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Exclusive: Interview with N.Y. State Assemblyman Bob Reilly, Part One

My column this week on deals with the legislative fight over MMA in New York State.  At the center of this battle, as you probably know, is Assemblyman Bob Reilly, who is a committed opponent of the sport.  Mr. Reilly and I are obviously on different sides of the issue, but he was gracious enough to take the time and explain his position, and for that I thank him.  Part one of our talk is below.  Check back for part two later today, and head on over to SI for UFC VP of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner’s response to Reilly’s arguments against the sport.

You’ve said before that this isn’t your big issue, that you’re really into agriculture.  And yet this is the issue that’s gotten you the most attention.  Do you still feel like you’re reluctant opponent of MMA, because you seem to have embraced it rather eagerly of late.

That’s a tough question to answer.  What happens is, in the state legislature, with the hundreds of laws we vote on and a budget of maybe $120 billion with a $14 billion deficit and a worldwide financial crisis, there are many, many things we look at.  And when I said agriculture is one thing I’m interested in, that’s one thing.  I’m on the sub-committee on agriculture, but I’m also on the Racing and Wagering Committee, I’m on the Corporations Committee, so there are many other things I do besides this. 

But do I think this is an important thing?  Yes.  I think it’s going to be harmful to people.  I think it’s going to be harmful to our society and harmful to our economy.  So it’s one of things I address.  The legalization of MMA in New York State, I would say the only person pushing that or interested in it is Steve Englebright, the sponsor.  There aren’t a lot of other legislators pushing for it.  As I explored it further and became more educated on it, I changed my opinion and become more opposed to it.  

You say it’s going to be harmful to people.  How, specifically, will allowing live events of this sport in your state harm people?

Well, there’s different parts to that answer and when I answer one part of that question I extend it.  Let me give you one example of what I consider the problem and that’s the unsavory, sordid, corrupt process for legalization of this.  Just recently I asked an aide to look into the firing of the past chair of the State Athletic Commission, who was replaced by a woman (Melvina Lathan) who in fact had worked for [UFC VP of Regulatory Affairs] Marc Ratner, who now has a primary interest in Ultimate Fighting.  And this woman is going to be our primary regulator in New York State?  What is the connection and who brought her into this position of getting this chair?  

Her statement upon getting the position was about how she supports MMA, which I found very suspect.  When I attended a meeting with her she demonstrated that she knew nothing about the sport.  And yet her support for the sport was one of the first things that she focused on after being appointed.  It’s that type of suspicious activity that really questions the sport.  I think we’re down the road toward the corruption in boxing, and what happened to the fighters, the corruption in the sport.

But how do you get from any of that to the conclusion that this sport is harmful to people?

Well one of the rules, do you know the five criteria for judging by Pride?  

For Pride?  Yes.

One of the criteria is damage to your opponent, okay?  There’s no other sport that I know of where damage to the opponent is a criteria for winning.  In fact, in every other sport, damage to an opponent, the rules work to avoid that, whether it’s boxing or wrestling or whatever.  Here, that’s one of the goals.  I don’t think you have to say much more than that.

But for one, that was Pride, which had several rule differences between itself and the UFC, and two, harming your opponent to the point of unconsciousness is one of the ways you win a boxing match, isn’t it?

It’s not a stated goal, though.  Even though I grew up a boxing fan and consider myself one still, though I’m not an active fan now, I compare what we should be doing to the difference between amateur boxing and professional boxing.  You know how much safer amateur boxing is?  A blow in amateur boxing is scored for being a clean blow, not by the force behind it or the damage it causes.  

I once had a man come to me and say, ‘My nephew is a jiu-jitsu fighter who does MMA, and he has an advantage because of that.  What I’m really interested in is the skill of how he puts his jiu-jitsu skills against a boxer or whomever.’  I asked him, if that’s the case, why don’t people want to watch just jiu-jitsu?  Why isn’t that as popular?  In other words, I strongly believe, you take the violence out of this and it would lose its appeal.  Is it very popular with a certain segment of the population?  Certainly.  Is collegiate wrestling as popular?  No.  

How does the stated intent of the sport really change the effect that watching it has on people, who may or may not know the stated judging criteria?

First of all, I have looked at all the studies that show violence begetting violence.  And it’s clear that whether it’s in the media or in a live sporting event, violence does beget violence.  I’ve always felt it makes people immune to such violence.  But the types of things that you see in mixed martial arts are exactly what we don’t want to see in schools.  In the legislature here we are putting in laws all the time against bullying in schools and domestic violence.  And when you’re trying to stop that and then you’re legalizing the same type of violent activity it’s hard to believe that kids can distinguish one from the other.  

Most people I know find it offensive to see a woman grab another woman by the hair and knee her in the stomach.  I find that offensive.  Even the proponents of Ultimate Fighting indicate this is widespread among high school students, that they go into their basements and imitate this kind of stuff.  That’s exactly what we’re trying to prevent in other legislation.  Some of the responses I’ve gotten, mainly through blog sites, have been very on the edge with the kind of intense emotion this arouses in some people.  I think that the body of literature supports that viewing violence through various media does in fact generate violence.

When you talk about schools and domestic violence and relating that to a professional MMA bout, aren’t you purposely taking it out of context?  We wouldn’t want kids in classrooms imitating what they see in boxing or football either, would we?

No, let us take the case of boxing.  When I start viewing this now, more recently I’ve seen ads for boxing that really emphasize blows to the head and pictures of the face being pushed to the side, and I think that’s a bad idea to show kids, so I can’t deny that that’s also important.  I think if we could change the sorry history of boxing, we as a society would probably do it.  But as far as something like football, I don’t see anything wrong like that with a good hard tackle in football.  

One blogger said to me, there are more deaths in fishing than there are in mixed martial arts.  But in those sports the purpose is not to do harm to your opponent and there’s a lot of difference between a good hard tackle in football and what happens in mixed martial arts.  You see the rule changes in football, that are criticized by some, to bring greater protection to players, especially quarterbacks, and that shows they are interested in protecting and not harming players.

Is it fair then to say you’re against combat sports in general, whether it’s MMA or boxing or kickboxing, since it all involves the intent to harm one’s opponent?

Absolutely not.  The only sport I’m against is mixed martial arts.  I have people come up to me just about on a daily basis, unsolicited, and say, ‘You’re doing the right thing.  This stuff is just brutal.’  People turn this on when they’re scanning through the channels, that’s their only exposure to it, and there are people kicking each other in the head.  As one of my aides saw recently, one guy punched the other guy, he was knocked out and falling to the ground, and as he fell the other guy kneed him in the head.  People see this and they are really offended and disgusted by it.  They see the violence in it.  They don’t come up to me and talk that way about boxing or football.

Isn’t it possible that they have that reaction because MMA is still fairly new and that’s what’s shocking?  You say violence has a desensitizing effect, so doesn’t it make sense that these people would not have that reaction to football or boxing, which they’ve grown up with?  In other words, how do you know it’s not just the novelty of MMA that people are responding to?

That’s possible.  People could eventually become immune to mixed martial arts.

Have people become immune to the violence in boxing?  Because boxing is two men punching each other in the head and body repeatedly.  That’s violent, obviously, and yet it’s legal and happens regularly in New York.

Have people become immune to the violence in boxing?  Maybe.  Our society and our standards of what’s acceptable change.  They haven’t for me, though.

To be continued…and it is, right here!


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Cap'n- March 15, 2009 at 8:19 am
oooookay. Now lets have an interview with challenging questions and rebuttles. Maybe BG would be better suited as a softball pitcher instead.
JiMMA- March 13, 2009 at 8:54 pm
What makes me angry reading this is that he backs his view on the sport entirely on his own personal 'morals' and his own deciphering of what is 'right' and 'wrong', 'good' and 'evil'!

This man believes, in essence, that the fighter is a person opperating out of negative emotion, a fighter hell-bent on evil intension with no sense of professional sportsman like respect or valor.

This can not be further from the truth and as he opposed Melvina Lathan from the chair position, I belive that for the same reasons the person opposing the legalization of MMA in NY should not have a personal vested opinion on the matter.

Anonymous- March 13, 2009 at 3:17 pm
this guy is a complete moron, tell him to explain why he is against mma, then ask him if the state allows kickboxing, wrestling, bjj, boxing, muay thai, tae kwon do, judo whether it is professional or amateur. Then ask him how many children partake in these sports, and ask him to explain why children are allowed to participate in these and why are they allowed in the state if violence begets violence. Can he explain why many of these are olympics sports, and ask him why should it be legal for those sports to be done individually, but you can mix them together and that makes it illegal.

and he talks about damage, and how in boxing its not a specific goal. well what the fuck are you talking about of course it is your goal is to knock your opponent out. boxing is so much more dangerous, look how many blows to the head are there and as long as they get up they can keep going. i mean look at Ali and how fucked up he is. this moron talks about pride and their rules for mma, does this douche not realize that pride does not exist anymore way to prove your argument not.

anyway i could read the whole interview and cant talk about this moron anymore cause it pisses me off so much. how about worry about the economy and crime rates in your state and how your could try to eliminate crime and deficits.
Dante- March 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm
This assemblyman is obviously clueless to his intent and is probably being fueled by ulterior motives. He's nothing more than a lobbyist fueled by contradiction and lack of knowledge. I'm 21 and I'd school this wanna-be politician. Give me a break.

