The State Representative Who Compared MMA to Child Porn

By Josh Rosenblatt

South Dakota is one of a handful of states that doesn't regulate MMA. But unlike New York and Connecticut, both of which have banned the sport outright, South Dakota doesn't have an athletic commission to oversee things, which means fights go on but MMA fighters and promotions are pretty much out there on their own, health- and safety-wise   

Well, the South Dakota State House of Representatives recently started debating a State Senate bill that would change all that by creating a state athletic commission to regulate boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts. Yesterday the House Commerce and Energy Committee voted unanimously to approve the measure and send it on to the House, but not before Republican Representative Steve Hickey attempted to amend the bill by deleting MMA from the language. Regulating boxing and wrestling is fine, Hickey said, but sanctioned MMA in the Mount Rushmore State would be a bridge too far, morally speaking. In a blog post published on Saturday, Hickey, a right-wing Republican and ordained minister at the Church of the Gate in Sioux Falls, called for a ban on the sport and compared it to child porn, meth, and feeding people to lions. "South Dakota has no business spending any time time or money legitimizing cage fighting," Hickey wrote. "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." 

Before the full South Dakota House takes up the bill Wednesday, we decided to give Hickey a call and find out what all the fuss is about. 

Fightland: What did you mean when you wrote that MMA is the "child porn of sports"?
Steve Hickey: It’s a pure analogy, and I’m making the point that in many other things we draw lines. With parenting we draw a line with how can discipline our kids. You can’t smack them in the face or hit them with an instrument. We have lines in society. We have limitations on speeding. In adult entertainment, we have a line that we draw. And in violent entertainment—which is what mixed martial arts is—where’s the line? There isn’t a line. You can break a guy's arm and leg, and unless you tap, it’s allowed. And the fans cheer. It’s a billion-dollar industry, and it’s about money in our state. They’re saying if we regulate it, it will make it safer. But it’s about bringing in money. My amendment would basically ban cage fighting in South Dakota.

Why draw the line at MMA but allow boxing? Boxing is obviously violent and has resulted in numerous deaths and hundreds of cases of long-term mental damage.
I think that boxing has had a longstanding tolerance in our society, and mixed martial arts, even visually to the casual observer, is beyond what I call it the “wince factor.” We each have a conscience, and unless it’s seared we still have the capacity to wince. And when society loses the capacity to wince at violence I think we’re going backwards instead of forwards. A casual observer looks at a screen and they’re not used to seeing mixed martial arts because it’s like, “When did we start doing that?”

I agree, boxing, wrestling, these are all contact and combative sports, but somewhere, at some point, we need to draw the line. We’ve got bullying going on in schools, and yet, we’re inviting in the fastest-growing sport in the world, which is violent. The point of it is to beat the other guy until he says, “Enough.”

Couldn’t the argument go the other way, that the discipline and hard-work and skills taught in MMA could potentially decrease bullying and general moral decay?
I don’t think you need the level of violence of mixed martial arts to accomplish the good that you’re talking about: the discipline, the confidence, the self-assurance. All the good things that are in mixed martial arts can be accomplished in a variety of other sports that at the present time are tolerable.   

I’m trying to create a reduction of violence in society. And I do agree that a boxing commissioner is important. But at some point, you have to say, “Let’s have this, and not that.”

Read the rest of the interview at Fightland.Vice.com.

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