Students and athletes in the Capital Region are calling on the state Assembly to legalize mixed martial arts in New York.
During a press conference in Albany on Wednesday, University at Albany students and a kickboxing instructor from Duanesburg spoke about the benefits of MMA to combat bullying and empower women.
“Mixed martial arts doesn’t victimize women,” said Juliet Shen, a junior at UAlbany and the philanthropy chair of Delta Phi Lambda. “Instead, it provides tangible tools for us to strengthen and empower ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally.”
MMA has been banned in New York since 1997. New York is the only state in the country that doesn’t allow professional MMA contests. The state Senate has passed a bill that would legalize the sport, but it has stalled in the Democratic-led Assembly.
Some women in the Assembly have criticized MMA as violent and sexist. But Shen said the sport helps women to defend themselves and is urging women in the Assembly to support the measure this year.
Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is a full-contact sport that allows opponents to strike each other both standing and on the ground. There have been seven known fatalities from MMA in the nation, compared to nearly 50 from boxing.
“Martial arts training is a beautiful thing,” said Michael Pascale, an MMA instructor and master’s student at UAlbany in women’s studies. “It teaches you that aggression and violence toward you is not to be tolerated and that you are worth fighting for. Yet it teaches you to avoid violence at all costs unless absolutely necessary.”
Following the press conference, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told the Daily Gazette that he doesn’t expect the outcome to be different compared to previous years.
“It’s up to my Democratic conference and if there are enough votes for it to pass,” Silver said. “I don’t think anything has changed since last year. But I can’t tell you the end result.”
Paula Waddell, a kickboxing instructor at the Duanesburg Area Community Center, said she has been practicing martial arts and boxing for about 20 years and it has made her a stronger person.
“Martial arts has empowered me with an ability to know that I can physically defend myself if any situation presented itself,” Waddell said. “Women of MMA have been such a great inspiration and they are great examples of what a woman could be. Talk of MMA victimizing women is just ridiculous to me on so many levels.”