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Sanford Health Sponsors Cage Fighters

In its ongoing commitment to health and community, Sanford Health is sponsoring cage-fighting:

Sanford Health is sponsoring and supporting a new team of mixed martial artists comprised of world champions and up-and-coming fighters to provide the science, technology and training methods needed to maximize performance, as well as implement injury reduction and recovery methods.

…The Sanford Sports Science Institute has been actively involved in a mixed martial arts concussion study that aims to provide standardized protocol for fighters returning to competition following a concussion or brain injury. Additionally, the Sports Science Institute is exploring how the sport of mixed martial arts lends itself to further research projects related to performance, hydration, injury prevention and more [Sanford Health, press release, via KELO Radio, 2019.09.23].

We’re a health care organization, so let’s sponsor a sport that causes health problems! Good meeting, everybody!

There’s a gap in research on this relatively new sport, but one recent study indicates a third of MMA matches end in knockouts or technical knockouts and have higher rates of brain trauma than football or hockey. Hmm, wild guess: if we want fewer concussions, maybe we just don’t encourage people to kick each other in the head.


  1. Realist 2019-09-24 07:41

    Or, being a leader in healthcare innovation and research, maybe they’ll bring research to the sport, better training techniques, better response in the cage, and so on. Maybe they’ll fill that niche in the sport that you are harping on them for. The sport isnt going away anytime soon, I see medical professionals contributing in a positive way – not a negative way as you suggest.

  2. Loren 2019-09-24 10:12

    What would be the safest way to kick someone in the head? How far can a joint bend without snapping? Can the human head actually rotate 180*? These are medical questions the need to be addressed. ;-)

  3. Realist 2019-09-24 10:18

    Well, just like football has seen innovation in concussion protocol, proper tackling technique, etc. I too think that there is room in this space for improvement. That sport has been around for 100 years. Like Corey said, this is a new sport, if you adjust training techniques and care in the cage, there is an opportunity to change course early on.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-24 12:26

    Why isn’t the sport going away, Realist? Why should an organization filled with individuals who swear an oath first and foremost to “do no harm” put any support behind an activity whose business model is based on people’s desire to see harm done?

    Health care organizations can research ways to help athletes recover from the harm that they incur in the pursuit of profit and prevent further injury without actually promoting the “sport”. But on top of researching the frequent injuries cage-fighters suffer, doctors’ first advice should be, “Hey, quit hitting people.”

  5. Debbo 2019-09-24 15:49

    If their sponsorship only involves medical personnel and studies, that’s understandable and can be good and necessary research. Studying head trauma in one sport can be useful in lots of different scenarios.

    The Mayo Clinic provides healthcare resources to the Minnesota Lynx and Timberwolves pro basketball teams, even including surgeries. The Mayo paid a big chunk for the teams’ downtown Minneapolis practice facility, including excellent sports medical facilities. Imo, that’s good use of medical $.

    On the other hand, MMA is inherently physically destructive by design. Studying the brain injuries incurred is important and could be a valuable tool in outlawing the sport. Publicizing football’s destructive affects on the brain has caused a marked decline in the number of participants.

    I can’t see sponsoring the team beyond that. That doesn’t fit any definition of good medical practice I’m aware of.

  6. Barry G. Wick 2019-09-24 17:44

    Because the crowd screams for blood, the fighter may make a thud. Oh the joy of breaking bones, the king today takes his throne.

  7. grudznick 2019-09-24 18:36

    Aside from the safest way to kick another in the head, which is a good question, I wonder how much money there is to be had from sponsoring such a team. Can one bet on these contests, and how rigged might they be?

  8. Dave Baumeister 2019-09-24 21:16

    I imagine that Sanford figures several people will need hospitalization by the end of the matches, so they will make their money back!

  9. South DaCola 2019-09-25 09:51

    Originally MMA fighting was only allowed at private facilities like the Sanford Pentagon, but councilor Christine Erickson brought an ordinance change forth (I think two years ago) to allow it in public facilities like the Denny Dome. She argued that MMA now is ‘athletic’ and not like cage fighting where they beat themselves to a bloody pulp. Yet, the last time I watched it, it looked very bloody, just with more rules. Sanford’s CEO is obsessed with sports and I sometimes wonder if he thinks he is running a sports organization instead of a healthcare system. Maybe if they would focus more on healthcare our elected officials wouldn’t have to drive to Rochester for treatment of serious illnesses.

  10. Dicta 2019-09-25 13:46

    Who are you to determine what adults can do with their own bodies, Cory? Further, why in god’s name would you want to prevent research that can help prevent long term repercussions, or *gasp*, shed more light on the damage a sport can cause which may be used to later argue for changes to the sport itself?

    You sound like a damn republican with your moralistic pronouncements.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-25 20:11

    Dicta, I still haven’t shaken all of the impulses that made me a Republican prior to 2004.

