Why Post Concussive Consequences Should Not Be Blacked Out By the UFC

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UFC Logo ThumbnailAs an MMA fan and lawyer who deals with the consequences of concussive injuries in my professional life I have conflicting feelings when it comes to witnessing a knock out in combat sports.  While it is the most exciting way a fight can end there are well understood potentially long term consequences that stem from concussive injury (and also exposure to frequent sub-concussive forces).

I have spent a good deal of time highlighting safety issues on this blog pointing out that regulators and opponents of MMA and combat sports should not get carried away by overstating the dangers of the sport.  At the same time, those involved in combat sports should not undermine the risks with statements along the lines of MMA being the “safest sport in the world“.

Ultimately I square my competing views with the principle of informed consent.  So long as there is regulation of combat sport with fighter safety at the forefront athletes should be free to choose to compete in MMA.  That said, the consent needs to be informed.  There is risk of injury and anyone profiting from combat sports would do well to assist fighters in understanding the risks.  While some of the risks are quite obvious such as cuts, bruises and broken bones, others are less so.  The long term consequences of traumatic brain injury are becoming better understood by the day by the scientific community.  These injuries are often invisible and the UFC themselves understands this very well as demonstrated by their support of the “Wounds You Can’t See” CampaignUFC supports wounds you cant see campaign

With this background in mind, a recent opportunity which could serve as a teachable moment is being missed.  As reported at Bloody Elbow, post fight video of Miguell Torres’ knockout loss to Michael McDonald recently surfaced.  This showed him clearly suffering from concussive amnesia which is a consequence flowing from brain trauma.  The UFC, unfortunately, pulled the video due to a copyright claim.  Whether or not the claim has legal merit, it should be revisited by the top brass.  This video can instead be used to show those involved and those aspiring to get involved in the world of MMA that their choice to participate does come with risk.  A concussive injury does not always end when an athlete regains consciousness.  The consequences from brain trauma can linger.  Information and education are key and promoters would do well to facilitate meaningful informed consent for their athletes.

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Erik Magraken is a personal injury litigator and Partner with the British Columbia law-firm MacIsaac & Company. The article was re-printed with permission from his Canadian MMA Law Blog.

10 Responses to “ Why Post Concussive Consequences Should Not Be Blacked Out By the UFC ”

  1. Keith, thanks for sharing this article here, much appreciated.

    Coincidentally, a great article on this topic was just published at Bleacher Report and it is a worthwhile and informative read for anyone interested in the issue of traumatic brain injury in MMA.

    http://topmmanews.com/2013/05/09/why-post-concussive-consequences-should-not-be-blacked-out-by-the-ufc/

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  2. Donald Duck says:

    Those that know me will know that I am the last one to say that we need more restrictions and limitations on communication of vital information. The ability of a fighter, for example, needs to be made available so another promoter does not mistakenly hire someone who has no business in the ring. Sharing of suspensions and injury reports through a commonly accessible data base is another key need that is being filled via multiple ways. So when it comes to the realistic nature of the sport I agree that information needs to be made available but yet I struggle with the ‘value add’ aspect of showing a fighter convulsing on the mat following a KO.

    What I struggle with is the morbid aspect of this. Hockey, football and even NASCAR all celebrate the extreme nature of their sports and often show the highlights of a huge hit or crash yet they draw the line at someone convulsing or bleeding profusely. To argue that people need to know the dangers of the sport they are going into as a justification to show the post KO (or loss of consciousness due to a submission) fails to address the honesty in which MMA as a whole is shared. It is fact this honesty and reality that has led to MMA still being banned in many areas.

    Showing someone convulsing on the ground will not stop the Bobby Kalmakof’s from getting into the ring only proper regulations and responsible promoters will safe a person like this from themselves. For the rest of us we need to rely on our coaches and teammates to help us understand the full scope. The UFC is a business, as are all promotions, and as such the ownership for this issue isn’t with them. People need to take personal responsibility but that needs to be supported by proper regulation and good teams.

    Donnie

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  3. Donnie, thanks for your comments.

