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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Sport or Tort?

You decide.

Sometimes there's too much government, and sometimes the good citizens, through their elected officials, have to take a stand. Are Ultimate Fighting Championships human cockfighting? Or are they more humane? Should the Commonwealth of Massachusetts really care, or should they let the public decide -- through their attendance or lack thereof -- whether it's a worthy venture?

Those are hard questions to answer. Sure, some folks think that there ought to be laws about a lot of things, and some folks think that there are too many laws on the books about the wrong things, compelling the average citizen of our society to have a functional working knowledge of some arcane legal concepts to stay competitive.

One thread goes something like this: this sport is very violent, it's fans misbehave, not much good can come out of it, the participants could become very hurt and potentially wards of the state (which means that the state could have to cover some major medical bills), and that the participants ultimately lose because if they live to old age they'll be dysfunctional because of the damage done to them in the arena, or, in this case, a cage. As a result, the government should ban this activity, and, in so doing, will prevent relatively innocent youngsters from wanting to partake in a barbaric activity (they might not call it a sport, because the word "sport", at least in the modern parlance, requires that the activity have some aspect of gentility to it, even if that gentility dates back to the Marquis of Queensbury).

Another thread goes something like this: the first thread is all well and good, but where is the bright line drawn? Doesn't the description in the first thread apply to other activities as well, such as ice hockey and boxing? Who's to say that the population goes to hockey games for something other than fights? Who's to say that boxers won't end up physically dysfunctional because of the repeated poundings they take? Who's to say that the fans don't get too rowdy? Who's to say that these particular activities aren't bad influences on our children? And, if you extend this argument to active pursuits, what about passive ones? Is there a good reason to let people sell violent video games that require the whacking of various perpetrators? Won't those games send the wrong messages, at least subliminally, to our children? In short, where do you draw the line?

Finally, another thread, which is more extreme than the second one, is that the government shouldn't be involved in this activity (except perhaps to make sure that the participants are fit to compete and get the proper cage-side medical attetnion) at all, that the market should regulate this activity, and that in time if it's that distasteful it will fizzle out because people won't have an interest in going. In other words, don't give the activity any more attention than it truly deserves, and, by ignoring it, people won't get jazzed about it, as some do when something is either controversial or forbidden.

Which thread do you choose?

I, for one, find the whole sport scandalous and wouldn't elect to go. I went to a boxing match once because a friend who was/is the ultimate renaissance man was battling at the Blue Horizon on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. He made a name for himself fighting, but he now has slurred speech, at least according to those who keep in frequent contact with him. I also played sports at suburban Philadelphia venues where former heavyweight contender, the late Jimmy Young, did his running, and where the former light heavyweight champ, Matthew Saad Muhammad, did his roadwork. The former didn't manage his affairs well and ended up both physically diminished and broke and died in his early fifties a few months ago. The latter lost all of his money, lives in one of Philadelphia's neighborhoods and works as a roofer. Boxing as a way out? Perhaps temporarily. Poor money management as a way back? Probably. (I do like the current uberboxer Bernard Hopkins, also a Philadelphia native, who does his own shopping -- at Wal-Mart). Boxing, yes, is brutal, it's a judged sport (I've blogged on my distaste for these before), and it's poorly run (some would argue corrupt). As for hockey, I don't like the fact that fighting is part of the game. In college, if you fight, you're gone from the game and suspended for the next one. I prefer that sport to pro hockey, which has a ton of other problems to deal with.

Does that mean, then, that I agree with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? Does that mean that I think legislatures should look into boxing and hockey too? Yes and no. There are some places where the line has to be drawn, and it would appear that ultimate fighting championships are one of them. I'm not arguing that the participants aren't skilled fighters, just that the potential for public harm seems to outweigh compelling arguments for private enterprise. As for boxing, well, it's regulated by states already, not that regulation has helped those sports stay out of a credibility abyss. As for hockey, the public opinion on the pro game is clear -- outside of those who attend the games in person, few watch on TV. That's probably enough of a verdict right there -- without government involvement. And remember, as much as I find fighting in hockey distasteful, the object of the game isn't to beat your opponent into submission physically -- just to score more goals.