Please stick to Agriculture.
schnetzler- March 13, 2009 at 2:44 pm
"...valid point..."

referring to Kadumel's first comment
schnetzler- March 13, 2009 at 2:08 pm
also remember the 2 great blunders in world history...

never start a land war in Asia...and never get into a battle of wits with a Sicilian, when death is on the line...

you make a very valid point, though
Doof- March 13, 2009 at 1:58 pm
That made my head asplode. I don't think he actually answered a question.
Anonymous- March 13, 2009 at 1:51 pm
Bill Da Man- March 13, 2009 at 1:40 pm
I understand his position.

I love MMA, but I can see why he's against it. The MAJORITY of the UFC audience are "casual fans" and watch it b/c it's cage fighting. Look around at the bar, a lot people just want to see violence and aren't interested in the technique. They watch it for the violence.

Obviously violence can be found in many areas, but Mr. Reilly doesn't have much of a chance of banning boxing or professional wrestling, but he can do something about MMA.

In the end MMA will prevail. FUCK BOB REILLY! I hope someone delivers a knock out blow to him and knees him in the face on his way down, then grab his wife by the hair and knee her in the stomach!
The Irish Wolfhound- March 13, 2009 at 1:24 pm
I like how he calls that chicks motives into question where he's obviously just piggybacking this to national hype.
BRETTZKY- March 13, 2009 at 1:15 pm
Ben, my congratulations for restraining yourself. I wanted to smash something just reading his retarted answers and reasoning. Keep up the good work.
emo sux- March 13, 2009 at 12:56 pm
"Our society and our standards of what is acceptable change. They havent for me though." -Reily .....If you as a politician cannot evolve with the society you represent, then you have no business representing anyone.
Artigale- March 13, 2009 at 12:22 pm
lol I can not wait to read the rest. Make that old man back peddle BF!!!

I wonder if he believes what he is saying or sees this as a good way to make a name fore himself.
Sodak- March 13, 2009 at 12:05 pm
you ruined that guy nice interview, "how do you get from any of that to the conclusion that this sport is harmful to people" my favorite line, laughed out loud.
HB Beachbum- March 13, 2009 at 12:04 pm
What a tool..
Richard Fitzentite- March 13, 2009 at 11:56 am
Make him answer how it harms people (spectators). He is avoiding the clarification to his own stupid statement.

Also ask him his current stance on pro wrestling (WWE, TNT etc). Ask him how he feels about a man diving from the top of a steel cage onto another who is laying on a folding table, or how they hit each other with chairs and guitars and florescent light tubes. Talk about harming your audience, there are kids giving their little brothers a pile driver in the living room all over the country. Kids die every year from imitating pro wrestlers.

This douche is contradictory and just flapping his gums about MMA because Agruculture won't get him a US Senate Seat.
lilbigvince- March 13, 2009 at 11:54 am
this dude is an idiot. hes from another time and another place. hes an old man with different interests than us. hes not gonna see things our way. fuck him. let the UFC throw some more money his way and itll open up NY like a 3 dollar ho.

whats the big deal about NY anyway. We have Vegas and LA... we dont need NY. sure itll be nice, but we dont NEED it.

BuckWild- March 13, 2009 at 11:53 am
I think his ideas are a violation of our right! Who is he or any committee to decide if we get to watch boxing over mma. If parrents don't want their kids to watch it then they need to be more involved in the kids life and make sure they know what they are watching. It is not up to politicians to decide which violent sport we should or shouldn't watch. I think if they ban mma for the sake of violence begetting violence they should ban ALL VIOLENT SPORTS!

I mean, think about it. With boxing the whole purpose it to knockout your proponent! With mma you can ko or submit . Submittions are far less "violent" .

Someone needs to list all injury related stats for the two sports side by side and show this guy.

oh and the reason this guy has people coming up to him and telling him he is doing the right thing is because he lives in a community of like minded people that probably don't know the first thing about mma and are totally ignorant about it. I could go to Las Vegas in an area where there are a lot of mma gyms after being all over the news as a supporter of the sport and I bet people will come up to me and tell me I am doing the right thing!
Jason G- March 13, 2009 at 11:52 am
COOL! does make a very valid point...
Dr. Gonzo- March 13, 2009 at 11:30 am
Ha!Ha! Cool is back!! Teach me your ways you fucking clown!!
Chilkat- March 13, 2009 at 11:28 am
it's really frustrating just to listen to politicians get the God Complex, and try to legislate every single aspect of peoples lives for their "own good." as if people are to stupid to make decisions or themselves. it especially is painful to listen to his responses since there such obvious hypocrisy in regards to the sanctioning of pro wrestling and boxing in NY. also, lol at him making the lame ass, what about the children? arguement, it seems like whenever somebody doesnt have much to go on thats the go to rebuttle.
Dmonicideals- March 13, 2009 at 11:28 am
Cool, i'm gonna find your faggot ass and chop your head off.

It is amazing how wide a circle this guy can talk in. You ask a question, and he just says the same thing over and over, but he reaches farther with every word.