    I fully agree that a morbid highlight reel is not necessary, but that is not what this video shows.

    The video that has been pulled by the UFC does not show the knockout itself, but rather the fighter after he regained consciousness engaged in conversation with his team. He has acute amnesia not knowing where he is, what happened, who he fought or even the weight class he was fighting in.

    These ‘invisible’ aspects of traumatic brain injury are important to highlight. It is needed to offset the image of athletes being knocked out, coming to and the impression that all is well.

    This clip should not be hidden by the UFC on copyright grounds, instead it can trigger an informative discussion about TBI. Studies are shedding more and more light on the risk of CTE for athletes with repeated head trauma.

    As a fan of the sport, what I don’t want to see is a head in the sand ‘nothing to see here’ approach with respect to concussions. The UFC and MMA organizations should not need to be exposed to NFL like lawsuits after the first generation of fighters realize the long term implications of their business was far greater than they realized.

    It is in the long term interest of the sport for organizations to acknowledge the realities of head injuries and assist athletes in making informed choices of participation. Burying this video is not helpful.

    Cheers.

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  4. Donald Duck says:

    Erik,

    I still feel that this should be in the hands of the regulators and coaches. Perhaps regulate an “MMA 101” course for new fighters to highlight the injuries and dangers associated with the sport. This could be in conjunction with a filter to catch the ‘unaware’ and ‘under-prepared’ akin to how a Learner’s Permit for driving has an in class and on the road portion. I don’t think this should be the promoter’s responsibility period and them taking down the video is just them protecting MMA in their business.

    Also I think you mean retrograde amnesia as opposed to acute amnesia and I wonder just how clear the video was that you could tell for sure. Also I’d be doing a PEARL test to assess the fighter and may not rely exclusively on self-reporting as a tool for this diagnosis however I’m not a doctor so perhaps one could weigh in.

    Donnie

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  5. Thanks Donnie, I think we’re largely on the same page. Education is key. Steps that lead to this end are welcome.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    Cheers.

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  6. Donald Duck says:

    Agreed,

    I think it is better for discussion of this type to happen on an MMA site over the usual trash talking and pointless selfpromotion.

    Donnie

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  7. Round of Hugs

    Love these articles and types of debates.

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  8. Mike Russell says:

    As a friend and business partner of Miguel’s, I can say that I was disgusted that clip was released. I spoke with someone from the UFC about it to bring it to their attention and to see if it was an official Zuffa release. It wasn’t. THAT’S why it was removed.

    The clip showed an intimate moment between Miguel and Firas and posting the personal conversation they had does nothing positive. Imagine if your worst day at your job and a subsequent conversation between you and a peer about your less than stellar performance that day was recorded and posted on YouTube. It was terribly inappropriate and, if you haven’t been around gyms or fighters much, it looks much worse than it actually is.

    Concussions suck. I’ve had a bunch over the years, but memory loss is common and is in no way directly related to the severity of the concussion or accumulative. My first concussion happened at my 12th birthday when a friend mistakenly flung a bat at me after a strikeout. I was catching. I lost about 20-30 minutes and “woke up” on my sofa at home with a milk bag on my head. Apparently I walked three blocks home and had a few bizarre conversations with my friends and dad. I don’t remember anything from that day.

    I had my worst concussion in January when I was jumped by a couple drunk guys at a coffee shop after bar closing. Took a few shots in the back and a few dozen in the side of the head and a headbutt, but I didn’t go down or out. I’m still dealing with the lingering effects of PCS.

    Anyway, Miguel is fine. He has had the necessary scans and neurological testing done to ensure that his health and safety are at the forefront.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 9

  9. PUCK says:

    Great story and discussion. In my opinion the promoters and or promotions will never truley care about the fighters well being (mental or physical) they do it to make money plain and simple. Fighters/coaches/teams and commisions need to look out for the poeples/Fighters best intrests at all times. You only got one body and one life. Also, I think this is why so many guys are now going after the UFC. They claim they wrecked their bodys for the UFC and ‘lost’ their likeness.’ but, in the beginning, they signed a contract to do so? I aggree, Education is key.

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