Archive for November, 2013

MRI_brain

On the heels of the NFL $765 Million Concussion lawsuit settlement comes a proposed class action filed by 10 former NHL players.

This high profile lawsuit seeks damages based on allegations that the NHL fraudulently concealed or otherwise kept relevant data about concussive risks from its players and further that the league failed to take reasonable safety precautions in the face of ever growing knowledge about traumatic brain injury.  You can click here to read the NHL Concussion Class Action Complaint

While none of the claims have been proven in Court the lawsuit will, at the very least, result in a prolonged scrutiny of concussions in hockey, the league’s knowledge of these risks and their actions (or inaction) in the face of this knowledge.  The allegations are founded in fraud.  If proven true these allegations can work to get around limitation periods and expose the league to significant damages.

Whether there is any merit in this claim or not, there is a lesson to be learned from the recent wave of sports concussion lawsuits and it comes down to informed consent.  Yes contact sports and combat sports are dangerous.  Yes some of these risks are obvious.  Others are less so such as the accumulation of trauma from a career of subconcussive impacts.  Combat sport promotions should ensure that their athletes have an up to date understanding on the connection between concussive/multiple sub concussive impacts and long term brain injury.  As previously pointed outretired Canadian MMA fighter Nick Denis demonstrated that not all fighters agree to carry on with a career in MMA after learning of these risks.  Failing to facilitate athlete’s appreciation of CTE and other long term consequences not only undermines informed participation, it can also lead to the legal troubles that are now plaguing the NHL.

The UFC has already turned their mind to this issue and built lawsuit waivers into their fighter contacts where combatants agree that MMA is an “inherently and abnormally dangerous activity” which gives rise to many health risks including “irreversible neurological trauma” .  While it is good to work this into the fine print the message needs to be clear and consistent.  Waivers are not iron clad.  Allegations of fraud can be used to undermine these.  It is in the long term interests of all stakeholders in the MMA community to have a real and honest appreciation of the risks that come with participation.  Doing so can enhance participant safety, ensure informed consent and minimize the risk of future litigation.

Prince Edward Island Amateur Kickboxing

I thought that Weyburn Saskatchewan would be the first to teach us what happens when an unsanctioned combat sport is hosted in a post Bill S-209 world but the matter is apparently still “under investigation”.  Moving East, Charlottetown PEI has just demonstrated the modern reality of what occurs when a combat sports event is planned without proper legislation in place.

CBC News reports that Island Inferno VII, an amateur kickboxing event, was shut down by local police just hours before taking place.  The event has been hosted in previous years without a hitch but now, with Bill S-209 in place and no appropriate Provincial laws giving amateur kickboxing a legal framework in PEI, the event is left in the dark.

While the event organizers have good reason to be upset by the 11th hour government shutdown, the local authorities are not out of line in their legal position.  This serves as a real-world reminder that the law in Canada is now clear that amateur combat sports outside of those in the Programme of the IOC (boxing, judo, wrestling and taekwondo) are illegal by default.  Provinces can overcome this default position by passing appropriate local laws designating which combat sports can be held in compliance with Section 83 of the Criminal Code.  You can click here for a summary of what Bill S-209 does and the ways to comply with the law.

It is not enough to have event oversight by a sport organization such as Kickboxing Canada as the Island Inferno organizers did, the event also must be held in a jurisdiction that has passed the required laws giving their blessing to the specific combat sport.  BC and Saskatchewan are two such provinces who have designated legal amateur combat sports further to Bill S-209.  Other Provinces would do well to follow suit.

GSP Hendricks Scorecard

If you spend any time discussing the result of GSP’s title defense at UFC  167 there is no shortage of controversy among fans.  Some believe GSP fairly won three rounds, others say no way, others yet say if GSP won three rounds the two he lost far outweighed those.   From there many are quick to call for rule changes such as implementing a half-point system or scoring the bout on its whole rather than the sum of its parts.

Truth is no rule changes are needed.  The problem is in the application of the rules, not the rules themselves.  The rules contemplate even rounds, they also contemplate proportionately greater scoring for dominant rounds.  For whatever reason a culture in judging has developed with a reluctance to deviate from 10-9 rounds even in the face of even or disproportionately one sided rounds.

