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There is No Beating an Internet Troll

Image courtesy karengately.wordpress.com.

You know who you are.  Image courtesy karengately.wordpress.com.

Have you ever thought to yourself, “The best solution to an internet troll is a physical beating?” More than once, I’ve encountered trolls of a sufficiently brutish nature that I concluded the only possible solution was violence.  Oddly enough, a former professional MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter named Josh Neer recently tested that theory.  Here’s what went down, according to the aptly named MMA news outlet Bloody Elbow:

“The 5’9″ Neer, who has fought at Welterweight (170 pounds) for most of his career was seen in the video he briefly posted to YouTube on top of the 6’6″ 240 pound Martin landing elbows to Martin’s skull before teammates dragged him off the beaten man. Then Neer appeared to kick the downed Martin in the face although both he and his coach claimed he tripped.”

The video, which you can see at the link below, shows 14 seconds of a vicious beating.  The reason? Martin had been trolling Neer on social media, which Neer initially ignored, but under sustained verbal assault he eventually relented and agreed for Martin to come in and spar.  He posted his rationale for the invitation, along with a sample of Martin’s messaging:

neer troll

Despite the video, Martin claims he was sucker-punched and that the full video would show a much closer encounter.  He added, “If I fought Neer I would take him to decision because he can’t score nor choke me out or take me down when I’m in my guard!”  (Note that the size difference between the two fighters makes such declarations less brave than it sounds.)

Neer got what many of us wanted: he got to beat up the troll.  Let’s be clear about what a troll is.  This definition is culled from the Psychology Today piece linked below:

“An Internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response. “

Martin got his response, in the form of a serious beatdown. But did it stop the troll, did it cause a breakthrough or a change? No.  This is because trolls are probably psychologically resistant to insight.  A recent study likened internet trolls to “prototypical everyday sadists.”  It goes on to elaborate:

“Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”

There is no negotiating with a sadist, whether through intellectual convincing or physical violence.  Josh Neer learned the hard way that one cannot beat them into submission (even if you elbow them repeatedly in the face).  As we learned from the classic early Broderick movie War Games, the only way to win with trolls is to refuse to play the game.   You cannot beat them, but you can refuse to join them.

Thus, the Psychology Today blog concludes,

The next time you encounter a troll online, remember:

  1. These trolls are some truly difficult people.

  2. It is your suffering that brings them pleasure, so the best thing you can do is ignore them. 

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Feminists’ Favorite Sport Should Be Mixed Martial Arts

by Drew 2 Comments
UFC Women's Bantamweight champ Ronda "Rowdy" Rousey, courtesy rondamm.com.

UFC Women’s Bantamweight champ Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey, courtesy rondamma.com.

Forget basketball, soccer, softball, and those Olympic sports we all pretend to like every four years.  Mixed martial arts (MMA) should be feminists’ favorite sport.  Derived from a blending of martial arts such as karate, wrestling, kickboxing, and jiu-jitsu, MMA is unique in placing its female fighters and champions on equal footing with their male counterparts.  Feminists should love MMA.

The chief example of this is UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.  It was not long ago that UFC President Dana White promised we’d never see  women in the Octagon.  What changed?

Dana met Ronda Rousey.

Since coming onto the scene, Ronda has rapidly become one of the UFC’s biggest stars, commanding a crossover appeal (doing commercials, late-night TV, and movies) without parallel among her male peers.  And she’s not just a pretty face.  The former Olympic judoka has defended her title multiple times, improving her performance with each outing despite a staggeringly demanding schedule.  Also, she got it honest: her mother was an world-class judoka who later earned a PhD.  Talk about a family of accomplished women!

Compare this to other major sports leagues, where women hardly get the same platform that men do.  The WNBA cannot boast of anyone who rivals the star power of Lebron James; most other major sports don’t have a league for female athletes that even comes close to the WNBA’s exposure or popularity (which isn’t saying much).

