First Amendment Smackdown
What would the Founding Fathers have thought of mixed martial arts?
First, a confession: Absolutely everything I know about Ultimate Fighting, aka mixed martial arts, aka MMA, I learned from my boss, David Plotz. He wrote about it a dozen years ago, and I remember thinking at the time that it seemed a little crazy and violent and testosteroney. That was before I realized that it raised profound questions about punching, kicking, head-butting, and the First Amendment right to free expression.
MMA is a combat sport that includes boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, karate, judo Greco-Roman wrestling and other styles of fighting. It’s held in an octagonal chain-link cage. There’s blood. (In 1996 John McCain described the sport as “human cockfighting” but has since recanted.) Events and matches were banned in the state of New York in 1997, before the sport was properly regulated, or even regulated at all. The law provided that, “No combative sport shall be conducted, held or given within the state of New York, and no licenses may be approved by the commission for such matches or exhibition.” The law then defines MMA as a “combative sport” but excludes boxing, wrestling or karate competitions. New York is one of very few states with such bans (oddly enough, though MMA is illegal, it combines several genres—boxing, wrestling, karate—that are permitted individually). Attempts to overturn the New York ban legislatively have not been successful, and so the sport’s biggest promoter filed a lawsuit in federal court last week asking to overturn the ban. (Disclosure: My friend Barry Friedman, a constitutional law professor at New York University Law School represents the fighters, promoters, and fans challenging the ban.)
So where does the First Amendment come in? […]
Read the full story here: Slate Magazine