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A Primer for a Possible Mainstream Media Attack on MMA

In the wake of the tragedy in Boston, it was discovered that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombings, had trained for over a year at the Wai Kru MMA gym in Boston. According to Deadspin he was also a New England Golden Gloves Champion. He arrived from Kyrgyzstan in 2000 under refugee status and began boxing in 2004.

The mainstream media tends to sensationalize certain aspects of large stories like this.  During Columbine, the media sensationalized violent video games as the root cause of the attacks. Will the media pick up on his boxing and MMA training and decide that was the root was of Tsarnaev’s anger and hatred? If so, Wai Kru will be held up as a place where Tsarnaev’s aggression and anger was allowed to fester and boil over.  It’ll be held up as a place that fostered Tsarnaev’s anger and further cultivated it.

I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen. Wai Kru doesn’t deserve to be held responsible anymore than the high school Tsarnaev attended needs to be held responsible. Did Wai Kru teach him proper form when throwing a jab? Yes. Did Wai Kru teach him how to throw up a triangle-choke? Yes. But Wai Kru did not teach him how to fashion bombs. Wai Kru did not teach him how to murder innocent men, women, and children.

The mainstream media may latch onto his boxing and MMA training in the same way they latched onto violent video games in the wake of the Columbine shootings. But in reality, those were just scapegoats. People in general are always looking for reasons that terrible things happen. They want tangible aspects of a tragedy that they can look at and think to themselves, “If we change this, a tragedy like this won’t happen again.” That is why the mainstream media went on a crusade to ban violent video games and aggressive music after Columbine. That’s why there has been a huge push for gun-legislation directly after the Newtown shootings.

Never are these tragedies acknowledged as nuanced and complex issues with many different moving parts. That is too complicated for the mainstream media to handle. Instead, they want talking points. They want graphics that can show to their viewers and keep them hooked. Going into detailed complexity on the possible motivations of madmen is not part of what the mainstream media does. As a result, the sport of MMA, especially in terms of legislation for the state of New York, may suffer.

It would be shame to see boxing or MMA held up as a vehicle for Tsarnaev’s aggression. With all the litigation occurring in nearby New York over the legalization of MMA, it would be dishonest for politicians to use an event like this to justify why MMA is wrong. I can hear it now: “We don’t want a sport like MMA, that trains killers like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in our state!” Such rhetoric would be dishonest and disgusting. Nothing that Wai Kru taught him in their gym prepared him to make bombs that were aimed to kill innocents. Nothing that Wai Kru taught him prepared him to kill police officers.

If Tsarnaev had been a football player, no one would hold up football as a factor in the attack. They would look to other things that they could tie to the violence. Instead, they would look at his religion. They would look at his upbringing. And certainly, those aspects may still be scrutinized by the mainstream media, but I have a feeling that MMA is going to be mentioned in there somewhere.  

There is also evidence now that his brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, was a high school wrestler. But connecting football or wrestling to violence isn’t as easy to grasp as connecting combat sports to violence. And because combat sports are so unique in that they literally involve hurting another person in order to achieve victory, they are looked at differently than stick and ball sports. The perceived level of violence in combat sports is higher than football; as a result it may be implied that MMA turned him towards violence.

Furthermore, the culture of combat sports in his native country is probably what drove him to take up boxing in the first place.  In Russia, Chechnya, and the former Soviet Bloc, boxing and wrestling have long been staples of youth athletics. It makes sense that the Tsarnaev brothers would have engaged in those sports. It makes much more sense to attribute their interest in those sports to their culture rather than a desire for violence.

All in all, this is a huge tragedy for everyone involved. As I write this, the city of Boston is still under lockdown. The complexities of this attack will hopefully be examined and studied. I just hope that MMA isn’t unjustly held to the fire as a factor in these heinous crimes.

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