Contrast that to MMA, where, in the UFC and other organizations, female fighters headline cards and draw pay-per-view buyers and serious sponsors.  Moreover, Rousey and her main rival, Miesha Tate, coached a season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) where they coached men and women.  How many other sports can boast that, in their first 20 years in existence, women coach men at the highest level?  Building on the success of Rousey and the bantamweight division she spearheads, the new season of TUF features an exclusively female cast introducing the 115-pound women’s division.

So in my view women, and those who care about the advancement of women (in a society that still too often treats them as second-class citizens), should be among the most vocal advocates for MMA.  In no other sport have female athletes come to occupy such a prominent position, equal to and even surpassing many of the male stars, in so short a time frame.

If you want to be in the business of rewarding activities that empower women and treat them equally, then MMA is for you.

Feminists, your sport is here.  As Bruce Buffer would say, “IT’S TIME” to give credit where credit is due.

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Here Comes the (Catholic) Boom

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I regret that I have yet to see Here Comes the Boom.  I’ve been excited since I first read reports about it, but between writing my Full Connection papers and getting writing for Charge Conference, I’ve been stuck in the purgatory of bureaucratic minutiae. Alas, had I taken the time, I would’ve known about what is apparently a strong faith element in the MMA-themed film.  Kevin James, of King of Queens fame, is a faithful Catholic who made it a point to show Christianity in a prominent and positive light in the film.  Via the United Methodist Reporter by way of Patheos:

Was there a deliberate decision to include scenes where faith is organic to the lives of the characters?

Yes, absolutely. There are so many movies out there that go the opposite way. There’s so much negativity. To show faith and prayer as positive things was important to me. You’re right in that it’s difficult. You don’t want to beat people over the head. They’re hip to it, and they know when you’re just banging them over the head to get them to believe it. So that was important to me, to make it organic, and to have it be in the main stream of this movie.

I’ve written a couple of times (here and here especially) about the intersections between Christianity and MMA, and I’m glad to see a devout Christian so public with his MMA fandom (I often get blank stares and agape mouths when I name my favorite sport in a room full of preachers).  Fighters, like other athletes, are complicated people – driven, often superstitious, and more faith-oriented than one might think.  So says James:

Faith plays a HUGE part for the fighters I’ve met, following the sport. I became a fan of the sport back in 1993, and as I grew to know these people and these fights, to see them and work out with them, it wasn’t even the fighting so much that impressed me. They seem like gladiators going at each other in a cage — but they’re real people…In the fighting world, I see it all the time. I know how much prayer and a strong relationship with God is needed, and they rely on it.

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All Religion is in Trouble…Even Atheism

It is commonplace in the rubble of the mainline denominations these days to drone on and on about the sorry state of the church in the West.  We go to workshops, blog, read books, and wallow in anxious conversation all with the same subtitle: “How do we not die?”  Not exactly a vivifying conversation.  We think the non-religious forces are winning; that secularism is successful and popular “New” Atheism is ascendant.  But is atheism doing so well?

If you actually listen to the things that atheists are saying, there is little here that is a challenge to faith of any brand, much less that of Christians.  Indeed, atheist literature and public discourse tends to be just as vain as popular Christian discourse.  So laments Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart:

…it seems obvious to me that the peculiar vapidity of New Atheist literature is simply a reflection of the more general vapidity of all public religious discourse these days, believing and unbelieving alike. In part, of course, this is because the modern media encourage only fragmentary, sloganeering, and emotive debates, but it is also because centuries of the incremental secularization of society have left us with a shared grammar that is perhaps no longer adequate to the kinds of claims that either reflective faith or reflective faithlessness makes.

Yes, reading Hart for long periods of time will hurt your brain.  He is as acerbic as he is brilliant, which is a feat.  Nonetheless, I think his premise is hard to argue against.  Case in point: an interview I read over on MMA Weekly with Seth Petruzelli, an MMA fighter (most famous for knocking Kimbo Slice off of any serious fan’s radar) who happens to be an outspoken atheist.  He explains how his first conflict with religious members of the MMA community came on the set of the reality show The Ultimate Fighter:

The first time it actually came up was in season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter in the house. Marcus Davis, he’s a pretty hardcore Christian and a lot of the guys in the house were the same way, especially with Matt Hughes being one of the coaches. There’s a scene actually in The Ultimate Fighter house where me and Matt kind of get into an argument for about 15 minutes or so about the bible, and obviously I think the bible [sic] is a bunch of BS, and that obviously struck a nerve with him.

