New York Times Article Marks a Big Step Forward for MMA Coverage

We've just witnessed a watershed moment for mixed martial arts, one that signals a major step toward mainstream acceptance as a legitimate sport.

I'm not talking about Brock Lesnar becoming a media darling in the wake of his victory over Randy Couture in Saturday night's heavyweight title match. I'm talking about an article that appeared on page B15 of today's New York Times.

The article, written by Justin Porter, profiles a high school mixed martial arts club in Winchester, Massachusetts, and in the process it does something extraordinary: It doesn't pontificate. The article simply just reports the facts of a high school MMA club and treats the sport and its participants with the respect they deserve.

If that doesn't sound extraordinary to you, then you haven't read much
mainstream media coverage of MMA. Usually, when mainstream outlets write about the sport, they get facts wrong, attempt to portray MMA as sheer brutality, and start with the premise that their reader will be outraged by the sport's popularity among young people. 

Porter's article is an increasingly rare type of newspaper article, one that provides a slice of life about news that isn't violent or lurid. It's  the kind of sports article we don't see enough of in this age when newspaper staffs are shrinking. (And when the newspapers themselves are shrinking, as evidenced by the Times getting rid of its great Play sports magazine.

Those who read Porter's article will understand the simple truth that MMA is a safe sport. The MMA as practiced at Winchester High, where the students practice their submission moves against each other but only practice their punches and kicks against against pads, is certainly safer than high school football.

The most important part of the article is the way it keeps the focus on the participants themselves: Consider the freshman who explains that he likes MMA but doesn't like baseball or football because they're too slow. Those teenagers who love the fast pace of MMA are the reason this sport is here to stay.

There's still much more that an article about youth involvement in MMA could explore. Most significantly, this article mentions only male students involved in the MMA club and doesn't even seem to consider whether girls might want to be part of it -- perhaps overlooking the way MMA is growing quickly among female fans and increasingly attracting impressive female athletes. But as a first step toward informing readers about the growth of MMA among young people, the Times' article was impressive.
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