Ask the Fight Doc: What are your thoughts on transgender MMA fighters?


dr-johnny-benjamin-1.jpgMMAjunkie.com medical columnist and consultant Dr. Johnny Benjamin has no problem waxing poetic on a variety of MMA-related topics. But when it comes to transgender fighters in the sport, his opinions are rather limited.

Dr. Benjamin said there’s a good reason for that.

* * * *

Doc, what are your thoughts on the transgender MMA fighter, Fallon Fox? – Anonymous

This is an extremely emotionally charged issue as I’ve learned the hard way. For me it is not a matter of social commentary. LGBT people should be able to live their lives without harassment. For me, I see it as a topic of safety.

Contact and combat sports in particular are very different from finesse non-contact sports. In combat sports, one very important facet of the encounter is to inflict sufficient force upon your opponent to provoke him or her to submit voluntarily or involuntarily. Physical pain and the potential for injury of varying degrees are omnipresent and inherent to these sports. With this in mind, player safety must be of primary importance; assume nothing and err on the side of caution and player safety.

Why is the distinction between contact/combat sports and non-contact/finesse sports so important from a player safety perspective? The potential for serious physical injury, including permanent traumatic brain injury, is far greater in contact/combat sports. Contact/combat sports have far more safety rules in place to help mitigate their inherent dangers. Player safety is the reason why there are weight classes mandated in boxing and MMA – but none in track and field.

Without question hormonal therapy and gender-reassignment surgery can make a person look more feminine, but does it change the physical performance capacity to that of a non-transgender woman? Does hormonal therapy and gender-reassignment surgery make the transgender female perform athletically like a non-trans female – or is there a performance advantage that may create a level of unacceptable danger to an opponent?

It’s a simple, honest, unbiased, scientific health and safety question.

What does the scientific/medical research suggest? Unfortunately, pitifully little, if anything. This very specific and important question has not been adequately and scientifically investigated. Many medical professionals have voiced well-phrased opinions regarding muscle mass and bone density, but none has cited specific, scientifically supported information that answers the athletic/physical performance capacity question. Hunches, gut feelings and anecdotal experience don’t pass muster in the medical arena when a person’s heath, well-being and life are truly at stake.

Until we better understand the physical/athletic performance capacity of transgender athletes, it is imprudent to allow participation in contact/combat sports. Merely hoping that it is a safe practice in an already inherently dangerous arena of contact/combat sports is unacceptable.

Once we know the facts, only then can we proceed safely.

Primum non nocere – first do no harm.

Dr. Johnny Benjamin is MMAjunkie.com’s medical columnist and consultant and a noted combat-sports specialist. He is also a member of the Association of Boxing Commissions’ MMA Medical Subcommittee. Dr. Benjamin writes an “Ask the Doc” column approximately every two weeks for MMAjunkie.com. To submit a question for a future column, email him at askthedoc [AT] mmajunkie.com, or share your questions and thoughts in the comments section below. You can find Dr. Benjamin online at www.drjohnnybenjamin.com, and you can read his other sports-related articles at blog.drjohnnybenjamin.com.

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