Last week, after a long and heated battle in Albany, New York state’s gays won the right to marry. Whatever your views on same sex marriage, this was a historic occasion. Yet now that two men can get married in New York, why shouldn’t two men be allowed to compete in the full-contact sport known as mixed martial arts (MMA)?
I come from a deeply religious Catholic background, but because of my strong libertarian streak I appreciate the case for gay marriage. Perhaps this same libertarian streak is why I am an avid fan of MMA, an exciting and surprisingly graceful blend of martial arts disciplines such as muay thai, kickboxing, karate, Brazilian jujitsu, and wrestling. For those readers who haven’t heard of it, you will. MMA promotions are sponsored by such household names as Harley-Davidson, Burger King, and Bud Light.
In April 2010, I wrote about the ongoing fight to legalize the sport in New York, one of the lone holdouts among major states. Since then the effort has gone nowhere, having passed a vote in the state Senate for the second time only to be kept off the assembly agenda by the stall tactics of opponents.
Standing in the way of MMA almost singlehandedly, if you are to believe his boasts, is state Representative Bob Reilly. Reilly claims that MMA, a professional sport as highly regulated as boxing, begets violence. However, he has never produced a demonstrable link between MMA and outside violence. As to the safety of those competing in MMA itself, there have only been two deaths in sanctioned MMA in the entire twenty-year history of the sport. On the other hand, the Journal of Combative Sport documented 73 boxing deaths between 1993 and 2009 alone. Even a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study states that MMA is safer than boxing.
Think Reilly is calling to outlaw boxing? Nope. He’s an admitted fan.
Also in staunch opposition to MMA is Denny Farrell, chairman of the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee which has stalled legalization. Farrell stands on vague moral grounds as his rationale for opposing MMA, saying:
I sure as hell don’t want to be responsible for allowing it in New York state.
Farrell is strongly pro-choice and an outspoken advocate of gay marriage, two positions some people find immoral. Why should Farrell be allowed to moralize in the case of MMA, but argue that you can do what you want with your own body in other instances?
Meanwhile, New York is losing out on big money because of the spurious claims of those like Reilly and Farrell. MMA is sanctioned by most neighboring states, including New Jersey, where Newark’s Prudential Center sits just 14 miles from Madison Square Garden. The Prudential Center has hosted several major MMA events in the past few years, including an event in March that drew 12,600 attendees and a live gate of $2.14 million.
But in the end, the strongest argument for MMA is not dollars and cents, it’s individual rights. You might not like the sport: brash, bold, and occasionally bloody, it’s certainly not the type of thing my mom would watch. Yet there is a saying I have seen employed by gay rights activists: If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t have one. The same applies to MMA: if you don’t like it, don’t buy a ticket or change the channel.
But don’t stand in the way of people’s right to compete, or to watch the sport in their home state.
PJM FLASHBACK: Gay Marriage: Laura Bush, Dick Cheney and Barack Obama.