To be an atheist is to – “obviously” – believe that the Bible is “BS”?  That is a stronger claim than many Christians would make about the holy books of other communities.  I have certainly never taught my people that the Koran or the Vedas are “BS,” even though I would not say that these words are inspired of the Triune God.  And yes, if you dismiss the word of God as BS, them’s probably going to be fighting words (unless you’ve been reading a lot of John Howard Yoder).  Petruzelli further describes the conflict with an outspoken Christian fighter:

We kind of had an argument back and forth, with me coming out on top obviously cause you can’t argue with science. Science trumps faith in all aspects of everything. But they had group bible sessions in the house and I just kind of had a little dialogue obviously with Marcus Davis too about it, all kinds of stuff in the bible [sic].

Is this the kind of reflection that the supposedly super-rational New Atheism is producing?  At what point will the hackneyed ‘science vs. faith’ thesis be done with?  Granted, there are Christians that still have not gotten the memo that science is not something to fear.  But we’re working on it.  There are plenty of Christians working in scientific fields who are faithful people.  Christians need not shun the search for truth in whatever form.  Thoughtful atheists should see the dialogue not as science vs. faith but atheism vs. various kinds of theism, Christianity among them.  The scientific method, which, if my high school biology class was right, deals with observable, verifiable, and repeatable phenomena, can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a deity.  Even psuedo-scientific work that purports to “prove” a divine intelligence can only get us to a vaguely theistic being, not the Triune God revealed in the Bible.  Neither faith nor non-faith should claim to be provable by science.  Doing so, whether one is a Christian or an atheist, belies a fundamental perversion of what faith actually is.  To whit:

Faith to me is intellectual bankruptcy…I have faith in my fighting ability because there’s facts to back it up and that I can fight. Blind faith? Like I said, it’s intellectual bankruptcy, it’s a cop out. Tim Minchin has a great quote about this. ‘Science adjusts its views on what is observed, and faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.’

Intellectual bankruptcy?  Ouch.  That aside, Petruzelli confuses confidence with faith.  “I have faith in my fighting ability because [there are] facts to back it up.”  If there are facts to back “it” up, then what you have is not faith.  As Hebrews 11:1 makes clear,  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  There may be evidence of faith, indeed, fruits of the Spirit, or the inner witness so important to Wesley and other spiritual writers, but this is not the kind of evidence that will be observable under a microscope.  It’s also just barely worth pointing out that there is no monolithic “science,” and that the work of Thomas Kuhn and others shows how often scientists disagree on, willfully distort, and ignore supposed facts.  Scientific revolutions often only occur after a long, hard fight about what indeed the science is saying.

It seems somewhat unfair to criticize Petruzelli, who, as far as I know, has no theological training.  I don’t mean to be unnecessarily harsh, and I like to think that I’m equally critical of poor arguments made by Christians.  He is, however, making some striking claims in a very public space, and I think that makes confrontation both fair and necessary.  The Church must have answers to such arguments, for in the years to come they will only get louder.

If only a serious dialogue with atheists was possible.  When I read folks like Nietzche, I am challenged to think about my faith, to really question its basics.  This is a service to the faithful, for our critics really are our friends.  To return to a fighting metaphor: if Nietzche’s arguments are useful sparring partners, then, by comparison, the shallow vitriol of the New Atheists can only be described as the vain thrashing of an infant fighting off a clean diaper.

We’ll let a more skilled combatant fight the closing round.  Hart expresses disdain for such a-thinking (see what i did there?) with adroitness, arguing that today’s atheists

 …lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one’s conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap)…A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

May God grant us the blessing of able conversation partners, and save us from shallow faith, whether it is our own, or that of others.

P.S.  For the record, I think Damon Martin’s piece drastically overstates the place of religion in the fight game.  Atheists may be offended that there are so many nods to Jesus in the cage, but beyond post-fight shout-outs and mildly offensive clothing, I don’t think there is much substantive Christianity there.  More likely is that, in an increasingly secularized world, many folks in the media are frankly caught off guard when someone like Benson Henderson (or Tim Tebow) makes public statements of faith.  Rather like the pagans of bygone (?) eras, cultural observers and elites are surprised to find a small cadre of men and women who will not sacrifice to the official cultus and, rather offensively, talk about God beyond the privacy of their own closet.

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Sports, Steroids, and Grace

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Lots of sad news in the world of sports (and sports entertainment) lately.  One of my favorite fighters, Chael Sonnen, may be getting more than the proverbial slap on the wrist from the California State Athletic Commission.  It’s been a rapid ascent and and even more rapid decline for the former No. 1 Contender for Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva’s middleweight title.  After beating up Silva for all but 2 minutes of their five-round affair, Sonnen was submitted in the closing minutes.

Since then, things have just gotten worse.  The Cliff’s Notes version: he popped positive for banned substances after tests showed abnormal testosterone levels.  He claimed he had a doctor’s note, and that he had told other officials.  Some of these claims were disputed.  In the meantime, he was convicted in a real estate fraud case and lost his real estate license (which also forced him to stop his bid for Congress).

Initially, the CSAC was prepared to lift his suspension, but this week they took a mulligan at a special hearing and changed their minds.  Disagreements over the honesty of Sonnen’s statements – if anything, he is a talker – and other concerns caused them to vote 4-1 to suspend his license indefinitely.  The problem: not only does this shelve Sonnen in California until 2012, but because most athletic commissions honor such decisions across state lines, it is likely he could only get fights in states without such regulatory bodies.  Even with that, it is doubtful that the UFC, which is continually seeking to improve its image, would back a fighter against the wishes of a state commission.

In light of the wrist-slapping that goes on in virtually all other professional sports, Sonnen’s penalty seems unnecessarily harsh.  It seems like a personal vendetta more than a pragmatic penalty. “This will teach those fighters,” I hear them sneering in the boardroom, “to make public comments about officials and judges.”  Methinks Chael is being made and example of.

We give grace to our athletes all the time.  Yes, Sonnen broke the law, but he also owned up to it and faced the music.  He’s been punished.  Performance-enhancing drugs?  It’s an open secret that many, if not most, professional sports are rife with them.  Does it make it right? No.  But it should temper our righteous indignation when someone tests positive.  In Matthew 18 we find the following exchange:

 21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Seventy-seven?  Surely we can find room for 2, or 3.  Jeff Sherwood over at Sherdog sums it up nicely:

We have to be honest with ourselves: PEDs exist in professional sports. Somewhere in the world, a curling sweeper is probably using steroids. It’s against the law, but so many athletes do it just to be able to compete in today’s sports. Pro athletes are pushed year after year to tackle harder, hit longer home runs, jump higher and knock more people out. Then, when they’re caught doing things that will help them perform to the standards set, everyone turns against them.

Most MMA fighters have a hard enough time buying food to feed their bodies properly with the money they make; being forced to sit out for a year is a huge blow. Four games to an NFL player is the equivalent of a parking ticket.

Look, I get it: these players have broken the rules. But commissioners, judges and referees in MMA — not to mention the millions working in or around the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL — are able to feed their families because of what these professional athletes do. Let’s give them a little bit of love.

Update:  Apparently the CSAC made a mistake, and Sonnen is eligible to apply in CA and everywhere June 29 for licensure.  Time will tell, of course.  Perhaps if he doesn’t talk too much about it between now and then, the commissions will cease to unduly punish him.  The timing seems suspect to me; there has been a good deal of disappointment over the handling of this case.  Oh well.  Hope he gets back in the cage this year, especially if it is against Michael Bisping.

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Bin Laden’s Death: A Variety of Reactions

bin laden deadThese last few days have been a study in contrasts.  Many are overjoyed (emphasis on the ‘over’) at the announcement that Bin Laden was recently killed in a firefight with US forces.  Others have been horrified at such reactions.  I sat with a group of pastor friends this morning and we wrestled with it together.  Scriptures such as Ezekiel 33:11 were invoked: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” says the Lord.  We wondered at the intersections of state and church, of faith and citizenship.  This is one of those issues where there may well be a collision between the two.

Yes, Paul is clear is Romans 13 that the ‘sword’ of government is God’s instrument to punish the wicked.  But Jesus is also clear that we are to pray for enemies and bless our persecutors.  There is a clear role for the government – I am not one of those neo-Anabaptists that thinks Christians should have nothing to do with the government – but the necessary confrontation with evil ought not make us triumphalistic or compromise Christian charity.  I’m not a pacifist, nor am I against the death penalty; I do, however, believe that deaths resulting from just wars or proper executions ought to be mourned.  Each person – even a Hitler, Pol Pot, or Bin Laden – is a person made in the image of God (however corrupted), a person that Jesus went to the cross for, and a life that ultimately was designed for fellowship with God.  Even with a ‘good’ death, such as when a love one has been suffering greatly and death comes as a relief, remains something that ought to be saddening.

Sam Wells, a protege of Stanley Hauerwas, fellow faculty member at Duke Divinity and Dean of the Chapel at Duke released a statement (why?) about the reaction to Bin Laden’s death that reads in part:

This is not a day for celebration.   A celebration would be due if the perpetrators of those crimes had expressed remorse, regret, and repentance. They have not. A celebration would be due if there had been a conversion of Bin Laden or his followers to a truer practice of Islam. There has been none. A celebration would be due if the overwhelming response from Christians in America had been one that embodied the commandments to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. There has been no such overwhelming response. A celebration would be due if there had been a proper process of justice, involving arrest, gathering of evidence, trial, defense, and prosecution. There has been no such process… [i]f we assume that killing a suspect without trial, without persuading him of the justice of our cause, and without bringing him to a true expression of his own tradition – let alone our own – is a victory, then it is a sign of how far we have allowed this war to distort the values of our civilization.

I think he’s right to to point out what would have been real reasons to celebrate.  I think he’s naive to sugggest that a preferred outcome would have been some kind of criminal proceeding.  Bin Laden was not a criminal.  He was an enemy; not just an enemy soldier, but the equivalent of a general (a figurehead and a commander of forces hostile to the US, whose tactics were repugnant to the conventions of war).  Arrest may have been preferable, for the potential intelligence that could have resulted, but odds are someone so radicalized did not wish to be taken alive by US forces.  Furthermore, unlike his victims, Bin Laden knew he was a target.  He had a better chance than the victims of 9/11 and other attacks ever had.

Then there is another reaction worth note, this time from pro MMA fighter and active Green Beret (Army Special Forces) Tim Kennedy.  Having served in the War on Terror (I’m not going to put it in quotes, as I think it is disrespectful to the soldiers serving in this conflict) in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kennedy speaks to both his elation at hearing the news of Bin Laden’s death and his disappointment in not being a part of the action:

“So there was a little sense of disappointment that I wasn’t part of it… I’m just totally excited and thrilled to see a really dark, sad chapter of our country’s history — it’s not coming to a close, but that’s definitely a chapter that’s pending…[i]f I was going to design a version of hell for me, that would be it. Where I’m sitting there reading about special operations going in to do a hit on a HVT, on a high-value target, and just having to not be there. It’s absolutely excruciating.”

As Gene Hackman says in one of my favorite films, “A winner always wants the ball when the game is on the line.”  We shouldn’t be horrified that Kennedy wanted to take part in this action.  I’m sure many elite warfighters would want to as well.  Not out of blood lust or uber-testosterone, but because that is what such people are trained for, and, however dangerous or unpleasant it may be, that’s their job.

I think both responses are reasonable given the various vocations of these two men.  A professor of Christian ethics and preacher ought to be the conscience of a community, even when it is unpopular.  And we ought to expect our cloistered academics to have a degree of unreality to their views.  Nothing new there.  The gospel calls us into conflict with the culture around us (and any culture), as well as with our own passions.  He has done the church a service by reminding us of this.

