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The Dangers of Rose-Colored Glasses, with the MMA Blogosphere

July 16, 2012

I’ve not dusted off the ol’ MMA blog for awhile, but have been inspired to do so again after seeing a pair of articles in the past two days which perfectly highlight the problem of sugar-coating and often dismissive nature of any perceived threat to MMA by some of the sports’ bloggers. A lot of fans of the sport have been around since the days when it was compared to human cock-fighting. Those that haven’t been around as long have still heard the horror stories, and even to this day it’s not uncommon to see laughable misrepresentations of the sport in arguments made by those who oppose its legalization. Rest assured that if any murderer has had so much as one amateur fight in an unregulated state ten years ago for which he never so much as trained in the sport, the headline on many a story will tell of the MMA fighter who turned psycho killer, and those that don’t will only be different in their use of UFC instead of MMA.

So, it’s only natural that after being subjected to many a tenuous complaint hurled MMA’s way, that many who love the sport are quick to defend it from criticism. Unfortunately, this often remains the case even if the criticism is fair. Take the recent death of amateur fighter Dustin Jenson, a 26 year old who died on May 24, six days after suffering a triangle choke defeat in an unregulated amateur bout in South Dakota. As the Rapid City Journal’s Ryan Lengerich reported, the autopsy for Mr. Jenson was recently released:

The autopsy indicated the cause of death was a subdural hemorrhage resulting from blunt force trauma to the head. A subdural hemorrhage is a collection of blood on the surface of the brain and often causes brain injury and death.

The cause was related to an injury about a week earlier, according to the autopsy. The Sheriff’s Office said there is no conclusive evidence the injury was sustained in the fight.

Essentially, the coroner determined Mr. Jenson’s death was a result of blunt-force trauma on-or-around the date of the fight in question, however it can not be conclusively determined that the injury was definitely sustained in the fight. In other words, there’s every indication that the likely cause of the fatal hemorrhage was Mr. Jenson’s fight, but there is no way to prove it 100-percent without knowing he did not partake in any other activities on-or-around fight day which could have led to head trauma. Unfortunately, Bloody Elbow and Cage Potato, two of the most popular MMA blogs online, reported with the following headlines, respectively:

Now, before I continue on, I want to stress that I am not trying to claim that either author willingly deceived readers in order to portray MMA in a better light. I’m simply saying the desire to protect the sport and a history of reading baseless attacks led to the authors, as well as nearly all commenters on the Bloody Elbow article, to see the article as “you’re off the hook, MMA.”

Sadly, that just isn’t the case here. Had the time-frame Mr. Lengerich was establishing been one week prior to the fight, not one week prior to Mr. Jenson’s death, the article would have said so explicitly as there had been no reference to the fight in the current or prior graf and as such some note to tie “one week earlier” to that reference point would be needed.

Fortunately, BE reader Stephen Koepfer found a second source in the form of this KOTA TV story, which further clarifies the timing of the key events.

According to a news release, the autopsy indicated the cause of death was a subdural hemorrhage, due to blunt force trauma to the head, that was related to an injury approximately a week prior.

Although the timeline for the injury is consistent with the event on May 18, 2012, there is no conclusive evidence that the injury was sustained in the fight.

Now, I would hazard that most readers of the Rapid City Journal piece who didn’t have a dog in the fight had no problems distinguishing when the injury was believed to have taken place. However, two separate MMA blogs and the vast majority of readers who commented on those blogs instead saw through the rose-colored glasses which led to misunderstanding that Mr. Jenson’s injuries were believed to have occurred a full week before his bout. This is a dangerous way to approach important stories in our sport. Yes, it’s important to seek to disprove the tenuous or downright farcical ties to violence or danger that are often lobbed at MMA. On the flip side, however, it is equally important to be honest with ourselves about the dangers that truly are present. MMA is no different than any other sport, in that all high-level athletes know they are risking their bodies at a rate above the average human in one way or another. In MMA, one of those ways is through repeated blunt-force trauma. Is the sport as brutal as critics would have us believe? No. But we don’t do ourselves, or the sport, any favors when we let our love for it lead to sweeping the very real negative occurrences under the carpet.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2012 12:10 am

    Since I wrote the Cagepotato article that “misled” our readers, I wanted to point out that in your hurry to write about all of our “rose-colored glasses,” you completely misunderstood both articles you are writing about.

    Our points were not that MMA isn’t dangerous – In fact, if you even read my article at all you would have noticed I wrote that. Rather, our points were that _unsanctioned_ sports add additional levels of danger that are completely unnecessary and reckless.

    As both the article you cited and my article pointed out, if an athletic commission oversaw MMA in South Dakota, the pre-fight physical he would have been required to obtain would have spotted any conditions he may have had. Our arguments were that, the same way football is regulated in order to prevent unhealthy individuals from taking unnecessary risks (because the sport is risky enough as is), MMA cannot continue to go unregulated in South Dakota.

    Please be sure you understand what is being written before you accuse me of lying to my readers. Thanks.

    • July 17, 2012 10:08 am

      I’m sorry if you’ve been offended by what I wrote as I again stress I wasn’t condemning you as a writer in general, but holy hell, that is a poor reaction. First of all, putting quotes around “misled” is quite silly because whatever your main point in your article was does not change the fact that, yes, you misled readers. Your headline claims the death was caused by unrelated blunt trauma and that the blows were delivered a week before the fight. Neither of those are claims that the autopsy made, and unless your readers carried through to the autopsy report article and read it for themselves, they will have been misled to believe the autopsy ruled out the fight as cause of death.

      “This is a tragic twist that confirms what most of us had already feared: That regulation of Mixed Martial Arts competition in South Dakota – requiring basic medical screenings such as blood tests to make sure unhealthy fighters aren’t competing – could have easily prevented Dustin Jenson’s death.”

      That is a reckless and unfounded claim to make. The report puts the time of injury on-or-around fight day. While it can not be proven 100-percent that the injury was suffered in the fight, that certainly does not equal “it was definitely because of things before the fight.” There was nothing in the report that said “if this man had a medical before the fight he would not have been allowed to fight,” and that his death would easily have been prevented.

      As for what the main point of your article was, that’s a totally irrelevant matter. Wanting to talk about one thing doesn’t mean you can be excused for making major factual errors about other things, particularly when those facts are used as a basis of the claim (and in the headline) you are making. Whether it’s an effort to blame the death on something other than MMA, or as you say, an effort to write an article about the dangers of non-regulation, it’s still a big problem to run a headline about, and restate within the piece, a factual inaccuracy. Doing it because you want to see a let-off for the sport or doing it because you want to see an argument for regulation is not the point, the point is a desire prove a point has led to misreading the source material, which in-turn led to misleading readers.

      Also, for what it’s worth, arguing that regulation would have prevented this is still presenting things through rose-colored glasses. It’s making a claim which the autopsy report does not back up, that had there simply been a regulatory body they would have caught the bleeding in his brain which the report in no-way said was present when he would have undergone any of his pre-fight screenings. It’s saying this man didn’t pass because he fought in an MMA bout, he passed because he fought in an unregulated MMA bout, and thus is not a poor reflection on the regulated sport.

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