Opinion: Delving Into Possible Brain Injuries
By Jesse Heitz
I must admit that I find the issue of brain injuries incurred during sporting activity to be particularly noteworthy. It’s not that I find it fascinating in an academic or theoretical sense, but rather I, like many other observers, sense that the brain injury issue will eventually greatly affect the sport of MMA.
It’s certainly true that I’ve written several pieces on the topic for Full Contact Fighter already. However, I firmly believe that this is a topic of such immense magnitude that it must be closely followed and commented on, particularly when the mainstream media decides to comment on it. Indeed, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Just yesterday, the New Jersey Star-Ledger revealed that it conducted a six month investigation into the relationship between MMA and brain injuries. It released a teaser about its upcoming exposé, stating,
“Little boys — and little girls — brawl in their basements and backyards, dreaming of growing up and pounding their opponents into submission. And they also know how to make an opponent “tap out” because they’re among the millions who watch one of the MMA reality shows on TV.
The sport is here to stay. There’s no denying it.
But at a time when our nation races to learn more about concussion damage and risks in mainstream sports such as football, hockey, soccer and lacrosse, MMA has faced few serious questions about the health and long-term well-being of its fighters.
The Star-Ledger spent the past six months inside the close-knit world of MMA. The reporting took us to more than a half dozen gyms, where we observed hundreds of rounds of sparring and training. We also watched several live pro and amateur fight cards in New Jersey and New York this spring and summer. The passion, talent and dedication most of the fighters bring to their craft is remarkable.
Remarkable, too, is the unwillingness of some fighters to consider the effects of being hit repeatedly in the face, head and body. They will tell stories about slurring their words and battling the effects of brutal sparring sessions, only to quickly dismiss talk of future risks.”
First, I must make mention that the first paragraph posted above is a bit sensationalist. It creates an image that little kids everywhere are pulverizing one another in some sort of unsupervised and inherently unsafe underground training scheme. I doubt many children are honing their skill sets in any more serious a manner than kids “trained” to become professional wrestlers in the late 1980s, when applying a Randy Savage flying elbow drop from the top of the couch.
However, the meat of their teaser is particularly intriguing. Just recently professional boxer Magomed Abdusalamov was placed into a medically induced coma due to a brain injury suffered during his fight. Thankfully, MMA has largely been able to avoid such significant short term injuries among its practitioners. Yet, one must assume that given the very nature of the sport and the countless hours spent sparring, that MMA will experience a prominent rise in long term brain injuries along the lines of boxing and football.
All I can say is that I’m eager to read the full article when it is released. Perhaps the piece will be poignant enough to help advance the notion that we cannot deny that such a crippling trend will strike MMA, and that we need to not only properly prepare for, but to actively combat it.