New article on brain injuries in mixed martial arts features frightening study data and stories from fighters

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Star-Ledger's new feature on brain injuries in MMA should be taken very seriously by anyone with even a passing interest in the sport.

The Star-Ledger said earlier in the week that they'd be releasing a series of articles on brain injuries in mixed martial arts starting with an article today (Sunday). That first article has come out and much of what it contains is not pretty.

The story features a number of anecdotes from fighters about slurred speech, headaches and forgetfulness, such as this:

One fighter, for example, says he slurs his speech for up to 36 hours after sparring sessions. He also was found wandering a department store, oblivious to how he got there. Others tell stories of being dizzy for months after a fight and unable to remember people they've met a few days earlier.

Or this from former UFC fighter Tom DeBlass:

DeBlass already retired from fighting once, last November, after losing his first two fights in the UFC. But he returned in April to a different promotion and scored a technical knockout to improve his record to 8-2.

After that win, DeBlass says, he wasn't sure he would fight again. He says his brain would ache after sparring, and his fiancee, Delilah Acevedo, says he is generally more forgetful.

This spring, for example, DeBlass was ordering takeout from Conca D'oro Restaurant in Forked River for a gathering at his home. Minutes later, he called back and tried to order his own meal again, forgetting he had already done so.

The thing that should -- but probably won't -- open the most eyes, however, is some of the data being collected on the sport:

...Bernick says his 3-year-old study, which includes scanning the fighters' brains, tracking cognitive function and taking speech samples, is showing the brains of MMA fighters are deteriorating much the same as boxers.

When talking to fight doctors for previous articles related to concussions and brain damage the cognitive function tracking and speech sample tracking is what they've suggested to be a good way to determine when fighters shouldn't be licensed any more. Differences in the two over time are typically linked with CTE (which can't yet be reliably diagnosed in living humans).

The story is very well done, but some will likely get hung up on the "tone," thinking that it comes from a negative place. But, having information and having open discussions about the dangers in a sport is always a positive.

Especially a sport that has such a large portion of participants, fans, media and executives who insist that the danger is minimal because of the very small amount of immediate coma/death situations as compared to something like boxing.

And I hope that the discussion actually takes place and isn't brushed aside with statements such as "of course there are risks to fighting!" and a new round of "but (other sport) is worse!"

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