The Natural Tension Between Professionalism and the Athletes of Combat Sports

via Sherdog.com

Over at Sherdog.com, I take a look at the notion of trying to unpack and ultimately regulate the statements and behaviors of combat athletes:

But the UFC’s issue is not necessarily ours. The debate over what language is permissible is not an idle one, but the MMA community must come to grips with the reality that there will always be a natural tension between professionalism and combat sports as it relates to the language and behavior of participating athletes. This isn’t to suggest any behavior or language is acceptable. However, in the greater context of other statements by other fighters and any potential blowback they could generate, Mir’s words don’t merit outrage. And more to the point, Mir’s statement is hardly groundbreaking and will not be the last instance of direct death wishes by notable fighters.

First, Mir is not a moral criminal. There is nothing in Mir’s statement relative to other statements by other fighters or boxers that uniquely tramples ethical concerns. To the extent our own personal subjectivity was offended, I suppose there’s room for revulsion. However, suggesting that the specificity of Mir’s remarks confers upon it a unique terribleness is nothing more than trying to force a distinction without any substantive difference. That Mir’s statements may lend themselves more to use by MMA’s detractors is partly true, but that’s an issue of pragmatism, not moral line-stepping. The often repeated argument that there was some absolutist demarcation Mir callously crossed is neither the central issue nor coherent. The truth is that comments directed toward in-cage actions have no hard and fast parameters of ethical conduct. The projection of personal standards as absolute moral maxims is neither helpful to the debate nor usable on a broader scale.

Second, this entire exercise in outrage fails to appreciate the eccentricities of Frank Mir. Mir is a fan and practitioner of nuance. And due to natural ability, he’s also a first-rate fight promoter. His specificity in language is expressed no matter the subject or situation, and in this particular case, it serves as his conduit to deliver pre-fight theatre. Unless he tries to make good on his stated intentions, Mir’s expressed wish for Lesnar’s death is little more than a thickening of the plot to Mir vs. Lesnar 3.

The true threat of Mir’s comment, to the extent one actually exists, is merely a function of the existing regulatory climate. With the UFC investing time and money into legalization efforts in key states where the struggle to achieve state sanctioning has neither been quick nor painless, Mir’s statements come at an inopportune time.

If we are worried about negative impact and perception, time is better spent deflating the impact of fighters' statement than regulating them outright. And ascribing absolute literalism absent any track record of impropriety is awfully suggestive. This isn't to claim there is nothing out of bounds - a debate the community has really not at all settled - but through containment and distinguishing the reality of the fight business from the irrational statements of fighters, we create a robust insurance policy that still allows for theatre. That is something the fight business can use to great benefit.

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