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Woke up today with a headache like I got beat up in a cage fight yesterday. Oh wait, I did. My attempt to ban commercial cage fighting in South Dakota failed in a House vote 27-43.

Though I lost, I won. From the beginning I’ve said the conversation on violence in society has to start somewhere – why not with our most violent form of entertainment? In starting that conversation I succeeded. 27 members of the House of Representatives voted for a total ban on commercial cage fighting in South Dakota. Many others said they hate it but figure it’s best to regulate it because it’s going on anyway. Even Rep. Schrempp who was the sponsor of the bill to legitimize it here says he hates cage fighting because it’s too violent. So thank the 27 House members who didn’t walk away from the fight of curtailing violence in society.

It’s funny how people vote. Some who would normally prize themselves on being family values voters were opponents here. My RINO libertarian friends who vote red on every government expansion and spending bill apparently wanted commercial cage fighting more. Amazingly they voted for yet another layer of unfunded government bureaucracy to regulate and save people from themselves. There were stunning moments like when one member said my ban bill would make a criminal out of his five year old grandson who wants to do cage fighting at a school program. I’m pretty sure 95% of the parents of five year olds in our state would object to their kindergartner watching his grandson beat and kick the crap out of another kindergartner at school. Maybe it’s not so ridiculous. CNN did a story last year on five year old cage fighting.

The question I’d like to ask all my colleagues is simply: what is violence? For some it’s apparently not dismembering unborn children. For others it’s apparently not two people beating each other senseless while rubbernecking bloodlusting pay per viewers cheer. But yesterday the same people who said no to those two things as being violent said two gay men getting in a love spat constitutes violent domestic assault. And ‘splain this to me… those who continually harp on putting all extra dollars to teachers decided yesterday to prioritize boxers over teachers.

It’s too early to forecast what the Governor will do with the bill. I’d think he’ll refuse to sign it and let it pass into law without his signature because he does oppose it and there are the votes in the House and Senate to override his veto.

What this means for South Dakota is we now get commercial cage fighting. It’s coming to a county fair near you. We can now host the big sanctioned events and this means big money. It’s a 3.7 billion violent entertainment industry and the VP of the UFC has contacted the Senate sponsor here and hired two lobbyists to educate legislators here on how it only looks violent. Those lobbyists are Justin Bell also represents the Medical Association and Bret Koenecke who represents the Bankers Association. When I see Justin and Bret today do you support they’ll thank me for landing them such an enormous contract? A hospital lobbyist here in the Capitol joked with me that they aren’t backing me in this fight because it’s good for their business.

The safety issue is secondary to the money issue. I prove that when I point to the pay per view stuff like King of the Cage: Greatest Knockouts #19. Here’s the script on that:

King of the Cage: Greatest Knockouts #19 — The Rear Naked Choke and the Fifteen most LETHEL MMA Maneuvers; the Crucifix – brutally intense! The Heel Hook – one fighter is to effective they’ve named his right kick “hospital” and his left kick “graveyard!” The Guillotine Choke. The Flying Knee. Don’t miss the greatest knockouts caught on camera. Now playing on pay per view.

All this about “safety” is a big smokescreen. The knockouts are what they are selling. This is about knocking people unconscious. I realize other sports have injuries but the last thing we want to see with rodeo, cheerleading and football is for someone to get hurt. Yet that IS what people pay to see in cage fighting. The UFC is interested to make videos #20 and #21 and put them on pay per view at $60 and $75.

Despite the justifications and rationalization and propaganda they throw at me that this isn’t as violent as it looks I find the following forthright comments from USF cage fighters themselves evidence enough that it is what it is.

UFC fighter Nate Diaz was quoted in USA Today (12/5/12) in an article titled: “Nate Diaz Says Sportsmanship Doesn’t Describe UFC”… We’re out there trying to damage each other and finish each other. We’re trying to take each other out. We both want to win by knockout or submission or some type of finish rather than a decision. I think it’s pretty unsportsmanlike.

The Associated Press reported UFC championship fighter Jon Jones saying that he’d rather let his arm break than tap out of a fight. [AP: Jones Successfully Defends Title at UFC 152, 9/23/12]

John Musick, another pro cage fighter said “I will never tap out. You can break my arm off and take it home with you, but I will never tap out.”  Cage fighter Enson Inoue was quoted saying; “I guarantee the fans two things. One, I will give everything I have – I will move until I cannot move anymore. And two, I will never, every give up. I would rather die than tap out.”

So, it is what it is and South Dakota just commercialized it.

P.S. For those who haven’t heard I have said I regret my shocking remark about cage fighting being over the line with violent entertainment like child porn is over the line with adult entertainment. I’ve apologized for it and said it wasn’t my intent to offend people but I see now I did just that. Sorry. It was merely an analogy which I’ve had to explain to many who apparently have been hit in the head so many times they entirely missed it. Now I say, get back up, get over it, and address my point and answer the question I was raising…. if not here, where should the line be drawn on violence in society? Where should that conversation start?