But we need the Tim Kennedys of this world too.  We need people who are willing to step up and face demented enemies in hostile territory, willing and able to undergo rigorous training, sacrificing personal needs for the needs of the larger community.  In the face of such bravery we can only be in thankful awe.

I will continue to wrestle with these issues.  I am not proud of my initial reaction.  I wasn’t running into the streets waving the Stars and Bars, but neither was I reverently praying for an enemy whom I am called to bless.  The work of sanctification goes on, and today I realize, once more, that I have a long way to go.

P.S. Who is the “our” when Wells writes of “our civilization”?  I was under the impression that Wells had little interest in the project of the the modern West.  Generally those who speak of a monolithic Western Civilization are something like crusty paleo-cons who are chafing at multiculturalism.  As ecclesiologically focused as Wells’ theology is, I’m just surprised he would use that kind of language.

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The Sad State of Journalism: NBC Sports Skewers Dana White and His “UFC Tree Fort”

by Drew 0 Comments

Just read an ::ahem:: “article” over on the NBC Sports site dubiously titled “Dana White Doesn’t Want Icky Girls In His UFC Tree Fort.” If you don’t know who Dana White is, well, you aren’t even a casual MMA fan.  The foul-mouthed Bostonian (are there any other kinds?) is President and part-owner of the UFC, and the man most responsible for turning around not only his corporation but the entire sport.  He’s not polished, but he is smart, and I like his product.  He has flaws.  These are readily viewable with a simple Google search.  But that is no excuse for this.  The author, Rick Chandler, concludes his short piece – based on a ONE WORD answer White gave to the ever-invasive cameras of TMZ – with the following scintillating analysis:

OK, I think we get the picture. We now take you to the scene of another 6-year-old mentality, via Calvin & Hobbes, already in progress:

Calvin: Our top-secret club, G.R.O.S.S.– Get Rid Of Slimy girlS!
Susie: Slimy girls?!
Calvin: I know that’s redundant, but otherwise it doesn’t spell anything.

Of course, the head of the UFC must be a misogynistic, immature dolt.  Many people, ignorant of the sport, would say the same about us fans.  But this is ridiculous.

The primary reason that the UFC does not have a women’s division (and likely won’t for quite some time) is a relatively low number of female fighters.  The UFC is the major-league, marquee MMA organization.  They will never have a women’s division until there are enough high-quality female fighters (in a particular weight class) to justify its creation in the top-shelf promotion.  This same logic applies to why there will not be (also for a long, long time) a super-heavyweight (265 lbs. +) division: very few – if any –  high-quality fighters in that bracket.

But I didn’t need to tell you all that.  Hopefully, all you needed to see was the title of this article to know that this was a pathetic excuse for sports journalism.  To run to the opposite extreme, where is Ariel Helwani when I need him?

P.S. Sue, if you read this, feel free to correct me!  Aside from college newspaper experience (ha!) I am no expert in this field.  But as a fan, I was offended by this hack piece.

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What Sports Would Jesus Watch?

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In one of my seminary classes dealing with gender issues and Christian faith, we read Chuck Palahniuk’s remarkable Fight Club.  Interestingly, this was the one male-oriented book we read for the class (like most gender classes, “gender” really means “women”).  I recall the women in the class, including the professor, being horrified at the popularity of the story and the movie.  Many questioned how people could be attracted to such naked violence.  There was poo-pooing all around until I brought up the fact that many people in the room like violence in a form that most of us consider innoccuos: sports.  The point was valid; even ardent pacifists that I know enjoy inherently violent sports like hockey, football, and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Thanks to a post over at Sherdog, I found the following quote in a piece by Adam Groza at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California (which I’d never heard of until reading this post):

UFC and MMA amounts to violence porn, a term which has been applied to movies with wanton violence such as “SAW,” where violence is not part of the plot, it is the attraction. Violence for violence’s sake, as opposed to instrumental or redeeming violence, desensitizes the viewer to the graphic horror of watching two people pummel each other for the sake of entertainment. UFC and MMA offer exactly the kind of violence condemned in Psalm 11:5. Ezekiel 7:23 decries, “the city is full of violence.” Why are Christians supporting violence in the city?

