In the last 24 hours news outlets of the BBC and Sky - two of the most watched televised news sources in the United Kingdom - attempted to smear Mixed Martial Arts with a 'Cage Fighting' story about an 8 and 9 year old boy competing in a match at an event held in a labour club in Preston, Lancashire - the home county that formed Catch As Catch Can Wrestling - in front of an audience of 250 adults.
The trouble is it wasn't even a Mixed Martial Arts bout. The two boys competed in an exhibition Submission Grappling match. No strikes were thrown. No slams were landed. No padding or head gear was needed or necessary, much to the outraged contrary of The British Medical Association and a so called impartial press with the BBC video journalist claiming 'Every blow is broadcast on the Internet'. The only headgear used in grappling matches are the type that prevents cauliflower ears and wearing of them is optional not to mention the jury is still out on whether head gear in striking sports makes any difference to the threat of concussion and other brain trauma related ailments.
How is this exhibition match different to when children who take up Jiu Jitsu, Judo or Amateur Wrestling compete in front of hundreds of adults like we see at BJJ tournaments or American School district meets? Are children being exploited for the sole entertainment of adults? Of course not. It just happened to take part in a 'Cage'.
The BBC spoke to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt who had the following to say:
The first thing is we do want to encourage young people to do more sport, and we've been talking about that, and I think Boxing for example has a terrificly important role in helping young people; it can help channel aggression - getting more young people to do sport is great. I do ask myself if it really has to be in a cage, it just feels to me ... it feels very barbaric and I know that there are concerns about children that young doing a sport like that. I think if adults choose to do it, that's one thing. But I know you're going to talk to someone later about that and get an expert view, but I suppose I do share some of the shock I expect many of your viewers will feel.
Hunt isn't your average politician. As Secretary of State he's in charge of Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport within the current political landscape. That means his opinion will carry with it weight, no matter how uninformed that opinion is unless it's allowed to be fairly challenged. Hunt believes Boxing plays an important role in helping young people and yet refers to what he saw a barbaric. I would like to point Mr Hunt to the 'Incidence of Injury in Professional Mixed Martial Arts Competitions' study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I'd also like to point out In Submission Grappling intentionally trying to concuss your opponent is not allowed and in Mixed Martial Arts you can potentially finish a fight without a single punch, kick, knee or elbow landing on the head.
Hunt asks if it really has to be contested in a cage, not knowing of the safety element a fenced enclosure provides for its participants. With a sport that includes grappling the 'cage' primarily acts as a reinforced play pen to prevent the participants from falling out and injuring themselves as has been documented several times when MMA fights have taken place in a Boxing ring. Just a quick google image search for 'play pen' used for children produces many pictures of pint sized 'cages' in a variety of shapes, including octagons but nobody bats an eyelash.
The NSPCC - National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children - chimed in calling the match 'disturbing' and warned parents not to allow children to take part in the sport while they were developing. For an organisation as respected as the NSPCC who strive to protect children from cruelty at the hands of adults it is disappointing that they completely missed the mark by letting ignorance cloud their judgment and giving what was likely a knee-jerk response.
Sky News took a typically more sensationalist approach by leading off with this nugget:
Unlike the bare-knuckle boxing of the film Fight Club, cage fighting is legal and a fully regulated combat sport.
The Sky News piece continues to suffer, citing Alex Reid as the UK's most high profile figure and claiming the Children's version of the sport doesn't include striking - presumably this research done by the journalist by spending a whole 2 minutes watching the video clip that was available to him.
Sky News, whose Sky Sports channel had a regular weekly program called 'Cage Fighter' and has aired a season of The Ultimate Fighter as well as UFC events in the past. But then even with the UFC on Fox deal that shouldn't stop Fox News from continuing to spin the yarns they're known for.
Another instance of media sensationalism, another instance of politicians and government bodies not knowing what they're talking about but having a great platform to say something - anything - regardless while those with an actual ability to tell the other side of the story are drowned out or ignored. Unfortunately all this means is other news outlets and needless voices parroting the narrative until the next non-story comes along they can waste our time with.
I think I might go back to bed.