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A More Perfect Union: MMA Athletes and Unionization

For years, New York was the only state in North America where mixed martial arts was illegal. Carla Varriale, a professor for the M.S. in Sports Management program at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, developed an interest in MMA a few years ago and now teaches a class that explores the reason behind the ban.

“The sport was illegal, and in fact, what we learned was that the single biggest impediment to the sport was the assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver in New York state, who never even allowed a vote on the sport over a period of many years,” Professor Varriale said. “This sort of offended my idea of the democratic process, so I got into studying the sport more out of politically – why was this happening and why is the democratic process being subverted.”

In 2015, Sheldon Silver was caught on corruption charges from his role at the Assembly in New York state, and mixed martial arts was finally permitted in New York shortly after.

“I like to talk about this sport because not everybody can work at a team or a league,” Professor Varriale said. “But there are numerous opportunities for people who want to get involved in sports law, in particular, if you have an interest in fighter welfare and fighter rights, that this sport offers you.”

Read the full story at Michigan State International Law Review and learn more about the M.S. in Sports Management program at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies.