Friday, 18 May 2012

MMA Writers Should Strive to be Professional

In the last month, there have been a few incidents which have led to a fair amount of criticism for certain big name fighters. Nick Diaz has been criticized for his inability to produce his medical marijuana card and for his World Ju Jutsu Expo no show. Alaistair Overeem has been lambasted for his recent suspension for having an abnormal testosterone to epitestosterone ratio.

Two other fighters have caught my eye with comments recently, reflecting on the way the media treat fighters when allegations arise. Chael Sonnen has been pretty critical of the media's judgmental reaction to Alaistair Overeem's suspension. Sonnen believes that since no banned substance was found in Overeem's system, media members who criticized him for cheating did so without knowing the full facts. Josh Thomson has recently voiced his own reaction to the way the MMA media talks about fighters in an interview with TapouT Radio (and quoted at Bloody Elbow). He was reacting to rumours being circulated that he had sustained serious injury while training for his upcoming fight with Gilbert Melendez. Thomson was worried that irresponsible people were writing things without thinking through the consequences for the fighters, in this case giving Melendez a heads up to a potential weakness.

Chael Sonnen made a valid point in a recent MMA Hour interview in saying that while fans have every right to say whatever they like about a fighter, journalists have a responsibility to be even handed. I agree with Sonnen that until a fighter is a proven cheat, it is unfair to label him as such. It is an interesting feature of MMA that its media coverage exists primarily online, mostly in the form of blogs. The line between journalists and fans is significantly blurred, so that many of those who write about the sport are fans who were skilled enough at writing to gain a following or secure work at a popular blog site. Which leads neatly into Josh Thomson's beef with the MMA media. He is worried that given their lack of professional training, these writers display a lack of professionalism.

I think this is a genuine worry. Ben Thapa did a good job of going through some of the ways that MMA journalist's failed to act in a professional way to Nick Diaz's no show at the World Ju Jitsu Expo. Thapa highlights similar issues to Thomson, including the fact that a lot of people writing about MMA are not rigorous in checking their facts. (It should be noted that, also at Bloody Elbow, Brent Brookhouse has written about how mainstream media has been just as shoddy in dealing with a recent controversy in boxing.)

When Nick Diaz failed to show up to grapple with Braulio Estima earlier this month, there was a general outcry from a lot of writers, which informed the opinions of the fans. There were few voices urging us to wait and see what Diaz or Cesar Gracie might have to say about the situation. This led to a slur on Diaz's character, before he had a chance to offer his side of the story. Obviously, Cesar Gracie has now given a defense what happened at the event and people may or may not feel Diaz is vindicated. But that decision is one we can only fairly come to after we have heard from both sides.

Sonnen's worry about journalists and analysts that don't qualify their judgments and Thomson's worries about the professionalism of the MMA media are important. The MMA media is something of a fan/professional hybrid and so we cannot expect all writers to be professionally trained journalists. However, the things they say and do have an impact on the lives and careers of fighters.

I think it's great that MMA has a community where genuine fans are getting the opportunity to cover the sport and in general I think a lot of sites do a great job. I think it's brilliant that there is endless reading, with opinionated so and so's the world over sticking their noses in to MMA's business just so we have something to read. I also think that all writers ought to consider the consequences their words have, especially if they are writers with the clout and following to influence people.

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