Who Thought Dana White’s “Power Slap” Was a Good Idea?

Neuroscientists are outraged. UFC and TBS should be ashamed.

A close-up of Dana White at a press conference.
This man will make gobs of money off desperate people slapping the shit out of each other.
Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

You really just can’t make this shit up.

TBS debuted its Dana White-backed “Power Slap: Road to the Title” this week, just 16 days after the UFC president was caught on camera slapping his wife at a Mexican nightclub. The optics of that would be mind-boggling even if the new show was somehow an inspiring vehicle for good — but of course, it isn’t, it’s a competition where two people stand a foot apart, chalk up their hands, and take turns whaling on each others’ cheeks.

Yesterday, Dr. Chris Nowinski — a neuroscientist who co-founded both the Concussion Legacy Foundation, and Boston University’s CTE Center — took to Twitter to decry what some have called a “quasi martial art.”

For Dr. Nowinski, though, who used to perform professionally for the WWE, slap fights are more exploitation than competition. He posted a disturbing clip in which one fighter crumpled to the ground with his fingers flexed towards the ceiling.

In case that sight feels familiar, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s body had the same exact reaction to a nasty hit a couple months ago. It’s called “fencing posture,” and it’s an involuntary response that occurs when soft brain tissue slams against the skull. The cerebrum’s gray matter pretty much bruises on impact, leading to a temporary shutdown, during which the brain stem takes over, ushering in “primitive function.” Some have compared the posture to that of a sleeping newborn, with one of its pudgy forearms reaching for the sky.

There’d be something poetic about that, if it weren’t so sad. Grown adults are smacking each other back to their brain’s factory settings. And for what? Another NFL player, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, was apoplectically watching the show on his hotel TV last night; “What am I watching?” he posted on his Instagram Story. “I never watch TV anymore only Netflix and this what be on TV Jesus Christ. They’re tryna get famous off of smacking the shit out of somebody?” (In the back of Diggs’s video, the closed captions do indeed read: “And one way or another, I’m gonna be famous.”)

Look. A lot of people are smacking each other, in a lot of different sports, in order to get fame or money or respect. That’s nothing new. But there’s something about putting this show on television, in the year 2023, that’s abjectly irresponsible. There’s a lot we don’t know about the brain, but we know way too much to be promoting this. It’s irresponsible. It’s profiteering. It’s senseless.

As a general rule, if Conor McGregor is really jazzed about something, you might want to take a pause and reconsider your investment/involvement. (And he loves this show.)

In fairness: slap fighting originated from various Eastern Europe traditions. There is form and skill involved, and “toughness” (albeit of the toxic, delusional sort that we’d probably be best phasing out of society…and specifically masculine circles). People are also allowed to make money however they want, within the bounds of the law. But that doesn’t make the arrangement any less disturbing.

Dr. Nowinski said it best: “I believe adults can choose to do dangerous jobs if they understand the risks & reasonable efforts are made to protect them. But head hits with no defense is just sad. It reminds us that people who don’t take the risks often exploit those who do.”

White won’t pay the consequences for these slaps. Evidently, he doesn’t even have to pay the consequences for his own.

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