Amidst the flurry of hysterics coming my way after my recent comments on cage fighting I received some forthright letters from Christians involved in the sport. One in particular is from Seth Falvo, a young fighter and writer for the website CagePotato. Apparently he wrote this lovely piece on me - MMA Is The ‘Child Porn of Sports’, According to South Dakota Porn Expert/State Rep. Steve Hickey [HATE]. Seth wrote me a stinging note and in particular called me out on my insensitivity to the death of a MMA fighter. Here is part of his letter:

I’m here to tell you that as a Christian, I have never been more disgusted to read THIS coming from a pastor’s own blog:”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.”

I was hoping this was just a sick, sick parody account, but upon confirming that this is, in fact, your own blog, I’m at a loss for words. Where do I even begin here? Do I quote the Bible and write “Judge not lest you be judged, For in the way you judge, you will be judged?” Do I quote “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” Or do I simply point out that you are a self-proclaimed pastor – a man of God – who essentially writes that a fictional character from a Hollywood movie knows more about how one should live than Jesus Christ, the Man whose message he is supposed to be teaching others. I’ll go with the latter. Wow. A self-proclaimed Man of God decides that God isn’t as smart as a dim-witted Hollywood character, and that he, oh wise and powerful pastor, is perfectly right in judging how law-abiding, church going people spend their spare time. If you’ve ever wondered why people my age have quit going to church, well, do I really need to explain why?

Here’s my reply and I’ll post it here as an open letter to all Christian MMA fans and fighters:

Seth,

Thanks for your honest note. For starters I’ll say I have a whole lot more experience with death than you do. I’ve been a police chaplain and pastor for years. There have been times when my pager goes off three times a week and I get to go tell people their loved one has died or been killed. I never quote Forrest Gump in those moments. What you read on my blog was the inner life of a pastor who has to sit with grieving people who are sometimes furious at their lost loved ones for doing stupid, reckless things that result in the wasting of their lives and causing such pain to their families and friends. Both my parents are dead and my father died a very violent death at the negligence of another… meaning it was entirely preventable if only one person had not been so reckless. If you don’t like my Forrest Gump thought I can quote you many passages on foolishness resulting in death and destruction. It is foolish for someone to get into an unsanctioned cage and fight in our state. That was my point.

And not for a moment do I receive your judgmental comment that I’m the type of person who is keeping a generation from Christ/Church. I have started and am leading large church with a ministry school and a substantial ministry to young adults. Also I’ve been planting churches around the world and we lead people to Christ all the time. I’m friends with significant church leaders in your state and we may even have mutual friends. The stream I minister within is aggressively evangelistic and fruitful.

I regret my MMA/child porn comment because it was too shocking and people have entirely lost the point I was making. Forgive me for that but I was simply trying to shine a light on something those in the sport don’t want us to see.

It was interesting to me you jumped right to the “judge not” passage in the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve been a student of that passage of Scripture for twenty five years and have written a 400 page book on the topic. Do you know the Sermon on the Mount also trumpets the non-violence, non-retaliation, turn the other cheek message? Why do you pick and choose verses in that sermon and ignore it’s main point? Do you not agree that we have a problem with violence in society? Do you honestly, before God, think your sport isn’t feeding a blood lust in our culture?

As a Christian let me ask you, if the next guy you kick in the head or choke with some guillotine maneuver passes out and doesn’t wake up— who killed him? Let me ask you Seth, who would Jesus elbow in the face? I won’t judge you or the other athletes here and make some blanket statement that you are full of bloodlust but I WILL say that about your fans and the crowds that flock to your sport. The Bible speaks about bloodlust.  Greed and bloodlust make the MMA today a multi-billion dollar violent entertainment industry.

I’ll be happy to send you a free copy of my Sermon on the Mount book if you want to study that text fully. There is more than “Judge Not” in that sermon. And, by the way, judge not does not mean we turn off all discernment and stop calling good, good and bad, bad. My calling is certainly not to just smile and say nothing. My calling as a minister of the Gospel is to tell the truth even when it’s unpopular. I was elected in my state to push red and green YES or NO buttons and make decisions everyday about things our state should say YES to and things our state should say NO to. Sometimes I fail in that I don’t do all that in love but I figured your crowd was a tough crowd and strong words would be fine. I was wrong, you all are hyper-sensitive, thin-skinned and full of self-justification for what the average person can see with a naked eye is extreme violence. All these claims that I’m ignorant of the sport are simply smokescreens to mask what is obvious.

I’ll paste below some additional comments that I made in the committee and want to point out to you that my comment on a “seared conscience” is a term from the Bible.

