Stark Inconsistencies: ESPN, Ultimate Fighting, and Concussions

We don’t learn things all at once—not as individuals or as a culture, and what we learn we tend to have to re-learn. When we are in the midst of a learning process, our learning is uneven, and our viewpoint is vulnerable to stark inconsistencies.

The example I am thinking about this morning regards ESPN and the discussion that at last is gaining momentum regarding the extraordinary dangers of concussions on football and hockey athletes. The inconsistency regards the fact that ESPN can produce a thoughtful, though brief, report on this topic, a report that seems generally fair, humane, and researched, yet only minutes later show footage from Ultimate Fighting, complete with bloody and wrecked faces in a cage. The transition from the report on concussions to UFC highlights represents what appears to be a willful avoidance of the fact that Ultimate Fighting victories seem predicated often on inflicting severe concussions–the kind of concussions that shorten lives and make the lives these athletes have full of severe cognitive and other health issues. I am no expert on the science of concussions, but it seems obvious that any “sport” that allows for one competitor to kick another in the head is screaming for at least the same level of scrutiny that the high profile helmet sports are currently garnering regarding concussions. I recognize that ESPN shows highlights of many sport where concussions occur; however, the currency of those sports is not explicitly to inflict concussions on the opposition like Ultimate Fighting. ESPN seems comfortable maintaining what should be an impossible position.

This lack of consistency in the application of knowledge is certainly not confined to ESPN—it is just the example that presented itself to me this morning. Sustainable progress is far more likely to occur when an individual or group does not limit the application of knowledge based on false distinctions.

One thought on “Stark Inconsistencies: ESPN, Ultimate Fighting, and Concussions

  1. adchempages (@adchempages) February 7, 2012 / 6:50 pm

    Ross – Very interesting, thanks for posting this!

    I’m not sure that I see an inconsistency here. It’s one thing to produce a thoughtful, well-researched piece about the (clearly real, dramatic and profound) dangers of concussions, but that does not necessarily mean that ESPN should (or would) take a moral stance on the issue. I think they are two separate positions. In fact, Ultimate Fighting and American Football are separated by the specific difference that you outline. In one I can see an obligation to try to prevent concussions since that is not supposed to be part of the game, but in the other IMO no such obligation exists, since all of the adult participants clearly know that the precise goal is to purposefully inflict them! I think there are very clear lines between the two activities. I guess what you see as a ‘false distinction’ is see as a ‘valid distinction’!

    For the record, the last thing on earth that I would EVER consider watching on ESPN is Ultimate Fighting. Any person who as ever seen another human being being gratuitously punched and/or kicked in the head by another in real life (as I did on numerous occasions at English football stadiums in the 1980’s and early 90’s), knows there is NOTHING ‘entertaining’, clever, tough or remotely amusing about a ‘sport’ that glorifies such behavior. I find UF absolutely abhorrent for that reason, so am not trying to defend it.

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