“We can try to avoid making choices by doing nothing, but even that is a decision.”—Gary Collins
The date was July 19 of the year 2011, and it will always be remembered in sports history as the day that many will say was the beginning of the end for contact and combative sports.
In case you hadn’t already heard, TMZ announced that the NFL is apparently being sued in a massive class-action lawsuit for allegedly and purposefully concealing known health risks to players caused specifically by concussions.
And that’s what we’re here to talk about today—concussions, and the impact that head injuries could possibly have on our favourite sports such as football and mixed martial arts in the very near future.
“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”—Albert Einstein
In total, 75 former professional football players (so far) have decided to sue the NFL, claiming that the organization intentionally concealed the harmful effects of game-related concussions for over 90 YEARS—that’s a long time.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in an L.A. County Superior Court, the players are claiming that the NFL “knew as early as the 1920's of the harmful effects on a player’s brain from concussions; however, until June of 2010, they concealed these facts from coaches, trainers, players and the public.”
The suit also alleges that the NFL commissioned a study back in 1994 entitled, “NFL Committee on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury,” and when they finally published this report in 2004, the NFL concluded that there was “no evidence of worsening injury or chronic cumulative effects” from multiple concussions.
Eaahhhhh...!!! Wrong! This of course is something that we all now know is completely false.
Read: Minor Concussions: The Truth About Risk and Recovery Time in Young Athletes (written by James Ryan, interview with Dr. Johnny Benjamin MD, aka the “Fight Doctor”)
Furthermore, according to the lawsuit, it was not until June 2010 that the NFL finally acknowledged that concussions could lead to dementia, memory loss, CTE and other related symptoms. All of the players are claiming that they suffered injuries as a result of sustaining multiple concussions while playing in the NFL.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. Several former NFL players have been diagnosed post-mortem (dead) with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
In addition to suing the NFL for fraud, negligence and failure to warn its players, equipment maker Riddell, who are the official manufacturers of NFL helmets, are also being listed as defendants in the case. In fact, come to think of it, Riddell also supplies the helmets for my son’s football team—not good.
The suit seeks unspecified damages, but you can bet your bottom dollar that this is going to have a HUGE long-term impact on the League if they are in fact found guilty of any negligence. If the lockout doesn’t destroy the NFL, this lawsuit just might do the trick, and then we can all say goodbye to America’s (and Canada’s...and not to mention, my own) favourite pastime.
So what does this all have to do with MMA you’re asking? A lot actually.
What’s bad for the NFL will also be very bad for every other contact sport, whether it be hockey, boxing or mixed martial arts—the need for change will become the inevitable and complaining about it won’t make a difference.
As coincidence would have it (kinda like when the UFC first announced universal health care coverage for all of their athletes less than one week after my new book Desolate Warrior came out—coincidence, right?), it was also announced by the Las Vegas Review-Journal that a new study will be conducted by the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, as they are planning on focusing their efforts towards the sports of boxing and mixed martial arts in the hopes of determining when fighters (amateur and professional) should decide to hang up their gloves forever, or risk suffering permanent brain damage.
The new study will apparently “monitor fighters’ brains over four years to get a better understanding of head trauma.”
But wait a second...why are they trying to reinvent the wheel here by starting from scratch? Hasn’t it already been established by multiple studies conducted by the NFL (and beyond) that the damage caused by both minor and major concussions in athletes are not only a legitimate proven concern, but extremely dangerous to the long-term health of the athletes?
And what’s a four-year study supposed to prove anyway? Yes, athletes who sustain concussions (irreversible brain damage) will be affected to a certain extent, and no doubt those results would show up in a CT Scan or an MRI, but do we really need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more just to tell us something that we already know?
Personally, I don’t think so.
