Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Should Christians Watch Blood Sports?

Should Christians Watch Blood Sports?

There is no chapter and verse I can quote to answer the question posed by my title. In fact, the Bible itself is a particularly bloody historical record, from the conquest of Canaan to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But following a few conversations I’m increasingly uneasy with the popularity of MMA and other blood sports among Christians. These feelings can be put down, at least in part, to my recent reflections on media consumption. Though I am wary of establishing mere human regulations—’Do not watch’—tending towards manmade regulations (Colossians 2:20-23), Christians should be discerning when it comes to what we consume with our eyes (Matthew 6:23; Philippians 4:8). Therefore, without being prescriptive where the Bible is not, there remains a place for wisdom—and perhaps corresponding self-denial. So, should Christians watch blood sports?

Are Christians Even Asking The Question?

As I embarked on my hunt for an answer I visited The Gospel Coalition and Tim Challies’ blog. But nothing came up on either, though TGC did have an article addressing animal fighting. So I figured I would have to go elsewhere in my search for Christian resources on human blood sports—my third stop is usually Desiring God. But as I read TGC’s article on animal fighting I realised that it was in fact the perfect foundation to begin what I hope will be a series on Christians and blood sports.

Even though it doesn’t seem that many Christians are asking questions about blood sports, they are concerned with illegal animal fighting and fictional onscreen violence. Below I will suggest that our strong disapproval of the former may be inconsistent, if we compare it with human blood sports.

“To Fight For Human Entertainment”

The article at TGC, written by Joe Carter, defines animal fighting as “a contest in which people urge two or more animals to fight for the purpose of human entertainment.” Most of us rightly bristle at the thought of caged dogs being goaded into fighting and wounding one another. Yet if we swap out a few words in Carter’s definition we get: MMA is a contest in which crowds urge two or more professional athletes to fight for the purpose of human entertainment. Of course, there are many differences. But perhaps MMA and animal fighting are not as unlike as ESPN or the UFC would have us believe.

Carter goes on to describe dogfighting as “a blood sport in which two dogs—specifically bred, conditioned, and trained to fight—are placed in a pit (generally a small arena enclosed by plywood walls) to fight each other for the spectators’ entertainment and gambling.” If we repeat the above exercise we get: boxing is a blood sport in which two athletes—conditioned and trained to fight—are placed in an enclosed ring to fight each other for the spectators’ entertainment and gambling.

So, are blood sports involving humans really that different from those in which animals are forced to fight? Sure, one is legal and other isn’t. Professional athletes choose to step into the ring while dogs don’t. But, in my opinion, that’s where the differences stop. We should also probably ask ourselves why we shudder at violence between animals but tune in to watch it when involves people.

“Ending When One Cannot Continue”

Carter goes on, “According to the Humane Society, fights [between dogs] average one to two hours, ending when one of the dogs will not or cannot continue.” This line works almost as a description of MMA. Yes the fights are shorter, but they end in a similar fashion: when one of the fighters will not or cannot continue. That is, fights end when someone taps out or is physically incapacitated through a hold, by being knocked unconscious, or suffering severe injury. It is almost laughably ironic that the Humane Society condemns organised fights between animals, all the while we’re condoning and even celebrating violent combat between people.

What Is It That We Delight In?

Though I intend to explore this aspect in a later post, I would hazard a guess that most people who watch blood sports prefer the sensational to the technical. In other words, we cheer loudest when a boxer is knocked out cold. We don’t want fights decided by the judges. In MMA most viewers relish bloodied faces and broken limbs, while rolling their eyes at the indiscernible grappling that takes place on the floor.

Furthermore, what do we share on social media when the fights are finished: technical breakdowns; fighting strategies; intelligent footwork? Not in my experience. No. It’s that fierce combination of punches that ends with an athlete collapsing in a heap; the moment an MMA fighter’s leg breaks; or the devastating roundhouse kick to someone’s face in slow-mo.

Like blood sports involving animals, most of their human variants end when one of the fighters refuses to continue or simply cannot lift their bloodied and bruised body off the floor. Those watching eagerly anticipate this end as well as the violent moments that lead up to it. Again, I struggle to see significant differences, except that cheering as a human fighter pummels another is socially acceptable while animal fighting is not.

“Results In Death”

Let me raise one more point. In addition to serious injury, blood sports have over the years resulted in numerous deaths. Though it should be obvious to everyone reading this, I will reiterate: blood sports have human casualties.

Writing on cockfighting, Carter says that “a typical cockfight can last anywhere from several minutes to more than half an hour and usually results in the death of one or both birds.” To avoid an irresponsible overstatement, I will omit the word “usually.” But we still get: a typical MMA or boxing fight can result in the death of one of the athletes. This should unsettle most readers. But it should be particularly upsetting for Christians. For in many other corners their cries regarding the sanctity of life ring out. Yet we aren’t bothered that professional athletes might die for our entertainment?

Somewhat surprisingly, sanctioned MMA fights have only lead to seven deaths since 2007. Unsanctioned fights are the cause of a further nine fatalities. That’s 16 deaths in almost as many years. Not too bad. At least we don’t watch boxing, right? Because, since the late 1890s, professional boxing matches have been the cause of almost 10 deaths a year. Other sports do on occasion lead to fatalities—high speed crashes, cardiac arrest, and freak accidents. But the fundamental difference between those cases and blood sports is that the latter require their contestants to injure one another. That is how you win. That is why athletes die. To me, human blood sports are more akin to animal fighting than they are to other sports.

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