Saturday, June 27, 2015

No MMA in 2015: Heastie Shows His True Colors

Fear not New Yorkers! At the conclusion of the New York legislative calendar, our state now has a Chicken Wing Day, a state amphibian (the wood frog), horse racing is now legal on Palm Sunday, and you can bring your pet dog to your favorite outdoor cafe! But, mixed martial arts still remains unregulated for our amateurs and completely banned for our professionals.

After what may have been the largest rallying of support by the MMA community we have ever seen in NY, newly minted Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie fails to move the the combat sports bill forward for a vote. Once again, the bill that could have brought regulated MMA (and other amateur combat sports like kickboxing) to New York dies without ever being voted upon by our elected representatives. Adding salt to the wound was the fact that A02604 is an extremely progressive bill, which could have had positive trend setting implications for the sport as a whole.

Nevertheless, despite passing in the Senate twice (both the original and amended versions of the legislation), apparent support by Governor Cuomo and a vast majority of support in the Assembly, Heastie demonstrated that he was very willing to sacrifice the health and safety of New York athletes by choosing not to rise above the disingenuous partisan politics enacted by his predecessor. In the end, as a past co-sponsor of the New York MMA bill, Heastie proved himself to be worse than Sheldon Silver. At least with Silver, we knew where we stood. Heastie was a wolf in sheep's clothing.

This May, 2015 letter I received from Heastie's office was more prophetic than it seemed:

Since 2012 at least five amateur combat sports athletes have died in unregulated or poorly regulated amateur MMA and kickboxing events nationally. Let's not forget about the dozen or so amateur MMA fighters & kickboxers who have been able to fight in New York's unregulated amateur circuit despite having been suspended from competition by other state athletic commissions for HIV, Hepatitis, and other prohibitive medical conditions.

Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports sums it up perfectly:
Thus, it's going to be at least another year until there is a legal MMA card in New York.
There may be several hundred illegal* ones, though, and without adequate regulation and medical care someone could be seriously injured. If that happens – and I pray to God that it doesn't – the person's blood will be on the hands of the governor, the legislators and everyone else who worked to block this bill's passage.
*There will likely not be hundreds of illegal MMA events in NY as amateur events are legal and pro does not exist in NY, except rarely on Native land. There are however, many unregulated by the state athletic commission - fifty four in 2014. Still, Iole's point remains frightening accurate.

For a breakdown of what went right and wrong with this year's round of fighting, check out this piece by Jim Genia.

I leave you with a small fraction from the last week on that modern day ticker tape that is twitter:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

It Is Not Over Yet: There Is No Time For Complacency In The Final Hours!

We are literally down to the wire with the new amended MMA bill A02604. To catch you up since my last post regarding the Assembly's new amended bill, on June 14th both the Assembly and Senate have revised their bill with matching amendments. You can read the latest version of the bill here.

Yesterday, the Senate voted on and passed their new amended version of the bill by a 49-13 majority. Officially on the Assembly's calendar, today is their final session day; though they will likely extend their session through the week to tie up all loose ends. We are literally down to the wire with this. Events are seemingly happening by the minute. To keep up to date, minute by minute I highly suggest you follow MMA Journalist, Jim Genia. He is literally on top of each and every bit of news that comes out, as it comes out.

Runor has it that we have the required Democratic Assembly votes to pass A02604 (if you are wondering why I specify "Democratic", read my last blog post). However, this is New York and politics is never cut and dry, and often completely illogical. Yes, we are closer than we have ever been, but that is more reason to continue contacting you Assembly members, the Governor and the Assembly Speaker to request their support of A02604. We are in the home stretch and we can't get complacent!

Here is the info you need to contact everyone:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie
Bronx Office: 718-654-6539
Albany Office: 518-455-3791

Governor Andrew Cuomo
E-mail the Governor HERE
Albany Office: 1-518-474-8390

Find your local Assembly Member contact information HERE

If we play our cards right, we will be celebrating the arrival of regulated MMA to New York by week's end, but let's keep the ball rolling: It is not over yet!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New York MMA: A Fist Full of Holdouts

Not since 2010 when I formed the Coalition to Legalize MMA in New York have I felt more optimistic about the prospects for getting MMA properly regulated in New York. In fact, for the first time in five years I believe we can see concrete positive results of all the planning, lobbying, meetings with members of our legislature, interviews, social media campaigns, articles, editorials, rallies, etc. After years of hard work, on behalf of many people across our state, this year we are ridiculously close to getting what we want. The finish line is only a few steps away. We literally have only days left (Wednesday is the end of the legislative calendar) to put the new and vastly improved Assembly bill A02604 to the floor for a vote.

For years those who oppose bringing regulated MMA to New York have expressed concerns about the health and safety of our athletes. When one boils down the battle for MMA in New York and strains out the disingenuous oppositions and unrelated political curds that have plagued this process for years, the most credible, important and relevant concern left in the pot is indeed the health and safety of our New York athletes. There is nothing more important than the safety of our athletes; not the money, not the job growth, not the ticket sales, nothing.