Nevada’s rules, which were in force for UFC 167, have very little to say about judging criteria.  They require as follows:

     1.  Each judge of a contest or exhibition of mixed martial arts that is being judged shall score the contest or exhibition and determine the winner through the use of the following system:

     (a) The better unarmed combatant of a round receives 10 points and his or her opponent proportionately less.

     (b) If the round is even, each unarmed combatant receives 10 points.

     (c) No fraction of points may be given.

     (d) Points for each round must be awarded immediately after the end of the period of unarmed combat in the round.

Even rounds are called for.  The same judge who awards a very close 10-9 round to one combatant is not only free to award a 10-8 in a subsequent more dominant round but is in fact required to do so.   Rounds must be scored “proportionately“.

If you look to the New Jersey rules, which are the foundation behind many State and Provincial Commission rules, it is clear that there is much room for deviation from 10-9 rounds.  The New Jersey rules require as follows:

The 10-Point Must System will be the standard system of scoring a bout. Under the 10-Point Must Scoring System, 10 points must be awarded to the winner of the round and nine points or less must be awarded to the loser, except for a rare even round, which is scored (10-10).

Despite saying 10-10 rounds are “rare” the rules go on to set out the following criteria:

1. A round is to be scored as a 10-10 Round when both contestants appear to be fighting evenly and neither contestant shows clear dominance in a round;

2. A round is to be scored as a 10-9 Round when a contestant wins by a close margin, landing the greater number of effective legal strikes, grappling and other maneuvers;

3. A round is to be scored as a 10-8 Round when a contestant overwhelmingly dominates by striking or grappling in a round.

4. A round is to be scored as a 10-7 Round when a contestant totally dominates by striking or grappling in a round.

So 10-10 rounds are required if there is no “clear dominance“.  Many rounds fit this description.  Its also clear that 10-8 rounds are not to be used as sparingly as they are.

It is hard to explain why judging culture has developed with great reluctance to deviate from 10-9 rounds, but whatever the reason its not the wording of the rules.

MMA has come a long way in the past 20 years and the biggest promotion in the sport has ambitious plans for continued global growth.

Few things can derail ambitious plans faster, however, than foreseeable tragedy and the aftermath of subsequent litigation.  With this in mind there are three potential areas worth canvassing that have the ability to cause long lasting repercussions to the sport. The good news these are all areas which can be addressed by those intending to shepherd the sport in the right direction, namely:

1. Performance Enhancing Drug Abuse

2. The Dangers Of Extreme Rapid Weight Cutting

3. Traumatic Brain Injury

The ugly reality is that PED abuse does exist in MMA even at the highest levels of the sport.  The occasional failed drug test generates headlines from time to time, overturns a win to a no contest, and results in punishments such as stripped earnings and suspensions.  The relatively lax and predictable tests administered by many athletic commissions, however, don’t weed out all cheaters.  There is little doubt that more PED abuse exists in the sport than is currently caught.  As the Lance Armstrong saga has taught us, oftentimes the full extent of doping in a sport is not known until years after the fact when old friendships are lost and whistleblowers come forward.

Accepting that doping occurs in MMA and that current regulatory practices don’t adequately address this what is the potential for harm?  Unlike cycling, an advantage gained though doping in MMA comes with a real risk of harm to others.  It also arguably vitiates participant consent.

While MMA has a relatively good track record of participant safety, past performance is no guarantee of future success. The sport, which the UFC describes in its fighter contracts as an “inherently and abnormally dangerous activity” comes with risks.  If a fighter death ever was to occur and it was revealed that the winning combatant was doping subsequent litigation would leave few stones unturned.  Worst case scenarios like this ought to be kept in mind and sensible PED policies should be crafted to help minimize the potential of such a scenario playing out.  The recent efforts of fighters such as Georges St-Pierre in bringing enhanced testing to the sport should be embraced by stakeholders.

