(Check the sweater/sport coat combo. If Cliff Huxtable were white, humorless, and utterly incapable of reason, he’d be this man.)
Tomorrow, June 3, is a big day for those of us who have been following the cause of MMA in New York State, because the State Assembly’s Tourism, Arts, and Sports Development Committee is set to vote on whether to move forward with allowing MMA to be regulated. The most vocal opponent of our beloved sport is, of course, Assemblyman Bob Reilly. We’ve attempted to understand the man’s arguments and tried to get him to explain his opposition in a semi-coherent fashion, and all we’ve come away with is a headache and disdain for self-righteous track coaches everywhere.
But as the vote draws near and Reilly’s moment in the national spotlight comes to a close, it seems as if his reasoning is getting somehow shakier, if you can believe it. With that in mind, it seems only fitting to recap some of Reilly’s favorite logically unsound arguments, just so we know what we’re up against tomorrow.
Point #1: The violence seen in MMA is damaging to society.
Why it works: Violence begets violence, Reilly says, and MMA is undeniably a violent sport.
Why it doesn’t: While MMA is a violent sport, it’s one of many in popular American culture. Boxing, hockey, and high school, college, and pro football all lead to more significant injuries and deaths each year than MMA. There’s no evidence to suggest that the type of violence found in MMA is in any way more harmful to human beings, and it’s statistically less harmful to participants. If violent sports are, by the virtue of their violent nature, harmful to a society, then boxing should be the first on the list to be outlawed in New York after MMA. And yet, Reilly advocates no such change.
Point #2: Sanctioning MMA would be hypocritical in light of New York’s attempts to curb domestic violence and bullying in schools.
Why it works: As Reilly is fond of asking, “We legislate bullying and domestic violence all the time, but how can kids tell the difference when they’re seeing it on TV, as a legitimate sport?”
Why it doesn’t: This argument assumes that a) kids are incapable of telling the difference between a sporting contest and an assault, and b) MMA is the only violence on TV that these same kids are exposed to. If they can’t tell the difference between an MMA bout and beating up a classmate, how can they tell the difference between an episode of “Walker: Texas Ranger” and sucker punching the class spelling bee winner? MMA accounts for a miniscule portion of the overall violence on TV, and it accounts for a portion that isn’t sensationalized for dramatic effect as in fictional TV shows. Not to mention, refusing to sanction MMA in New York would have no effect on its availability on TV for New York residents. Like, at all.
Point #3: MMA events would be economically harmful to New York.
Why it works: Reilly points out that the bulk of the money spent by local residents to attend a UFC event would go back to the Zuffa headquarters in Las Vegas rather than staying in the state economy.
Why it doesn’t: Using this logic, New York would have to prevent any business not headquartered in the state from doing business there in order to prevent money from being “sucked out” of the local economy. MMA events would actually drive tourism from surrounding states, and all money spent on hotel rooms, cab rides, dinners, drinks –basically anything other than UFC tickets and merchandise bought in the area – would stay in the local economy.
Point #4: Dana White is “a ruthless person.”
Why it works: For better or worse, he kind of is.
Why it doesn’t: The State Legislature’s duty here is to determine whether to allow the sanctioning of mixed martial arts events, not to pass ethical judgment on the president of one single MMA organization. To ban MMA on these grounds would be similar to banning boxing events because Don King is a corrupt slimeball. He may be, but the character of one man involved in promoting the sport cannot serve as justification for outlawing the sport itself.
Point #5: There is “widespread opposition” to MMA in New York.
Why it works: Reilly conducted a poll in his upstate district in which 67% of respondents said they opposed legalizing the sport.
Why it doesn’t: That was one poll, done in one district in which no large-scale MMA event is ever likely to be held. The UFC drew over 14,000 fans to Newark, New Jersey in 2007, and many of them undoubtedly came from across the river in New York. UFC pay-per-view events sell at a consistently high rate in New York, according to the UFC’s Marc Ratner. Reilly’s claim that the public is against MMA is based on a polling sample of 468 respondents, and on purely anecdotal evidence regarding people who he says have approached him “unsolicited.”
Point #6: MMA is the only sport where the intent is to harm one’s opponent.
Why it works: MMA is professional fighting, and the act of fighting is, by definition, the act of willfully harming another person.
Why it doesn’t: MMA is only one type of professional fighting. Boxing may not specify damage to one’s opponent as a judging criteria (neither does the UFC, btw) but harming the other person to the point of incapacitating them is obviously the most reliable and eagerly rewarded path to victory. To say MMA alone involves the intent to harm an opponent is intellectually dishonest at best.
Point #7: MMA is akin to dogfighting.
Why it works: …
Why it doesn’t: It’s a completely idiotic comparison, made purely for the incendiary value of the analogy.
So there you go, the arguments of Bob Reilly presented for your consideration. If New York takes the first step toward sanctioning MMA tomorrow in spite of Reilly’s rhetorical funhouse approach to argumentation, it will be because reasonable people have prevailed.