UFC sues New York in attempt to end ban
The parent company of the UFC, as well as a group of fans and several prominent fighters, have sued the New York attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney in a bid to lift a ban that outlaws mixed martial arts in New York state.
MMA has been illegal in New York since former Gov. George Pataki signed the Live Professional MMA Ban into law on Feb. 26, 1997. Zuffa has spent millions of dollars, so far unsuccessfully, lobbying the state legislature to have it overturned.
On Tuesday, Zuffa, along with prominent fighters such as UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, UFC lightweight champion Frank Edgar, Gina Carano, Brian Stann and Matt Hamill, as well as a group of fans, filed suit in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York against state attorney general Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. challenging the law on constitutional grounds.
The suit alleges the law is “a blatant violation of the First Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution. It notes that officials at all levels of state government who supported the bill did so because of a dislike of the message that MMA sends.
The suit quotes one of the bill’s sponsors, state assemblyman Stephen Kaufman, as saying of MMA, “To glorify this type of ‘blood sport’ serves to increase the susceptibility of our youth to violence and also desensitizes those same impressionable minds to needless brutality.”
The suit also quotes a Pataki comment in the New York Times’ coverage of the bill signing ceremony in which he said, “To have someone who wins by using choke holds and kicking people while they are down is not someone our children should be looking to emulate.”
In a telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports, Zuffa attorney Barry Friedman, a law professor at NYU, said a law banning the sport because politicians believe it sends a bad message to children violates the First Amendment.
“They banned it because they thought MMA conveyed a message of violence,” Friedman said. “We don’t think that is the message that MMA conveys. I just spent the last few days with a lot of fighters and I spent a lot of time with them over the last few months. They will, as you can see in the complaint, talk about a lot of other values that are present [in MMA] like discipline, courage and respect for an opponent.
“But even if violence was the message, New York still can’t ban MMA because it doesn’t like that message.”
He noted the Supreme Court’s rejection of the California violent video game law. That law, which had not gone into effect, would have banned the sale of violent video games in the state. The high court overturned the video game ban in June by a 7-2 vote.
“As a means of assisting concerned parents it [the ban on violent video games] is seriously over-inclusive because it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people whose parents (and aunts and uncles) think violent video games are a harmless pastime,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a majority opinion in the Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association case.
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Friedman said the state’s allegation that MMA is unsafe is also discriminatory.
Since the New York ban on MMA went into effect, there have been 37 fighters who have died in boxing matches in the U.S., including one in New York, according to the Journal of Combative Sport.
Only three fighters have died in MMA competition, but no UFC fighters have ever died or sustained a traumatic, life-altering injury, such as brain damage. American Douglas Dedge died of brain injuries suffered in an unsanctioned bout in Kiev, Ukraine, on March 16, 1998, which is before the current athletic-commission approved MMA ruleset, known as the “unified rules,” came into use. Sam Vasquez died from injuries sustained in an Oct. 20, 2007, bout in Houston, becoming the first fighter to die of injuries in a sanctioned bout. And Michael Kirkham died on June 28, 2010, from injuries suffered in a sanctioned bout in South Carolina on June 26, 2010.
Friedman said it is demonstrably untrue that MMA is unsafe.
“On safety, what they’re saying is, ‘You can’t do this because it’s not safe,’ ” Friedman said. “Any time the government says you can’t do something that involves your liberty, that is a 14th Amendment claim because it is denying people of their life or liberty without due process. And it’s also a discrimination claim.
“Why ban mixed martial arts as unsafe when the data shows it’s at least as safe, or safer than a lot of other sports, like boxing, football, ice hockey, Alpine skiing, equestrian sports? It turns out the most dangerous thing you can do is be a flyer in cheerleading. So you ask, what parts of the Constitution cover that, and it’s the equal protection clause.”
Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Vance, said Vance declined to comment on the lawsuit. Schneiderman did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
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