When professional athletes attempt to express opinions on politics and society, “shut up and play” is often the refrain from sportswriters, commentators, and some fans.
As a result, we often know very little about what goes on in the minds of professional athletes. Press conferences and interviews are receptacles for platitudes–“taking it one game at a time,” and so forth.
In the growing world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), professional fighters seem to express their ideas more freely and openly. The political spectrum ranges from pro fighters such as Matt Lindland and Chael Sonnen–who have run for public office as Republicans–to Jeff Monson, an anarchist with a well-developed set of politics and membership in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Others, such as Frank Mir and Matt Hughes, have expressed political and social opinions in interviews (respectively, atheism and, um, the opposite of atheism). Mac Danzig is a vegan, and Brock Lesnar is a meat-eating, gun-toting, universal health care-hating kind of guy. Eddie Bravo and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) color commentator Joe Rogan advocate the legalization of marijuana.
The difference between MMA and other sports could of course be due to the fact that MMA hasn’t yet gained widespread mainstream acceptance (outside of those involving Lesnar or Herschel Walker, MMA fights are generally not covered in mainstream sports media outlets like SportsCenter and Sports Illustrated).
But I believe there are intrinsic features of MMA which make its athletes more able and likely to speak their minds. Fighters need teams of coaches and training partners to prepare for bouts, but MMA is fundamentally an individualized–rather than team–sport. And despite its perception in some circles as little more than sanctioned thuggery, anyone with training or exposure to the sport will realize the tremendous amount of mental exertion which is expended in training and fighting. The physically-demanding nature of the sport requires tremendous mental toughness to persevere through grueling training camps and fights, and the multi- or inter-disciplinary nature of the sport–combining wresting, judo, boxing, jiu-jitsu, and kickboxing–means that a nearly infinite number of technical permutations exist for fighters to employ and react to.
While there are many excellent MMA blogs, none directly address the intellectual and political aspects of the sport and its fighters.
I write with an insider’s perspective on both combat sports and politics. I am more or less a life-long martial artist. I studied Tae Kwon Do from age four to sixteen (and Japanese ju jitsu for about a year in my teens). I quit before college, when I thought myself too cool and rebellious for the traditionalism and hierarchy of the dojo. In college I became a left-wing political activist, mostly involved in anti-war activities. When I started a Master’s program in Russian history after graduation, I began to reevaluate many of my political ideas and commitments. Around the same time, I started training again–this time Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kickboxing.
I intend to use this blog for all of the solipsistic reasons anyone writes a blog. I want to start writing again–something I haven’t done much of after graduate school. While my own politics have developed past the Marxism of my college days, I still want to have some sort of engagement with politics–this time without any specific ideological axe to grind. Most fundamentally, I want to share my love of combat sports with other people, and focus on an aspect which doesn’t get as much coverage as it should. I will offer my own commentaries, but as this blog develops and grows, I envision it as a space where fighters can express their ideas and opinions, and where fans can get to know more about what goes on in the heads of their favorite athletes.