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On Domestic Violence and TBI in MMA

AP – War Machine in 2018

By Danielle DeVor

With the recent arrests of Tony Ferguson and Josh Copeland, it is an important time once again to discuss the effects of TBI (traumatic brain injury) and domestic violence. The number of Mixed Martial Arts fighters who have been convicted of domestic violence is staggering. The current estimation of the percentage of MMA fighters who have participated in domestic violence is double the national standard.

The worst case to date, still, is that of War Machine and the vicious assault of his then girlfriend, Christy Mack. She sustained injuries that included more than 18 broken bones, missing teeth, and her liver was ruptured. He is currently serving a life sentence.

While researching this article, it was discovered that there isn’t nearly the amount of coverage of domestic violence incidents in boxing compared to MMA. There are certainly cases. Floyd Mayweather being very high profile. But, it is interesting that instead of focusing on combat sports as a whole, MMA appears to be singled out for media outlets.

This likely stems from the overall discrimination of the sport by uneducated people who believe that MMA is more violent and brutal than boxing, so it should be banned. It is known that professional athletics as a whole have a domestic violence problem. There have been high profile cases in the NFL and NBA. And, not all of it is connected to TBI.

Traditionally, domestic violence does not have a specific cause. Statistics seem to link it to the poverty level, but that is a misnomer considering the number of professional athletes convicted. More than likely, it is more commonly reported in cases of people who have less of an ability to hide. The more money you have, the more options, just like in any other facet of life. Domestic violence is about power over another. The same as rape. And, until those who perpetrate these violent acts are always held accountable, the problem will continue.

But, what is it about MMA or combat sports in general that make domestic violence so common? Some say it is simply that making a living in violence will make your entire life violent. But, that is too simplistic and labels the men and women involved in combat sports that have never touched their partner in an abusive way.

In terms of TBI, the related cognitive and behavioral problems associated with the disease can result in aggressive behavior that leads to violence. But, you cannot blame domestic violence on TBI. Why? Because many people convicted of domestic violence have never had a traumatic brain injury and many people who have experienced a traumatic brain injury have never had a violent episode.

So, is TBI the reason for the rate of domestic violence in MMA? Likely not. It is a possible contributing factor, sure. But, domestic violence is about power. Power over someone who is considered weaker by the abuser. Likely, the power that MMA fighters exude attracts people with that type of mindset to the sport. A good step toward eliminating domestic violence in MMA would be refusing to hire fighters who have a domestic violence conviction. If anything else, it would be a deterrent for those who want to enter the sport.

Has that been tried before? Sort of. It’s been stated by UFC president, Dana White, that the UFC will not employ a fighter who has a domestic violence record. Except the UFC has continually hired fighters with domestic abuse convictions. As has other fighting organizations including Bellator and PFL. As a result, until people’s lives become worth more than money, this problem will continue.

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