Someone once suggested that I read Gibbon's The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire to look for comparable signs of decay in our contemporary society. Roman society sponsored bouts between citizens and lions in public stadiums. Thankfully, the human species has evolved away from that form of entertainment. But with reality TV really cranked up and people battling in cages, what could be next. Yesterday, Rome. Today, the world?

Someone else once said that you could tell a lot about a society from the civility of its games. That's somewhat depressing given various episodes of fan behavior (and parental behavior) at various venues in North America, as well as some on-field violence between teams and the embedded violence in various games, particulary American football. The question is, if ultimate fighting continues, what's the next thing on the frontier?

Are we back to citizens and lions again?


Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...

I don't know if the "next big thing" would be lions versus Christians (BTW I'll take the Lions and lay the points here) because I don't see ultimate fighting matches as being significantly more violent and sordid than boxing or amateur wrestling.

I don't like ultimate fighting matches; I watched one card on TV and won't do that again. I've watched boxing on TV and have attended a few cards in person. (Are you old enough to remember the Philadelphia Arena at 46th and Market St.?) I believe the marketplace will put limits on the growth and breadth of these endeavors. It does not hurt to have the guvvies ban the events, but it really doesn't add any real degree of safety of benefit to society.

3:31 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Welcome, Sports Curmudgeon. I would take the Lions and give the points too! I recall the old Philadelphia Arena but never got there, and I think that the marketplace probably already has voted on these events -- they are minor in the overall scheme of things.

Speaking of the Philadelphia Arena, are you old enough to have gone to say 42nd and Parkside to watch the Philadelphia Stars play in the Negro Leagues? Do you refer to the old Connie Mack Stadium as Shibe Park? Do you remember the famous doubleheader at the Palestra when Les Keiter broadcast the bomb scare? When the roof blew off the Spectrum in '67? Did you shout "Joe Must Go" at Joe Kuharich at Franklin Field? Did you see the Munger Men play for Penn?

6:09 PM  
Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...

For the record, I am 61 years old.

I saw the Munger men play in Franklin Field because both my parents were Penn alums. The first football game I saw live was at Franklin Field when Penn had some guy named Bednarik on the team. You may have heard of him.

I missed the Philly entry in the old Negro League.

My first baseball game was in 1949 at Shibe Park. Robin Roberts beat the Cards that day and Del Ennis had a home run. But I still call it Connie Mack Stadium.

Not only do I recall the Les Keiter bomb scare at the Palestra, I was there and on press row when it happened. I was keeping stats for the Inquirer at the time.

I recall the roof coming off the Spectrum but was not there when it happened.

I was shouting "Joe Must Go" about two weeks after tht jamoke hit town. As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a maroon!"

I was at Franklin Field for the Eagles win over the Packers in 60. That was the only post-season game that Vince Lombardi ever lost.

I was at Connie Mack Stadium for two of the Phillies late season losses in 1964. I used a Chico Ruiz baseball card as a target for darts for about a year.

I grew up in the western suburbs of Philly and graduated from Penn in 65 and then went to Drexel for grad school and graduated in 70.

11:11 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks again, Curmudgeon. You seem too young to be a curmudgeon, although given Phila. sports history, we can become curmudgeons at a precocious age, can't we? (Loved the "Free Chase Utley" signs in the stands last night).

Your mention of Chico Ruiz brings back memories of my late father, who was a Temple alum and went to graduate school at Penn (my mother is a Penn alum). His steal of home in '64 in, what, the bottom of the 15th was the death knell, wasn't it, for that ill-fated Phillies team and the jinxed Gene Mauch? Geography-wise, I grew up east of the Schuylkill, where we put mustard on our corned beef (and not mayo, lettuce and tomato!).

12:08 PM  

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