A few weeks ago, I wrote in this website about the hypocrisy of tough talk pertaining to head shots in hockey, contrasted by the Canadian sporting public’s over the top clamoring for professional mixed martial arts, as delivered by the UFC,with elbows, knees, fists,and kicks to the head, all allowed,and wildly cheered by some of the same fans, who are outraged by deliberate hits to the head in Canada’s national game.
With that in mind, it was fascinating to read a fabulous article by the Toronto Star’s Morgan Campbell this past Monday, focused on former UFC fighter Jeff Joslin, and his struggles with concussion syndrome. The Star story also detailed research at John’s Hopkins University, revealing that participants in the hand to hand combat sports, show a much higher rate of concussion than hockey players. Published literature on hockey concussions indicate a rate of 6.5 per 1000 player games, as opposed to the fighters in mixed martial arts, who’s concussion rate is 15.4 per 1000 ‘exposures’.
To the credit of the UFC,and their president Tom Wright, they have instituted very strict rules about suspensions for fighters who are concussed, that includes conditions for the resumption of training.
What also needs to be addressed, is the number of youngsters who are now, and into the future, training in the sport, and aspire to be professional fighters. How well will they be educated on the dangers of the sport ? Will they and their parents receive literature advising them of the potential for brain damage that stems from repeated concussions over many years ? Campbell’s story also indicated that Joslin may have suffered his last concussion in a sparring match, which is not where most fans of the sport, or aspiring fighters, would expect to encounter any danger. This danger is also important for future participants to be aware of, as well as the general public.
When I was training in Kick Boxing and Kung-Fu, we wore protective equipment, such as hockey helmets when we sparred, however, that only softens the blow to the head. It doesn’t stop the jarring motion to the head from the hit . As a former student of the combat arts, I am fully in favor of the the gutsy fighters being able to pursue their careers. I just hope that the youngsters who get caught up in all the hoopla and fan adulation accorded to these multi talented tough guys, take the time to learn about the dangers of concussion, and the possibilities of brain damage and disorders that might stem from blows to the head, from knees, elbows and kicks, which certainly have the potential to be devastating.
The UFC, as well as the provincial and federal governments, should run warnings on the TV screens during the fights, of the potential danger to participants, as they would when professional stunt men and women are engaged in potentially dangerous activities during a televised program, or commercial. This would help control the impulses of young fans who enjoy watching the sport, but may not have any awareness of the level of danger that may be involved for its participants.
Professional and amateur hockey have done a much better job, of educating fans and participants, of the dangers of head shots, and have also implemented some rule changes, with the possibility of even more alterations in the near future, to further protect their athletes. Mixed martial arts, and all levels of government, need to do the same work when it comes to the fighting profession, in terms of education and safety. This needs to take priority over anything and everything pertaining to the sport. Hopefully, they don’t wait until their are one or more tragic stories that occur, before taking action on this.