Zuffa LLC, owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, filed a lawsuit today against the state of New York for its wholesale ban on mixed martial arts. According to a story first broken by the Wall Street Journal, the suit was filed in U.S. district court against New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. seeking a declaration that the ban violates the First Amendment.
The lawsuit states that, as it is conducted expressly for the purposes of entertainment, professional MMA is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. It also describes the ban as doing “irreparable harm” to fans and athletes in New York for whom the experience of MMA can not be completely conveyed unless it is live.
As the Journal article points out, this suit marks the first time that any professional athlete has tried to declare his sport a protected form of expression. However, lower profile cases of competitive activities attempting to use the First Amendment have not panned out so well for the plaintiffs.
Win or lose, this case represents the most positive step Zuffa has taken in the effort to sanction MMA in New York in a very long time. The lawsuit, as it is worded, calls attention to many of the often overlooked aspects of the argument for sanctioning the sport in the Empire State.
It is the first official document that points out that the local athletes are made to suffer financially and by lack of exposure through the sport’s ban. The suit also defines MMA by its artistry, rather than its violence, comparing the sport to a dance.
Proving that something is art is always a precarious thing to do, legally, and smart money is not on the lawsuit succeeding on its own. However, the more public the proceedings become the more the points the Zuffa suit makes will be made public knowledge, which itself is a path to victory.