South Dakota MMA regulation seems certain, ban defeated

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

 A South Dakota legislator, with the support of the governor, sought to ban mixed martial arts, calling it “the child porn of sports.” Then his proposal was rejected by the relevant committee, unanimously. Now the entire house has passed bill, which also enjoys overwhelming support in the senate.

David Montgomery from the Argus Leader has the story.

South Dakota is on the verge of regulating fighting sports such as boxing, karate and — most controversially — mixed martial arts.

A bill to create a fight commission passed the South Dakota House 50-20, despite strenuous objections that mixed martial arts was so violent and dangerous it should be banned.

“Just the visceral perception from the average person is, this thing is violent,” said Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, who led the charge against mixed martial arts in the Legislature. “I just can’t imagine us giving the green light to this and bringing in this industry.”

He pitched his amendment as a compromise — to allow a commission to oversee boxing, karate and other traditional fighting sports, but draw the line at mixed martial arts.

But the House rejected Hickey’s amendment 43-27. Rep. Dean Schrempp, D-Lantry, successfully argued that any problems with mixed martial arts in South Dakota were due to the lack of oversight.

Among the regulations a commission could impose would be medical personnel at fights, insurance for bouts, blood tests for fighters, and mandatory bans for fighters who sustain concussions.

The Senate previously approved the fight commission and is expected to concur in amendments made on the House side, Senate sponsor Sen. Mark Johnston said. The measure, Senate Bill 84, would then head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who strongly opposes it.

Daugaard could sign the bill, veto it, or let it become law without his signature. Both houses of the Legislature passed the fight commission bill with margins sufficient to override any veto.

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26 February 2013: House committee rejects proposed MMA ban

Despite opposition from South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard and a proposed compromise by Rep. Steve Hickey, a House committee on Monday endorsed regulating mixed martial arts and other combative sports.

A bill to create an athletic commission with responsibility for overseeing those fights passed 12-0 out of the House Commerce committee and heads to the floor, where opponents will be waiting to take another shot at the bill.

There’s little controversy over most of the athletic commission’s proposed jurisdiction. Even opponents said regulating sports such as boxing and karate was worth doing.

The battle was over mixed martial arts, which opponents criticized as uniquely violent and dangerous.

“Mixed martial arts is over the line of what should be tolerable,” said Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls. He termed mixed martial arts the craft of “nearly killing another person.”

But Hickey’s proposed amendment to ban mixed martial arts was defeated on a voice vote, with only a few members of the committee in support.

A majority agreed with supporters that regulating mixed martial arts was the best way to protect people.

Opponents also warned that endorsing mixed martial arts would desensitize viewers to violence and contribute to a degeneration of society.

“We don’t want to become a society that has lost its capacity to wince,” said Hickey.

Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, responded by saying the bill wasn’t “a discussion about societal change” but simply proposed to regulate the fastest-growing sport in the country.

Mixed martial arts events are already occurring in South Dakota, but without any oversight or rules. Rules from a commission, such as required blood tests, insurance and suspensions for athletes who suffer concussions or knockouts, could make the fighting safer, supporters argued.

They also said having a commission could let South Dakota attract high-level fighters to bouts in South Dakota that could bring money into the state.

Opponents said the state shouldn’t be profiting from violent spectacle.

“We hope this Legislature will resist all efforts to bring such violent spectacle to our state,” said Dale Bartscher of the Family Heritage Alliance.

The closest point of contention Monday was whether to give Daugaard authority to appoint the athletic commission. The bill that passed the Senate gave the Legislature most of the authority to appoint commission members, a reaction to the decisions by Daugaard and his predecessor, Gov. Mike Rounds, to not appoint a commission created by a prior bill.

Jim Seward, Daugaard’s general counsel, told lawmakers the governor would appoint the athletic commission if this year’s bill becomes law. He argued it was unconstitutional for the Legislature to appoint members of an executive branch commission.

The commission voted to give Daugaard back that authority, and Johnston said the Senate would probably accept that change.

The bill now heads to the full House, where Hickey plans another try to defeat it.

“I’m not done fighting,” Hickey said after the vote. “That’s round one.”

He said he may bring his proposed amendment banning mixed martial arts again on the floor of the House, with a change to satisfy concerns that it could criminalize military training exercises.

Rep. Dean Schrempp, D-Lantry, is the prime sponsor of the bill on the House said, and believes it has support from two-thirds of the Legislature, enough to overturn any possible veto from Daugaard.

Seward said he hasn’t spoken with Daugaard about what he plans to do with the bill, which he continues to oppose. Daugaard could veto it, sign it, or let it become law without his signature.

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24 February 2013: MMA BAN PROPOSED

A proposal to regulate fighting sports in South Dakota has a key hearing Monday as opponents prepare to try to derail the most controversial part of the plan.

Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, and others support creating a South Dakota Athletic Commission that would regulate sports such as boxing, kick-boxing and mixed martial arts. South Dakota has no such commission, meaning those events either avoid the state or happen without oversight.

The result, Johnston argues, is people getting hurt or even killed fighting in unsanctioned bouts. The athletic commission created in Senate Bill 84 would be able to create rules.

But Gov. Dennis Daugaard and others say the athletic commission would legitimize these violent sports and lead to more, not fewer, people getting hurt.

“I’m offended that the state would legitimize cage-fighting and the bloody violence that those kinds of spectacles create,” Daugaard said in January. “I think it’s interesting that we declare that it is a crime for one human being to strike another, and yet the state now proceeds to legitimize, and label a sport, cage-fighting.”

Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, feels the same way. When SB84 comes up for a hearing at 10 a.m. Monday, he plans to offer an amendment he sees as a compromise — creating the athletic commission, but limiting it to sports such as boxing and traditional martial arts such as karate and judo. Mixed martial arts would be banned.

“The conversation on violence in society needs to start somewhere — why not with our most violent entertainment, and that’s mixed martial arts,” Hickey said. “There’s a reason two governors have been reticent to appoint a commission: It’s because they agree with me that elbowing a guy in the head, kneeing him in the face, is beyond where we need to go.”

The supporters of the athletic commission proposal aren’t getting on board with Hickey’s alternative. They defended mixed martial arts from Hickey’s characterization of it as unusually brutal.

Johnston said he appreciates Hickey’s “societal concerns” but disagrees with his judgment.

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In his personal blog, Hickey explicitly describes MMA as the child porn of sports, and bizarely links it to meth, sexual slavery, and a host of other evils.

I decided to pick a fight. Please read on because I need your help immediately.

The conversation on violence in society has to start somewhere so why not with our most violent sport or form of entertainment? Decent and civil societies have to draw the line somewhere; with smoking we draw the line after tobacco and before pot; with “adult entertainment” we draw the line at child porn. With violent combative “sports” I suggest we draw the line at cage fighting. The line should be drawn after boxing, wresting and legitimate martial arts. They are violent too but the line needs to be drawn somewhere. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) or “cage fighting” is over that line – in fact, even the martial arts people I talk to tell me they hate cage fighting because it is a smear on legitimate martial arts.

MMA Cage Fighting is the child porn of sports. The psychological community will tell you that desensitization to violence works exactly like desensitization to porn. You know how porn progresses… a peek at topless isn’t enough, it all has to come off, then a pic is not enough… it goes to video then to virtual and then to the devaluation and mistreatment of women, human trafficking and sex crimes against women. Violence works the same way. Boxing wasn’t enough so they took the gloves off, then they allowed kicking, kneeing people in the head, then elbows to the face, then they put a cage around it. The point is to knock the other guy unconscious while pay per view crowds cheer it on. Why not nunchucks? In Rome they’d gather in colosseums and bring out prisoners and entertain themselves by making them fight to the death. That wasn’t enough so they brought out the helpless and the hated and brought in the hungry lions. Crowds cheered.

In South Dakota this week there is a bill, Senate Bill 84, which is an attempt to legitimize cage fighting in South Dakota. It’s billed as “economic development.” If that’s all we can come up with for economic development we are in trouble. And our decisions on our tolerance for things violent shouldn’t be about money. If we want to attract dirty and bloody money why not legalize prostitution or bring back the gladiators? We need to stop and think about why two governors in our state have been reticent to appoint people to a boxing/MMA commission.

Proponents say it’s going on here already so we need to regulate it to make it safe. Meth use is going on here too, should we regulate Meth labs?  South Dakota has no business spending any time or money legitimizing cage fighting.  I don’t care that “other states are doing it.” I’d like to think we are better. Other states run billion dollar deficits and we balance our budget. Maybe with our fiscal sense, we could also be known for our common sense and decency.

You’ll hear fans of cage fighting say that more have died in cheerleading accidents. The point of cheerleading isn’t to knock unconscious the other cheerleaders. And there are growing numbers of MMA deaths in sanctioned and unsanctioned fights. Furthermore, the sport is too new to tell us the long term effects of this “sport” on the fighters. The NFL is paying dearly now for their concussion issues. MMA is far worse. We had an MMA fighter in Rapid City die recently and that is in part what is driving the move now to regulate it so it’s “safe.” Proponents say these blood-soaked slugfests only look dangerous. I’m not stupid and neither are you and this isn’t a show like professional wrestling. It is violent and it isn’t a sign of a healthy society that crowds gather to watch it. This is more than consensual assault and battery as the effects of violence desensitization impact the rest of society.

Here’s how you can help. The bill is scheduled for a hearing on Monday at 10AM in our Commerce and Energy Committee (it may get moved to Wednesday at 10am – stay tuned). I plan to introduce a hoghouse amendment (84rc MMA ban amendment) that will establish the South Dakota Athletic Commission to regulate boxing, wresting and martial arts but I’ve written the amendment to expressly exclude mixed martial arts. It’s basically a ban on cage fighting in South Dakota. Expect hysterics from the sport enthusiasts – one local sportscaster already has dubbed me an ignorant idiot.

The committee members need to hear from people like you. Please email them asap and ask them to have the courage and common sense to draw the line a cage fighting and to support Rep. Steve Hickey’s hoghouse amendment on SB84 to ban it in South Dakota. Here is the quickest way to email them all – House Commerce and Energy Committee.

When people get hurt and die in extreme sports I’ll confess I sometimes have trouble mustering up sympathy and compassion (even as we should comfort their families and guys like me officiate these funerals). At some point we can’t call these things “accidents” as they are more the product of our carefully thought out decisions. I have to bite my tongue because instead of the passages that comfort the grieving I feel like quoting the great philosopher Forrest Gump: Stupid is as stupid does.

South Dakota is smarter than this – and so, let’s ban MMA.

What’s on TV today would have been unthinkable a generation ago. In a restaurant the other day I heard a lady say about the MMA match on the television… Oh my, when did they take the gloves off?  I wanted to say… Madam, they took the gloves off when we weren’t watching. Folks, it’s time to start paying attention because we are creating today the world our grandkids will live in tomorrow.

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