This year it came to light that the initial version of Assembly bill A02604, essentially the same bill that has passed the Senate for the past six years, inadvertently banned the now booming New York amateur MMA scene; a move that would essentially force thousands of fighters back to the illegal world underground fighting. While dissecting the bill, journalist Jim Genia identified language in the bill that, if passed, set the stage for the regulation of professional MMA, but banned amateur MMA simultaneously. This set into motion a movement on behalf of the New York MMA community, the likes of which I have rarely seen. Of course we wanted regulated professional MMA in New York, but we did not want to lose our growing amateur circuit and compromise their health and safety.

Read my April 30th open letter to the Assembly on this topic 

The unregulated "wild west" nature of amateur MMA has long been a concern in New York, but not a focus of past attempts at legislation. None of the bills in years past have addressed the needs of our amateurs; it was always about the professional athletes. This year's bill put amateurs on the chopping block and was enough to generate a call to action that ironically put the pro-MMA and anti-MMA crowds on the same side - fighting for the safety of ALL our New York athletes.

All across New York coaches, regulators, fighters and fans reached out to their legislators. The message was clear: We want MMA in New York, but we want safe regulated MMA for our professionals AND amateurs - amend the bill if you want our support. As an example, here are the Coalition memos we shared at meetings with our Assembly Members:

Similar e-mails, letters, tweets, phone calls and memos went out to Assembly Members across New York from our community. It seemed for once that actual concerns were being discussed, rather than the usual anti-Zuffa union soundbites that we New Yorkers were used to. Still, we are used to feeling neglected in New York politics. After years of disappointment, hope was a feeling we dared not entertain. In all the years of running the New York MMA hamster wheel, we had become accustomed to feeling unable to effectively participate in the process. But, this year was a perfect storm of sorts. The opposition and the supporters of MMA wanted some of the same things: and people listened!

Assembly Majority Leader and primary sponsor of A02604 Joe Morelle announced last week that the bill had been amended. Here is a copy of his Assembly memo outlining the bill's changes from just days ago:

The new version of A02604 is a progressive document that truly addresses the short and long term safety needs of our athletes and effectively raises the bar on how MMA can and should be regulated (the bill can be read in its entirely here). Additionally, you can listen to Jim Genia discussing the new bill and current state of things on MMA Payout. Word on the street is the the Senate will agree to amend their version of the bill and that the Governor is throwing his weight behind this new bill as well.

So we have a revamped bill that sets a new standard with regard to safety measures for our athletes, provides for New York State Athletic Commission oversight of both professional and amateur MMA, and revamps the current outdated combat sports law in numerous important and significant ways. After years of hard work, we have essentially gotten pretty much everything we and the opposition wanted in a new bill. So why are we still pushing for a vote on the bill? This should be a no-brainer, right?

Well, we are still fighting because the Assembly majority is still about 4 votes short of the 76 Democratic votes we need to pass the bill. Convention in the Democrat controlled Assembly is that a bill must be able to pass with only Democrat votes. If that sounds contrary to how our system is supposed to function, that is because it is. The Democrat controlled Assembly does not want to depend on Republican votes to pass a bill; effectively neutering all the pro-MMA constituents in Republican controlled districts. This leaves us with three possible outcomes:

First, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (who was a prior co-sponsor of the bill in years past) could send the bill to the floor for a vote regardless. In this case, the bill will surely pass in a bi-partisan fashion and we will finally have regulated pro AND amateur MMA in New York for the first time since 1997. There are plenty of Republican votes to make up for the few missing Democrat votes.

Second, we can (and most definitely should!) give a last hard push to the hold out Democrats who are still undecided regarding this bill. In my opinion, any member of the opposition who does not stand behind this amended bill is acting out of pure disingenuous self-interest. Here, quoting from Jim Genia's blog, are the Assembly members in question. Contact them and let them know where you stand:

These two guys are VERY close to voting in favor of the MMA bill, so definitely go at them hard: 
-Assemblyman Steve Otis, Westchester -, 914-939-7028 and 518-455-4897 
-Assemblyman James Skoufis, Mid-Hudson Valley -, 845-469-6929 and 518-455-5441 
Here are the rest of the undecideds: 
-Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, Queens -, 718-457-3615 and 518-455-4561 
-Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, Queens -, 718-479-2333 and 518-455-4711 
-Assemblyman Sean Ryan, Buffalo -, 716-885-9630 and 518-455-4886 
-Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, Brooklyn -, 718-771-3105 and 518-455-5262 
-Assemblyman Charles Barron, Brooklyn -, 718-257-5824 and 518-455-5912 
-Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, Mid-Hudson Valley -, 845-454-1703 and 518-455-5177 
-Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, Albany -, 518-455-4178 
-Assemblyman Brian Kavanaugh, Manhattan -, 212-979-9696 and 518-455-5506

The final and unfortunate third possibility is that once again we do not achieve 76 Democratic votes AND Assembly Speaker Heastie does not put the bill to the floor for a bi-partisan vote. In this case, we are left once again waiting to start the fight over in January; albeit with a fantastic new bill from which to begin the fight anew. We have spent years waiting for this moment: A new progressive bill with an MMA supporter in the Speaker's seat. Will that be enough? Or will it be New York Politics as usual?

We will know by Wednesday.