"This is awesome. Our sport is really just starting to grow, and we need to study all kinds of things. This is definitely one of them,” said UFC fighter, Vitor Belfort. “I'm lucky to work for a company like the UFC that really supports health for all of the athletes. They don't like seeing guys get knocked out over and over [JR: No, but the fans definitely love it, and what’s good for the fans, is absolutely good for business, which in turn is very, very good for the UFC.], and they encourage fighters to retire when that is happening. [JR: Bearing in mind of course that “winning” is what really counts in this sport, and the fight industry has a notoriously nasty habit of using fighters and then tossing them aside when they are no longer useful inside of the ring or the cage.] They are always looking out for the health of all of the fighters, and this is just another thing that could help with that.”
Not sure that I totally agree with Mr. Belfort on this one...
If the UFC were really looking out for, and concerned about the health and well-being of their fighters, then they would probably try do more than to just make simple “suggestions” whenever they feel that it’s time for a fighter to retire, which as it stands, leaves the final decision entirely up to the fighters themselves anyway—one that they’re not very likely to exercise on their own.
And I get that the point of the studies are to remove the responsibility of subjectiveness away from the organizations or even the fighters when they are faced with making those tough decisions, but here’s the problem as a whole—unless ALL fighters are willing to participate in this new “short-term and temporary” study, it absolutely won’t make a difference in helping to determine who should “hang up the gloves” and who shouldn’t. The levels of subjectivity of this issue will still exist no matter what.
This is where common sense becomes useful.
And why aren’t more athletes participating in this study when it’s their own futures that are now being seriously put at risk?
“I think for young fighters, it can be a good thing,” said Las Vegas boxing trainer, Pat Barry. "You start with a baseline and follow their progress throughout their career. You can get an accurate measurement of how their brain has been impacted. But I can see where an older fighter might not want to participate. [JR: Especially if it’s not mandatory.] They might be afraid they'll find something and force them to quit boxing (MMA).”
And therein lies the real problem with this whole study in the first place. As of right now, there are only 20 fighters (out of thousands worldwide) who are currently signed up to participate in this study. That’s nothing in terms of representing the industry as a whole, and yet, the results of the study are supposed to dictate the futures of all combative athletes.
It reminds me a lot of politics actually. So many people refuse to walk their asses down to the local polling stations come election time in order to cast their votes, thus leaving the future of their nation and their families in the hands of other people—and then when they don’t like the results, they bitch and moan about how unfair it is. Well, duh? What did you think was going to happen?
Extreme Unlikely Scenario #1: Based on the varying demographics of the participants, the results could come back inconclusive and ineffectual. In other words, no significant damage could be determined given the limited number of participants, thus nothing will end up changing in the industry, and the fighters will continue to remain at serious risk. Advantage UFC and fans.
Extreme Unlikely Scenario #2: The majority of the participants could generate seriously dangerous results from the testing, which would not only force the sporting commissions to ban the legalization of events like MMA and boxing, but no Insurance companies would be willing to touch either of those sports with a 10-foot pole as a result. Any disregard for the resulting recommendations could potentially result in a lawsuit not unlike the one that the NFL is currently facing. Advantage no one.
A few billion dollars in damages later and presto!!...no more MMA.
In either case, do those actually sound like fair ways to determine the futures of all hard-working athletes who currently compete in combat sports? I don’t think so.
So what’s the real solution to the concussion problem?
“Anything that can help these guys understand the trauma their heads are going through is a step in the right direction,” said Gil Martinez, who teaches boxing to mixed martial arts fighters at Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas. “A lot of MMA fighters don't wear headgear when they're sparring and something like this might show them the dangers they are putting their heads through.”
True. Or why not just focus on eliminating the CAUSE of the concussions altogether? In other words...
James Ryan on Twitter: “I just want to write. That's it. I want to help shape this great sport. #mma”
James Ryan on Twitter: “I want to change some of the rules, how rounds are scored and eliminate head shots...think the fans will go for it? #hearmeout #mma”
Tyler Treese on Twitter: “While I respect @coachjamesryan, his idea to remove head shots from MMA might just be the dumbest thing I've heard and would kill the sport.”
