Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Commodified Labor in Mixed Martial Arts

About a week ago, MMAFanhouse and other websites reported that former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter, Junie Browning had been arrested for assault after being taken to the hospital for over doing it on anti-anxiety pills. Read below:

Junie Browning, whose antics on the UFC reality show The Ultimate Fighter made him one of the bad boys of mixed martial arts, was reportedly arrested in Nevada and charged with assaulting three nurses who were treating him for a drug overdose.

Lawrence Mower of the Las Vegas Review-Journal
reports that the 24-year-old Browning was at the hospital because he "took 16 pills of Klonopin, an anti-anxiety drug, in an attempt to harm himself." Citing the arrest report, the Review-Journal reports that Browning is accused of pushing a female nurse, punching a male nurse and kicking another male nurse, and yelling, "Do you know who I am? I will kill you and rape your family."

Browning was portrayed on The Ultimate Fighter in 2008 as a drunken lout who picked fights outside the Octagon, and the UFC and Spike TV were criticized in some circles for tolerating his antics. But Browning has said since then that he has changed his ways and devoted himself completely to his training.

In two UFC fights since leaving The Ultimate Fighter house, Browning has gone 1-1. His last fight was a loss to Cole Miller on April 1, and he did not have another fight scheduled.

Update: According to
Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole, the UFC has decided to release Browning following the incident.

This is an excellent example of worker expendability in a corporation with little (if any) protection for workers. Junie Browning, as MMAFanhouse says, was The Ultimate Fighter reality show, season 8 bad boy. Out of anger and in non-competition environments, he tried to throw a contestant in a pool, he got in the face of another contestant immediately after that contestant had finished competing, he consumed immense amounts of alcohol, and he threw a glass at another contestant that shattered. Despite multiple warnings from the UFC’s President, Browning was never kicked off the show. Perhaps his controversial persona was too valuable for the show’s ratings.

Instead, after the glass throwing incident, Browning was given the opportunity to fight, with the caveat that if he lost, he’d have to leave. He lost and left. Of greater importance, MMA was turned into an institution of criminal justice, used to solve non-sporting violence. I cannot think of another sport, mainstream or otherwise, that would define itself in such a way. But in the world of MMA, Browning appeared to be a valuable commodity to the UFC -- he was loud, controversial, and would inflate ratings.

Browning of course had agency as a contestant and subsequent employee. He used The Ultimate Fighter and UFC to build a controversial personality, to brand himself an extreme bad boy that would sell tickets and reap the ensuing rewards. But the power differential between employer and employee was too great. In the end, what the UFC got out of Browning was far more than what he got out of the company. According to the
SPIKE website, UFC President, Dana White, framed his lenience with Browning as a constructive opportunity for someone with problems.

“Obviously, I’m very disappointed,” White said. “I haven’t heard anything regarding Junie where he’s acted up or been bad in a long time. You could tell on the show he had issues. I saw (fighting) as an opportunity for the kid to turn his life around and make something of himself…”

“He was given an amazing opportunity, but he has some serious issues that are beyond me and what I can do. I’m there for guys and I realize nobody is perfect and guys are going to get into trouble. When that happens, I want to try to help and do something for them. But he needs more help than I can give him. I did what I could for him.”

But is opportunity through fight sport the best way to help an individual who may have serious mental health problems? As also stated on the official SPIKE website:

It was beginning to look like Junie might have just been a victim of the stressful and bizarre environment of The Ultimate Fighter house, but this news sadly reveals that Browning really does have mental/emotional problems that require serious attention.

As an athlete with pedestrian skills in the UFC, Browning’s controversial personality could only sell so many tickets. With the social structure of MMA unable to constructively address Browning’s mental health concerns, he has clearly fallen into personally unhealthy and socially criminogenic behaviors, thereby minimizing his usefulness to the UFC and rendering him a company threat. If the UFC truly wanted to help him, couldn’t he have been given a health plan that offered (and perhaps mandated) some kind of mental health assessment and therapy? Instead, Browning was essentially turned into commodified labor.

Whether intended or not, the company got what they could out of this emotionally unstable employee -- higher ratings for a minimal time period. From the UFC and MMA structure (or lack there of), Browning’s mental health problems appear to have escalated; he now faces serious criminal charges, and appears to have been a threat to the community. Any question as to who came out where in this business with virtually no worker solidarity or protection?

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1 comment:

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