(Esther Lin/MMAFighting)The Value of Integrity and the Cost of Dishonor Todd Jackson February 16, 2015 News, Spotlight It seems like just yesterday that the dilemma of morality for mixed martial arts focused on practices which took place within the cage. The focus was on the safety of the athlete, the brutality they inflicted and endured. There were questions regarding the contrast between two bare knuckled monsters destroying each other and the forced bloodthirsty practices of dog or cock fighting. Oh how far we have come. Long and tireless has been the journey of ascending this slippery slope of legitimizing this ruthless bloodsport from near extinction to becoming the fastest growing athletic phenomenon the world has seen in quite some time. Every intricate detail has been examined and improved upon since those days. Ranging from administering a universally accepted rules mindset, implementing weight classes, utilizing only the highest trained officials, elevating cutman practices, to even suggesting uniformed athletes. Most of the changes to the sport have been in response to the ongoing criticism of the thing many hold dear, MMA. Those criticisms drove the sport into a better place, into the light if you will. Those criticisms were heard loud and clear and while those criticizing might have hoped MMA would just quietly sail off into the darkness, the effect was quite to the contrary. The improvements made due to those who tried to tear it down have now, over time, elevated the sport to heights nobody could ever have imagined. That success has brought with it many burdens though. As notoriety has come in leaps in bounds so has scrutiny on some of the more elusive details of a game which as a whole is amazing. Yet under a microscope it is a sport which has more than its fair share of glaring flaws. Much like a teenage athletic phenom thrust into the spotlight at such a rapid pace nobody thought to ask if this kid was prepared for such overwhelming success and all that comes with it. MMA has emerged in its adolescent years swinging for the fences and breaking down barriers. Prosperous would be an understatement when describing the value and potential of this sport as it grew up before our very eyes. Like the phenom MMA has seen great success come relatively quickly and with that success so have the temptations become greater. Power, victory, notoriety, legendary status, but most importantly riches dangle like a carrot on a string. All these things are attainable for those ranging from coaches, to athletes, to promotions. Just as history has shown us time and time again when many of those carrots are dangled man can quickly become corrupted by desire to attain them hastily as opposed to taking the long road. One need look no further than our great American past time to see how those aspirations for quick success have tarnished the legacy of a game which has stood for over a century. How the actions of a few have ruined even something like the Baseball Hall of Fame and complicated how we judge the successful against the legendary. So we fast forward from a time when mixed martial artists were just perceived as barbarians to the present where they are far more. They are now perceived, by the trained eye at least, as some of the most superior athletes walking the planet. Look no further than former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre if you need supporting evidence as such. The point here is one of the sport’s greatest proponents towards driving its forward progress hasn’t been Dana White, it wasn’t the UFC, it was the athlete. Without quality and forward thinking athletes the UFC died years ago in some half empty arena filled with drunken slobs screaming kick his ass sea bass. Those same drunken slobs now sell out some of the worlds greatest venues and enjoy world class elite competition on a regular basis. They don’t show up for the mediocre or random fight. They show up for the elite. Without those elite athletes they show up to see it would be a Tough Man competition. The questions have been raised throughout the years though. As the sport, as the athlete and what is expected of them progresses, what is acceptable and what is not. Where is the line between integrity and dishonor drawn? Another far more important question must also be asked. What are the repercussions when that line is crossed. Or far worst than that, how severe are the consequences when that line is blurred? The echoes of a legend failing a drug test for performance enhancing drugs spread throughout the sport like a drop in the center of a placid body of water. The ripples will reach from the pinnacle of the sport to its foundation. For every contender, for every champion, for every legend caught with their hand in the cookie jar there is an army of rising talent behind them. There are humble aspiring athletes cutting their teeth at regional shows looking towards their own goals of greatness who see the legacy of those they aspire to with now tarnished legacies. In addition to the athlete, don’t for one second think that there aren’t still hyenas in the wait, just drooling at an opportunity to shred everything the MMA community has built and pick the carcass clean discrediting it all as a fluke. They are anxiously waiting to point their finger and say “I told ya so!” with regard to our sport being a flash in the pan and far too barbaric to expect anything more than savages destroying themselves like crabs in a barrel. They are a distant second though to the damage that is caused to the community when these failures come to light. For every kid that spent countless hours on the mats honing his grappling, kicking the banana bag working his leg kicks, eating healthy to stay in shape and do it right. For every one of those young athletes who aspires to be a fraction of what Anderson Silva has accomplished in his career, how crushing is the news that he may not have done it naturally? That my friends is the true failure of our sport and our community. When it happened in baseball they talked about it being the culture of the game. It was commonplace. Sadly it would appear that culture is alive and well in MMA circles spanning the globe. The time is now to slam our fist on the table and demand this culture be reformed from the top down. It is time to explore every option, to exhaust every opportunity, in an effort to crush the idea that cheating is an option when chasing MMA glory. MMA does not have a century old history of legendary athletes to rely on to hold our faith. There are no Jackie Robinsons or Lou Gherigs to reassure us that our game can be legendary regardless of scum like Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. MMA as a community must take a step back and raise the bar. Even if it costs a few million pay per view buys to run a bum out of the sport the long term effects of not doing so could be far more devastating. Now the echoes of that decision would hold weight. Then again, to stand idly by and do nothing, that also holds weight. It holds far more weight to be quite frank. To define the line clearly would be immediately costly. Yet if those in charge continue to blur it as they have chose to do for years now, the cost may be too much to bear. For every Benson Henderson, for every Jose Aldo, or Cain Velasquez, there is a wealth of integrity. Their integrity and the impact they have on the sport is priceless. It elevates those around them and it is athletes like them who have brought the sport to new heights. Their contributions can never be quantified both in and out of the cage. Sadly the dishonor of some of their peers has had an equal if not superior effect on things. Sadly a battle has begun in our sport and the scales are tipped unless those in a position to do so demand reform. As it stands today the value of integrity may not be able to foot the bill when considering the costs of dishonor. Time will tell.