Advocates in NY detail the feminist case for MMA

Monday, June 03, 2013

The road to regulation of Mixed Martial Arts in New York state has proven to be a long one, and despite extraordinary efforts by fans and the UFC, it hasn’t happened yet. The latest setback involves reports that the failure of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to pass the MMA bill despite widespread support for the bill is due to his mishandling of the sexual harassment scandal around fellow Dem Vito Lopez (Brooklyn).

Silver is apparently alarmed that women voters might be upset if he passes and MMA bill. However, MMA has a massive female fanbase, and a several notables turned out to urge the Assembly to pass A.6506, to legalize and regulate MMA in New York. The group included:
Jessica “Jag” Aguilar, Bellator MMA strawweight
Jennifer Bonjean, legal commentator and MMA enthusiast;
Ottavia Bourdain, mixed martial artist and wife of acclaimed celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain;
Stacy Frederick Spector, attorney, MMA enthusiast and Board Member of Sweethearts and Heroes; and,
Paula Waddell, MMA trainer, Electric City Boxing in Schenectady.

New York is one of only two states in the nation where professional MMA is illegal. A bill to legalize and regulate MMA in New York has passed the Senate for four consecutive years by large bipartisan majorities – 47-15 this year. A.6506, sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle (D-Monroe County) has 63 cosponsors, including 48 Democrats from across the State and 10 women, nearly one-third of the women Members of the Assembly.

“One thing that many feminist and lesbian activists have fought is the stereotypical gender roles that oppress women. MMA is a sport that embraces women’s physical prowess and abilities. It is a sport where we compete professionally and receive notoriety and fame that has nothing to do with our gender,” Aguilar said. “There are real issues that women face when it comes to equality. Legalized MMA is not one of them. The evidence to support this is blatantly clear to the women that fight in the 48 states that have legalized MMA.”

“Making MMA out to be negative for women is nothing more than a farce. As an athlete and as a mother I know that MMA training is good for my health and is good for my daughter’s self-confidence,” Bourdain said. “New York does a disservice to women by not allowing them to compete in a safe and regulated professional environment. I call on the Assembly and the Governor to legalize mixed martial arts this year and allow women to earn a living as professional fighters in New York.”

“As a feminist, lawyer, mother of a mixed martial artist, and informed fan of the sport, I can say with absolute certainty that there is zero correlation between the sport of MMA and violence against women,” said Bonjean. “Quite the opposite, promoters of the sport have done more than most women’s groups as of late to challenge attitudes about women as passive and weak. Just take a look at one of Ronda Rousey or Cat Zingano’s fights, and if you are a girl or woman, you will likely feel more empowered than you ever have. I read that some women legislators say the bill shouldn’t pass in light of recent sex scandals in Albany. The truth is I’m comforted that if my niece came to work here she’d be able to defend herself.”

“As a female trainer who is proud to work out at a woman-owned gym, I can tell you that MMA has breathed new life into women’s fitness training, self-defense, and professional competition. MMA gives many women an avenue to compete and earn money professionally. It is unacceptable that for both men and women who have worked so hard and are so disciplined, that New York State then limits their ability to succeed by banning professional competition where the athletes are protected and paid. If the Assembly values women athletes, they should legalize MMA now,” Waddell said.

“I urge Governor Cuomo to tell the Assembly that the legalization of mixed martial arts is a valuable achievement for women,” Spector said. “For years it has been difficult for women to break into professional sports. While the sport as a discipline has embraced an equal role for women, unfortunately none of us can compete here in New York. Governor Cuomo, as a champion of women’s rights and equality we ask you to work with Speaker Silver to legalize mixed martial arts in NY.”

Spector is a board member of Sweethearts and Heroes, an organization committed to educating society about the impact bullying has on our schools, neighborhood and individuals. The organization believes, ‘We all have the potential to be someone’s hero.’

However, Yahoo Sport’s Kevin Iole glumly reports that the bill is unlikely to be passed this year.

“There’s a chance it passes, but I don’t make it the favorite,” UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said, a trace of resignation in his voice.

If it does not come up for a vote, it’s the work of one very powerful and out-of-control politician, assembly speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan.

He’s doing the bidding of Las Vegas Culinary Union local 226, which has a long-time vendetta against UFC co-owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.

The powerful politician has used a number of stall tactics to keep the bill in caucus and off the floor, where it would pass easily. He’s pointed out that women are against the bill, though that’s hardly true.

Women have been outspoken about the way Silver has handled sexual assault and sexual harassment claims lodged by women against powerful politicians in New York.

Inez Barron, a state assemblywoman, called for Silver to resign as speaker for what she said was Silver’s “egregious behavior” in handling sexual harassment allegations against state assemblyman Vito Lopez.

Silver brushed the accusations off.

In choosing not to resign as speaker, Silver said, “None of them ever voted for me, so it’s insignificant. None of them ever supported me. None of them ever wanted me to be speaker, so nothing is new.”

New Yorkers across the state elected their assemblymen to represent their interests. Instead, they’ve got Silver playing their representatives like marionettes.

Much of Silver’s power comes via the state’s many unions, and he’s leveraging one of those to support a bill that the public has demanded and wish his colleagues would easily pass.

If it doesn’t get to the floor, the next fight in New York needs to be one to recall Sheldon Silver from the state assembly.

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