The second topic, Extreme Rapid Weight Cutting, comes with equal risks in harming the integrity of the sport.  This potentially dangerous practice is a reality in all weight restricted combat sports.  MMA is no exception and this topic is timely with UFC welterweight Brian Melancon announcing his early retirement from the sport today do decreased kidney function which he says will further deteriorate with the rigours of the sport stating that “If I continue to train, fight, and cut weight then I run the risk of permanent damage“.

melancon tweet re weight cutting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given that extreme rapid weight loss is a reality in MMA, the question is what steps are stakeholders prepared to take to address the risks that come with this practice?   I have previously addressed this topic and while I don’t have all the answers I know that turning a blind eye is not one of them.  Guidelines can be implemented to minimize the risks of and to discourage unsafe weight cut practices in combat sports.

The last topic is traumatic brain injury.  As I previously discussed, the one thing the UFC and other MMA organizations can learn from NHL / NFL Concussion lawsuits is to get ahead of the curve.  There is nothing to gain by taking an ostrich approach to brain trauma.  Instead the MMA industry should take meaningful steps to acknowledge these risks head on and encourage their athletes to learn about the full known risks that come with participation.  As retired Canadian MMA fighter Nick Denis demonstrated, not all fighters agree to carry on with a career in MMA after learning of the risks.  Failing to facilitate athlete’s appreciation of CTE and other long term consequences not only undermines informed participation, it can also lead to the legal troubles that are now plaguing the NHL and NFL.

If the above areas are meaningfully addressed by the MMA community there is no reason why the sport can’t continue to thrive in the future.

In my ongoing efforts to highlight relevant safety studies addressing combat sports,  the following articles are worth reviewing for those interested in this subject:

Effects of taekwondo kicks on head accelerations and injury potential

Knowledge about sports-related concussion: is the message getting through to coaches and trainers?

Dehydration and Performance on Clinical Concussion Measures in Collegiate Wrestlers

Self-Reported Concussion Symptoms and Training Routines in Mixed Martial Arts Athletes

What boxing tells us about repetitive head trauma and the brain

Impaired cerebral haemodynamic function associated with chronic traumatic brain injury in professional boxers

mike tyson image

(image via Brian Birzer via Wikimedia)

In his recently published biography, The Undisputed Truth, Mike Tyson made several revelations including admitting to being on cocaine during some of his bouts and using extreme measures to pass the drug tests.

Candid truth is refreshing, however, with truth comes consequences.

Most State and Provincial athletic commissions have laws dealing with the repercussions for athletes who perform while using illegal PED’s.  To take Nevada, the fight capital of the world, as one example, NAC 467.850(6) allows the commission to change a win to a “no decision” for any combatant who does not comply with their drug policies (which prohibit cocaine use in competition).

If there are any financial repercussions that flow from such a change Tyson’s admission can open the doors to legal action to recover damages.  The passage of time is usually not a barrier as the limitation clock often does not start ticking in cases of fraud until the fraud becomes revealed (and yes, in case you’re wondering, using a “whizzer” to pass a drug test is unquestionably fraud). Again, to take Nevada as an example, NRS 11.190 contains such a provision for lawsuits based on fraud holding that “the cause of action in such a case shall be deemed to accrue upon the discovery by the aggrieved party of the facts constituting the fraud or mistake“.

As previously discussed the discovery of doping after the fact can have repercussions.  In the world of combat sports there are real world consequences to masked PED use.  Perhaps win bonuses were wrongly paid out.  Perhaps a loser gets cut from an organization based on the losing effort that really should have been a no contest and suffers financial consequences as a result.  Doping and fraud often come to light with the passage of time and revelation of aged secrets.  Real legal consequences can leave their mark years after the fact.  Just ask Lance Armstrong.

Saskatchewan MMA law

Earlier this year the Government of Saskatchewan legalized amateur MMA and other combat sports and announced plans to create a Provincial Athletic Commission to address professional combat sports.  The first legislative step to make this a reality has now taken place.

The Government introduced Bill 108 “An Act Respecting the Athletics Commission and Professional Contests or Exhibitions“.  You can read the Bill here:

Saskatchewan Athletics Commission Act

The Bill proposes a Province wide commission tasked with licencing and regulating “Professional Contests or Exhibitions” which are defined to include pro boxing, MMA, and any other “prescribed sport” which leaves open the possibility of a more expansive interpretation of section 83 of the Criminal Code.

Bill 108 passed first reading on November 5, 2013.   Now is the time for stakeholders in the combat sports community to review Bill 108 and give the Government feedback about any desired changes before it is finalized and passes into law.