Ultimate Fight for Expression
The usual expression of Ultimate Fighting is tight fitting Affliction t-shirts worn by huge brawny athletes (plentiful at Jersey Shore). Recently Ultimate Fighting Champions (UFC) has entered the ring with New York state. UFC is suing to overturn New York’s ban on live bouts, saying the 1997 law runs roughshod over its freedom of expression, a novel argument that likens MMA (mix martial arts) to live ballet, music or theater.
“This is the first time to my knowledge that a professional athlete is claiming a First Amendment right to communicate with fans in a live event,” said Barry Friedman a professor at New York University School of Law who is representing the plaintiffs. While the arts are protected, no court has ever directly confronted the question of whether athletes have a First Amendment right to be seen in action.
Timing is everything, the lawsuit comes as the sport is gaining viewers. In August, Fox Broadcasting Co. and the UFC entered into a seven-year deal that includes four fights a year on broadcast television and will pay the promoter at least $100 million annually. (The first fight drew 5.7 million viewers.) UFC, which hosts its fights inside a chain-link cage dubbed “The Octagon,” holds about 27 live events each year, according to the complaint.
The courts needn’t declare all sports protected by the First Amendment, because MMA — which, as the name suggests, draws on a mosaic of different fighting styles — is special, Friedman said.
“It’s martial artistry,” he said. “The nature of martial arts is a lot like dancing.”
It is also martial. As in “warlike.”
If the ban’s purpose is to curb “a message of violence,” the lawsuit said, it “makes no sense” because New Yorkers can watch MMA on television. But that is no substitute for the real thing, according the complaint. “As is true of ballet, music, or theater, for an audience, attending a live MMA event is an experience that cannot be replicated on a screen.”