Published in the Lincoln Journal Star July 29, 2001
It's a basic American principle "my rights extend as far as another person's jaw." I should be able to engage in activities as long as they do not abridge the rights of others.
Ironically, the appropriateness of "Fight Nights" in Lincoln, Nebraska, challenges this free society principle. The "jaw" in this case is not limited to the jaw of the amateur member of the audience who spars with the professional fighter. The "jaw" also belongs to the community at large.
I do not believe in over-regulation by government and can tolerate participation of others in activities that I may choose to avoid, but Ultimate Fights in their present form fail to follow society's rules.
Let me tell you upfront, this is not a rant against profession boxing! Sanctioned boxing and wrestling are designed to protect the participants and prevent injuries. Licensed physicians are required ringside; medical examinations are given to the participants the day of the match. Sportsmanship is ensured through engagement rules, timed rounds and protection of a downed participant.
Fight Nights are nothing more than modern-day "bar-room brawls." The "no-holds" matches pit professional fighters against an audience member with no medical supervision. Ultimate Fights bear little resemblance to sanctioned matches and lack reasonable safety precautions to minimize risk in an otherwise risky activity. The match is usually decided when one of the fighters is knocked unconscious.
Ultimate Fights must be viewed in a larger perspective. Let's consider (1) city and government liability and risk management of public resources, and (2) misuse of public safety and emergency medical services.
As a City Council member, I am concerned that the city of Lincoln has potential liability both to injured fight participants and to the broader community. When I first learned of the Ultimate Fights, I viewed the video tape of one fight in which a professional fighter's knee repeatedly butted the head of a downed audience volunteer. As a former quadriplegic, I know the crippling consequences of neck injuries. We have all read accounts of young athletes, sports figures and auto accident victims who have suffered the consequences of broken necks and spinal cord injuries.
The two establishments that have conducted Ultimate Fights also enjoy the privilege of liquor licenses granted by government authorities. Is the city of Lincoln condoning Fight Nights if the city ignores these activities in government-licensed premises?
The existence of the Nebraska Athletic Commission, which regulates professional boxing and wrestling event demonstrates the state's concern for properly conducted "sparring" activities that protect the well-being of the participants. Ultimate Fights are conducted without supervision by the Athletic Commission. At a minimum, Fight Nights should be governed by the Athletic Commission because admission is charged and professional fighters are compensated. The city of Lincoln and state of Nebraska must either shut down Fight Nights or require compliance with applicable statutes.
Proponents of Ultimate Fights argue that the audience volunteers sign a waiver. Sounds like "full employment" for trial attorneys! I foresee litigation in which an injured fighter's lawyer argues that his or her client, the injured volunteer fighter, was under the influence of alcohol and incapable of signing away his or her legal rights. Because the city of Lincoln licensed the premises for alcohol service, the lawyer could argue that the city is liable for the injuries. At a minimum, the city would find itself engaged in expensive protracted litigation.
Is medical care for fighters going to compete for our city's health resources and deny some low-income individuals their rights?
Now let's consider the impact on our public safety and emergency medical system.
Will extra ambulance coverage be required? High school athletic events have medical authorities close at hand - none are retained for Ultimate Fights. Should a Lincoln Fire and Rescue ambulance stand by the Fight Night location? Who will pay for the cost of that ambulance?
Will emergency rooms be burdened with injured fighters? Good for emergency room business? Not hardly. Many young people may not have health insurance. Who is going to pay the medical bills of the young amateur fighters?
Will another citizen be forced to await medical attention for his or her innocent emergency while medical attention is given to a fighter who engaged in an activity with a high probability of an injury?
We know that the city will absorb the cost of ambulance service and the community will subsidize emergency care for these individuals.
Police coverage of Lincoln is stretched dangerously thin when officers are called to handle one large emergency, leaving the remainder of the city underprotected or unprotected. Why should the taxpayers subsidize a private business that creates unnecessary disturbances?
This is "fiscal abuse" of the Lincoln economy.
Fight Nights are another example of novelty entertainment like wet T-shirt contests, nude dancing and lap dancing, designed to lure patrons. If Ultimate Fights are conducted, then the environment must be one that protects the safety of the participant and does not medically nor fiscally tax the community.