However, some emails, including yours, were more measured and, I believe, deserve a response.

    I apologize for a general nature of this response but I will try to address several common points that were made in many of the emails.

    1- Several people pointed out that championship-boxing matches are now 12 rounds and not 15. That was my mistake and I have asked that it be corrected.

    2- I am aware there are many more rules concerning UF than I printed in the article. I listed some to give my readers a sense of what a fight might be like. I did not intend, nor do I think the column implies, that these were the only rules in UF.

    3- Several emails referenced a study concerning the dangers of cheerleading. I have watched and written about competitive cheer and UF. Again, I would make the distinction I made in the column concerning other dangerous sports. The injuries that occur in cheering are accidents and not the object of the game. UF, it seems to me, is very different in that regard.

    4- As many of you acknowledged, I write an opinion column. Therefore, much of the column consisted of my opinions concerning UF. I understand people will disagree with my opinions – I have written the column for 11+ years. UF is undoubtedly a subject on which opinions diverge. We may have to agree to disagree.

    5- Finally, I should emphasized I write for children. Therefore my primary concern is whether UF is an activity that kids should watch and participate in. In my opinion, it is not. UF, and especially the way it is presented on TV, in videos and various websites, seems to glorify violence and a phenomenon that our children experience all too often in school and other places – bullying. As such, I think it is better for kids to participate in other less violent sports and for parents to direct their children away from UF matches that will be shown on network TV.

    Thanks again for your emails. I hope you will continue to read the column.

    Fred Bowen
    Children’s Book Author
    Washington Post Sports Columnist for Kids”

  2. MMADork says:

    Despite all those comments, he still refers to MMA as “ultimate fighting.” Amazing. Moreover, his concern for kids isn’t his primary concern, as he stated MMA isn’t a sport. That applies to everyone.

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