James Ryan on Twitter: “You're right, no head shots WOULD kill the sport and the fans would NEVER go for it, there would be a massive upheaval lol. #entertainus #mma”
TylerTreese on Twitter: “Does anyone agree with James Ryan's argument that head shots in #MMA should be eliminated? I'd stop watching, personally.”
TylerTreese on Twitter: “@coachjamesryan nobody would watch what you are proposing and most current MMA fighters wouldn’t do it.”
James Ryan on Twitter: “@TylerTreese just wait til the new concussion study comes out in 4 years...that’s what’s really gonna kill this sport.”
Admittedly, it’s a pretty dumb notion to believe that any respected and legitimate combat sport, especially ones that are as globally popular as MMA and boxing, would eliminate shots to the head (it would never happen), and by no means do I think that it’s a viable solution in terms of business success or fan entertainment, but I strongly believe that with any problem, if you don’t look to eliminate the actual cause (no matter how unpopular or painful the solution might be), then how can you ever expect to manage the desired effect?
Wait...did I really just ask a question to the same people who continue to vote for the same dishonest politicians, year after year after year because the thought of actual change is just too darn inconvenient?
“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”—Arnold Bennett
I promise you that if the NFL gets raked over the coals in this pending lawsuit (which by the sounds of it—they will), the UFC will have NO CHOICE but to seriously consider implementing major changes to the way that the sport of MMA is currently played or they can expect to suffer the exact same consequences.
And THAT will be the real KILLER of this sport.
Immediate Fan Reactions:
“In Nevada, fighters for promotions like the UFC are independent contractors (I.e. no workers comp if they get hurt), yet the UFC also requires its fighters to sign both exclusivity clauses in their contracts, as well as, clauses which severely limit the ability of UFC fighters to make public comments. The UFC ‘throws away’ many fighters each year. My bet is that no active, popular UFC fighters will sign up for this brain study program, and that if the fighters that the UFC have ‘thrown away’ are discovered to have signed up for the brain study program, the UFC will seek injunctive relief to keep their ‘alumni’ from participating, or at the very least, to enjoin the ‘alumni’ from saying they are former UFC fighters. Just watch.”
“Maybe they should bring the fight business into the 21st century by requiring head gear in the ring during training for both Pro & Amateur bouts. The fighters’ careers will last longer, and therefore, they will make more money. The fighters themselves could and should bring about this life saving change by simply insisting on head gear before entering the ring. Better for them and better for us.”
“A new study by the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health—Kirk Kerkorian's Lincy Foundation funded the study with a grant of more than $400,000...CCLRC has sure been in the news a lot lately. Who's their publicist? Starting from the top, Cleveland Clinic pays at least a dozen insiders $1M/year. Its CEO makes $3M/year. Nice try getting us to believe that benefactors like KK pay for it, but Cleveland Clinic survives on TAX DOLLARS. The public charity sector is NOT supposed to be a place to get rich. If these heroic clinicians are so good, then let them work in the private sector pumping up celebrities with Propofol for $100,000 per month.”
“They fight for money. Let them go brain dead. If they don't care, why should we?”
...and that final statement, fight fans, sums it up the best I think as to how the majority of today’s “true MMA fans” really feel about this young sport and the athletes that participate in it.
If you remove the “knockout factor,” interest in MMA will definitely decline.
But ignore the problem of concussions altogether, and MMA will eventually cease to exist (in North America at least)—other than maybe sparking a few new underground arenas of illegal fighting, where the “knockout factor” may very well be replaced by the all new “death factor.”
Jackson: “Time to separate the men from the boys.”
Victor: “Just be sure Chong Li doesn't separate your head from your body.”
There are many things in this life that will never be prioritized over the health of an athlete.
Unfortunately, money and entertainment just don’t happen to be two of them.
These are my opinions. If you don’t like them...blame it on my concussions. Or check out the others at www.mmehfighter.com