I think the comparison of SAW is ignorant and egregious.  I can’t stand the SAW franchise, but that is a matter of taste more than morality.  Futhermore, what Groza calls “violence for violence’s sake” I would simply call honest violence.  Much of the attraction of our favorite sports stems from the violent aspects: fights in hockey and wrecks in NASCAR come to mind.  UFC fighter (and compelling wordsmith) Chael Sonnen makes this point about football:

The UFC is the only thing that has violence that isn’t fraudulent. Football…they put up these end zones, but you take the end zones out people will still come. You take the tackling out, and it’s gonna be a ghost town in those stadiums. UFC will tell you what you’re going to get – straight ahead – and you can buy a ticket if you like the ride.

Groza goes on to say that the UFC exploits women because of the ring girls.  I suppose he’s never seen cheerleaders at any other sporting events? Another glaring omission is any mention of boxing.  Anything true about the violence of MMA – if you know the sport – is even more true of “the sweet science.”  And yet, for numerous reasons, people who are horrified by MMA still see boxing as a gentleman’s game.  Such views only showcase a lack of exposure to the emerging sport.

I think Groza has a point when he shares some of the more disturbing examples of churches using MMA to market evangelize.  While some churches host sporting events like Super Bowls and some will have basketball leagues and even karate classes, as a pastor I would not be comfortable making a UFC pay-per-view a churchwide event.  However, I think there are many things an individual Christian can do that a church ought not sponsor (like watch reality TV, for instance).

This is another example of a severe bias against MMA in the larger culture, and more evidence that the sport has yet to arrive.  From an ecclesial perspective, it is true that Christians should always hold a critical eye to their society; that much in Groza’s piece is useful.  But if MMA is untouchable because of its violence, so are many other of America’s favorite pastimes.  In other words, if one argues that MMA is anathema for the church, then we can only say that a larger blindspot has been uncovered.

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Mormons and ‘Acceptable’ Sports

by Drew 0 Comments

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For the first time in the history of the UFC, they are pulling up and moving a show from one city to another.  The reason: poor ticket sales.  The cities involved: Salt Lake City, poised to host its first UFC event, did not sell enough tickets, and now the event (UFC on Versus II) will be hosted in San Diego.  San Diego, a long-time MMA hotbed, is expected to have no problems selling tickets.

Read the details of the press release here.  What no one is saying, so far at least, is whether or not religion has anything to do with the poor ticket sales.  Interestingly, UFC President Dana White defended the original choice of Salt Lake City based on excellent TV ratings in that market.  But for some reason, that normally reliable indicator did not translate into ticket sales.

I can only wonder, is this because of the heavily Mormon population of Utah?  Granted, I don’t know of any specific rules against viewing fight sports in the LDS community, but there may be other issues.  Bud Light has become a prominent sponsor of the UFC recently, and we all know that alcohol is verboten in Mormon life.  My own suspicion is that many Mormons, whose church cultivates (and, to their credit, practices) an image of squeaky clean,  moral families, were simply afraid to attend.  It’s one thing to watch cagefighting in the privacy of your own home; it’s another to go out with all those beer-drinking, TAPOUT-wearing neanderthals and actually place butt to seat.

In short, my thought is that however fond many Mormon men are of Mixed Martial Arts, the sport itself (thanks to bloodshed, ring girls, beer sponsors, and tattoos) still has too much stigma attached to it for a tight-knit, tea-totaling community like Salt Lake City.  If anyone has a better idea, I’d love to hear it.  And for the record, I have beloved family members who are Mormons, and I have no ill will against the LDS Church.  I’m simply reflecting on what seems to be a logical scenario.  Thoughts?

EDIT: It also just occurred to me that this event was scheduled for a Sunday.  Really, UFC?  Does no one in your planning office know a thing about religious practices in Utah?

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