All the best to you.
Rev/Rep Steve Hickey

Here are those additional comments:

They say I’m ignorant of this sport and they make a case that it only looks dangerous. I even had a cage fighter/PhD write me and tell me “elbows are used primarily to cause superficial damage and an elbow doesn’t produce a concussive blow.” That’s ridiculous. My response it that it is what it is – too violent and that is evident to the naked eye and the casual observer. I’ll quickly concede I am no expert on MMA. But as I told one of the fighters this weekend… “just maybe a guy like me can see what you don’t see.”  Violence is addictive and people in addiction (including codependents) don’t see or acknowledge any problem until there is a tragedy, or an intervention. I’m intervening here and asking you to join me.

I’ll speak briefly from an area that I do have professional expertise: there is such a thing as a seared conscience which refers to a person who has lost a capacity of innocence whereby they no longer wince. We don’t want to become a society that can’t wince. Ben Franklin said: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” I submit to you that society is reaching that point and more masters means more laws like this amendment.

I don’t deny the good that is going on in MMA – giving young people confidence and discipline. But MMA is not the only vehicle to accomplish those ends. It doesn’t take that level of violence to develop character, fortitude, confidence, strength and discipline. Any of the other sports overseen by this commission can do all those good things. MMA feeds something in society that we don’t want to feed.

Society was just fine before they figured out to do this and it will be just fine without it again. We aren’t losing ground with my amendment. Actually, we might even be gaining ground that we’ve lost.

I decided to pick a fight.

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; we allow parents to discipline their kids to a point, we allow people to drive up to certain speeds; with smoking we draw the line after tobacco and before pot; with “adult entertainment” we draw the line at child porn. Where do we draw the line with violent entertainment? I suggest we draw the line at cage fighting. Boxing, wresting and legitimate martial arts 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 traditional martial arts. I hope you’ll agree that MMA is over the line of what should be tolerable with regard to “violent entertainment” as child porn is clearly over the line with regard to “adult entertainment.” 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 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. I agree with Governor Daugaard entirely:

I’m offended that the state would legitimize cage fighting and the bloody violence these kinds of spectacles create… the way one wins in those contests is by beating up your opponent, bloodying them, kicking, scratching, punching. I don’t support in any fashion anything the state would do to legitimize this kind of behavior. I think it’s a sad commentary on what our culture allows in some areas.

Couldn’t agree more. 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.

And, here are some links I encourage you to check out. Hopefully you’ll agree with me that we can do without MMA cage fighting in South Dakota.

Short youtube clip: MMA Most Violent Moments

Parents, check this out: Five Year Old MMA matches

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.

In chatting about this with another legislator this past week we both marveled at how society has changed. He remarked that forty years ago his parents wouldn’t let him watch Three Stooges because it was so violent – poking in the eyes, slapping, bonking. We laugh at that today. 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.

Here’s a pic of what the crowds come for: elbow strike rips off a chunk of cage fighters ear. That’s a section of his ear on the floor in the pic on the left.

ear3

The following are additional comments I made in the Committee hearing.

MMA enthusiasts would prefer I not use the cage fighting term but as I told one of them I’ll stop when they remove the cage. They want us to consider this an art, Mixed Martial Arts. For sure there are skills to the craft of nearly killing people but I’d like to draw your attention to the word mixed. Mixed means plus. It means not just this, it means that too. It’s this, plus this, plus that, plus that. The other martial arts don’t have all “that” as there is line that is drawn. Mixed means a free for all. Who knows what the MMA people will mix in next? Sooner or later this will morph into more than it is today. That’s the nature of violence; it escalates as we are desensitized to it.

They say I’m ignorant of this sport and they make a case that it only looks dangerous. I even had a cage fighter/PhD write me and tell me “elbows are used primarily to cause superficial damage and an elbow doesn’t produce a concussive blow.” That’s ridiculous. My response it that it is what it is – too violent and that is evident to the naked eye and the casual observer. I’ll quickly concede I am no expert on MMA. But as I told one of the fighters this weekend… “just maybe a guy like me can see what you don’t see.”  Violence is addictive and people in addiction (including codependents) don’t see or acknowledge any problem until there is a tragedy, or an intervention. I’m intervening here and asking you to join me.

I’ll speak briefly from an area that I do have professional expertise: there is such a thing as a seared conscience which refers to a person who has lost a capacity of innocence whereby they no longer wince. We don’t want to become a society that can’t wince. Ben Franklin said: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” I submit to you that society is reaching that point and more masters means more laws like this amendment.

I don’t deny the good that is going on in MMA – giving young people confidence and discipline. But MMA is not the only vehicle to accomplish those ends. It doesn’t take that level of violence to develop character, fortitude, confidence, strength and discipline. Any of the other sports overseen by this commission can do all those good things. MMA feeds something in society that we don’t want to feed.

Society was just fine before they figured out to do this and it will be just fine without it again. We aren’t losing ground with my amendment. Actually, we might even be gaining ground that we’ve lost.

UPDATE: You may also be interested in the follow up post I’ve done on this topic: AN OPEN LETTER TO CHRISTIAN MMA FIGHTERS AND FANS

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