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Mixed Martial Arts & Preventable Brain Injuries

Debate has raged for years on the intersection of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and contact sports. Professional and college football is at the forefront of the debate, as the leagues face multiple lawsuits by those suffering from various brain injuries. The specific arguments made in the lawsuits vary, but in general they allege that officials did not do enough to prevent harm to players or even specifically downplayed information that revealed the extent of the risk.

Some mistakenly assume that the large NFL lawsuit is over, with a settlement reached with the league earlier this year. However, cases are still being filed by former players, and we can expect even more to come forward after learning about their own injuries connected to their playing days.

Other Sports
Also, the attention to TBIs generally is seeping out into other sports where head contact is common. Among the most popular national sports, that includes soccer and hockey, where it is common for athletes to collide with one another or the ground. Another sport under the spotlight that has grown tremendously popular in recent years is MMA–mixed martial arts.

Various leagues have sprung up in recent years showcases fights between athletes from different martial arts, wrestling, and boxing disciplines. The most popular of these, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), has grown into a monstrous entity, with spin-offs, endorsements, and even television shows.

With all of the focus of the long-term harm caused by head injuries to participating athletes, it is natural for some to look to MMA and ask if organizers are doing everything in their power to ensure participating in the sport do not suffer preventable injury that will affect the rest of their lives.

NJ News shared information on that subject in a recent article. The story notes that each state has different requirements for professional fighters in this arena to continue working–sometimes requiring brain scans every few years. Not all regulations are that strict, however, and many fights that take place are not sanctioned.

In addition, advocates for fighter safety point out that most steps taken to keep fighters safe are laughably inadequate. For one thing, few fighters are actually targeting to identify if they are suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)–the condition affecting many professional athletes in these contact sports. Traditional tests like an MRI or CT scan will not pick up the existence of CTE.

The article explained that “The lack of persistent monitoring and evaluation are reasons many believe MMA promotions could eventually be headed for an epidemic along the lines of the NFL, which this summer agreed to pay $765 million to settle a brain-injury lawsuit brought by thousands of former players.”

Helpfully, more and more people are finally turning an eye to the risk faced by those participating in these sports. The story notes professionals at a Center for Brain Health in Cleveland that is conducting the largest-ever study looking at brain health among MMA fighters. Thus far, slightly less than 400 athletes (including both boxers and MMA fighters) have been examine. Early results show clear problems: brain fiber deterioration, functional conductivity problems, and a decrease in “brain volume.”

See Other Blog Posts:

High School Football Player Dies Following Brain Injury Suffered in Game

Moving Forward with Federal BRAIN Initiative