The Wall Street Journal: Reid, McCain Join Forces to Show Support for ‘Fighter’ Study
February 4, 2014
As rare as it is for Republicans and Democrats to agree on anything these days, it’s still less shocking than the sight of Sens. Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and John McCain (R., Ariz.) along with all the biggest names in combat sports teaming up.
The senators appeared at a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol with the heads of Golden Boy Promotions Inc., Top Rank Inc., Spike TV’s “Bellator MMA” and Zuffa LLC’s The Ultimate Fighting Championship, and some fighters, to announce their support for the Cleveland Clinic’s ongoing landmark study of brain trauma in fighters. The issue is an old one for boxing, which has seen its public profile dip in part due to the poor condition of legendary fighters like Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton after their careers.
The promoters have agreed to contribute $600,000 to keep the study funded, in addition to the $2 million the Cleveland Clinic has already spent. Mr. McCain said the study has also received federal grants from the Defense Department, which has been researching the impact of head trauma on soldiers and hopes the study’s findings will complement other efforts.
Sen. Reid said that while he had boxed “at a really low level,” he had judged hundreds of fights and had seen firsthand the impact the sport left on one of his heroes, the late Sugar Ray Robinson. Mr. Reid said he judged a late loss by Mr. Robinson, whose 200 professional fights “really took their toll.”
Despite the serious issues discussed, the press conference provided a canvas for verbal sparring between Sen. Reid, a former amateur boxer in his youth, and Sen. McCain, who boxed at the U.S. Naval Academy and has sponsored legislation to regulate boxing at the federal level.
“I’ve found that Sen. Reid is a very resourceful fighter,” Sen. McCain said when asked who would have won a bout between the two in their primes. “I’m not sure about the outcome, but it would’ve been a lot of fun.”
Over 400 fighters have signed up to participate in the study since it began over two and a half years ago, allowing researchers to track their speech, cognition, behavior and other health indicators to better understand the early warning signs of head trauma. The efforts mirror similar studies of NFL players underway at Boston University and other venues, but the Cleveland Clinic study is one of the few to track active fighters. The majority of those currently being tracked by Cleveland Clinic are mixed martial artists, and researchers hope to eventually sign up between 625 and 650 fighters.
Officials from the Cleveland Clinic said beyond the financial support, the promoters have helped by encouraging their fighters to take part in the study. Several fighters including Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and boxer Bernard Hopkins said the real danger to their bodies lay not only in the fights, but in the hundreds of hours of sparring the fighters use to prepare. Mr. Jones said he tries to limit his sparring to reduce the number of blows to the head he takes.
“The biggest thing is that the fighters need to be aware of not leaving their careers in the gym. Try to take the least hits possible in the gym,” Mr. Jones said.
Spike TV President Kevin Kay used Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler to emphasize the stakes. “Look at how pretty Mike is. He’s also incredibly articulate,” Mr. Kay said. ”We want to keep him that way.”
Mr. Chandler said he doesn’t always think about the consequences of fighting, but said being able to play with his children in the future remains more important than any title he could win in the ring.
Being with all these great athletes today is really a thrill for me. That was my dream, to be some kind of athlete. pic.twitter.com/JmuVmXsZuK
— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) February 4, 2014
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) February 4, 2014