June 03, 2009
After Jessica Bednark and Zach Kirk were hurt in MMA this past week, news came out that both fighters were uninsured. Their medical bills will be steep, and calls for help came nearly immediately after their injuries. Comments came in asking, "Why weren't they insured?" It does seem irresponsible for someone engaged in a sport as dangerous as mixed martial arts to not carry medical insurance.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
According to the most recent census, 43 million Americans don't have health insurance. You would be surprised at how many of your favorite fighters are in this group. I spoke with fighters who are under contract with the UFC, Strikeforce and Sengoku, and not one of them is insured. Their promotions have the decency of covering expenses from their injuries, but things like a flu shot, a routine annual exam and prescriptions are not covered. "If I get the flu, I suck it up," one fighter said.
Because MMA is so dangerous, health insurance companies are not quick to underwrite fighters. Dana White has said in the past that the UFC covers fighters' medical expenses, but that they are unable to get insurance for fighters because of MMA's high injury rate.
Even if they are to apply for private insurance, just try to get a company to cover you when your medical records are full of broken bones and stretched ligaments, or your profession is "mixed martial artist." Either the premiums are so high that a fighter can't afford them, or the insurance companies won't cover them at all.
The outlook is even more dire for fighters who are working towards the goal of being signed to a large promotion, but aren't yet. They quit their jobs -- their source of insurance -- to train and follow a dream, but when they do that, they give up the security that employee-provided health insurance provides. They then fight in smaller promotions who can't afford to pay for their injuries.
The problems of health insurance in the United States are much bigger than what fighters face in the MMA world, but the fighting world seems to have been disproportionately affected by the problem. Callously assuming that a fighter is irresponsible because he isn't insured will definitely not help the problem. Keep that in mind the next time you watch your favorite fighters take to the cage.
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