    I hope Sanford will do more research on preventing injuries of fighters, will shed more light on the damage cage-fighting does, and argue for changes to the “sport” itself. I think they could do that without contributing one penny of the money they make off treating my ailments to blood sports.

    It doesn’t take research to show that if a fight is canceled for lack of financial support, 0% of the fighters suffer concussions in the cage.

  12. Scott Porter, Ph.D. ABPP 2019-09-26 08:28

    I left Sanford Neuroscience a year ago to be the Director of a Concussion program in Florida. This showed up on my radar yesterday when a Sanford colleague contacted me about it- sick to their stomach over it. I can tell you that a lot of people are scratching their heads at this even at Sanford. The brain docs were apparently left out of the loop. There is a huge inherent conflict of interest in owning an MMA team which is extremely high risk combat sport, then referring them to yourself and attempting to conducting unbiased research. There are definitely question of ethics, common sense, how did this pass a medical ethics review, how can this possibly pass an internal review board for research given the conflicts of interest. It is always best to have independent medical providers caring for athletes and when you do research, you can’t have skin in the game, you have to be independent and unbiased. The NCAA promotes outside medical providers for teams. I see 10 concussions a day, and I don’t own any of them. Lol. We all want to take care of athletes, but, this is quite an unconventional way of doing this. We will see how it pans out for Sanford. But, people will have a lot of questions. Also puzzling, instead of having the very good trauma and neuroscience doctors at Sanford involved, they went to an outside “shiny object” sort of “neuro” group. Further makes it seem like someone went off the rails with this. Yes, it is surprising that a hospital would buy MMA fighters. There are numerous medical organizations that have concerns about MMA. For a health care organization to buy an MMA team instead of say… support pediatric Leukemia or put money into high school sports or something less controversial is strange. My .02 cents. S

  13. Dicta 2019-09-26 08:52

    Calling it a bloodsport as a rhetorical flourish tells me all I need to know about where you stand on the topic. These are adults, Cory. They can make a decision to participate in the activity themselves. Further, with sports like football destroying the bodies of our youth, I wonder if you take such a puritanical stance there as well. Cheerleading? Just say you don’t like the optics and you think the sport is icky, because that is what seems to be going on here.

  14. mike from iowa 2019-09-26 11:40

    Boxing and mma sports are designed to bludgeon people’s heads. Football is trying to stop the head hunting and tackling with the helmets. They have even brought back bare knuckle boxing. These sports are causing brain traumas, not at the rate of football because there are so many more players on the field.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-29 19:56

    Calling it a bloodsport reflects accurately the animal passions the sports capitalizes on. A health care organization is financially supporting “entertainment” that depends on people’s craving to see people do harm to one another.

    I would suggest that football is a bad idea as a high school sport and that the whole mythos we assemble around contact sports is unhealthy. It drains funds from other, more educational and inclusive pursuits, and it distracts students and adults alike from sporting activities that they can do themselves to stay healthy.

    Hospitals should not encourage us to sit around and watch brutes bludgeon each other (and perhaps should be building arenas in which to sit and watch others engaging in such activities); hospitals should spend their dollars to promote healthy activities everyone can do that will lead to lower healthcare costs for everyone.

  16. Porter Lansing 2019-09-29 20:27

    I was hoping you’d give me a small window to talk about sports. In particular, sports betting and an opportunity for SD to get revenue through a sin tax. Colorado has proposition DD on the ballot and on lots of TV commercials. DD legalizes sports betting at casinos and taxes the casinos only. It will raise $29 million for another big issue in CO. Water projects. The Supreme Court ruled that Colorado has the right to withhold our water from down stream states. Problem is currently that water storage costs money. If we can store it we can sell it to Nevada and California. If we can’t store it NV and CA get it for free.
    Hopefully some bright and forward thinking legislator is busy drafting such a legalization for SD. In many regards it’s similar to legalizing marijuana. People are already gambling and using marijuana. The state may as well tax it because there’s no way in Hades the state can stop it. If they could stop it why haven’t they in the last fifty years?

  17. Robert McTaggart 2019-09-29 21:14

    In theory, you should not be intoxicated while you are betting, regardless of the intoxicant. You should at least play along and apply the thin veneer of “responsible gambling”.

  18. Porter Lansing 2019-09-29 21:26

    Is there some small relevance to conflating gambling with smoking marijuana? Or, don’t you understand that both things are currently illegal and both happen often in SD.

  19. Robert McTaggart 2019-09-29 23:34

    Both are a bad idea. I was not conflating the two.

    Doing both together is not what I would call sound financial planning.

  20. Porter Lansing 2019-09-30 02:07

    It’s an image problem, isn’t it? Because people in SD don’t gamble or smoke pot. The state’s Catholics don’t use birth control or get abortions, either. Not like in North Dakota or Minnesota. How’s that living a lie image working out for ‘ya? Hmmmm? We people in liberal states still have to reach into our paychecks and send you money, every month. Maybe if you’d raise some tax revenue you could get off the welfare dole and pay your fair share.

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