MMA writer Scott Harris goes deep on brain injuries in the sport
We’ve heard a lot about brain injuries in football, but surprisingly little about the subject in MMA. Featured Columnist Scott Harris tried to remedy that yesterday in a long, heavily reported piece in Bleacher Report headlined “‘A Sense of Urgency’: MMA Races to Learn More About Brain Injuries.”
“New findings carry ominous—if not entirely surprising—warnings.” Harris wrote. “But at the same time, brain injury science in MMA lags behind that of other sports, even as MMA gains new followers by the day.”
The 3,000-word piece features interviews with fighters, sport officials and medical researchers. At its center is Nick Denis, who surprised a lot of people when he retired from a promising ring career last year. Denis had been a doctoral student in biochemistry before his fighting career, and he began researching brain trauma following a knockout loss. He learned about subconcussive trauma and decided to get out.
“I had access to databases and libraries. I had never heard of subconcussive trauma before,” Denis said. “Football and hockey players, you look at their brain scans and they’re 40 years old and their brains look like deformed sponges, easy to compare with people who had dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. I was like, ‘this is crazy.’ You come to the realization that people think a concussion is where the damage occurs, but there’s damage all along the board.”
“I’m also a freelance health care writer and when I saw Bernick’s research finding it piqued my interest,” Harris wrote in an email when I asked him what inspired him to write the piece. Bernick is Dr. Charles Bernick, a neurologist who’s one of the nation’s leading experts on brain injury and disease. Harris continued: “Plus, I knew I could land an interview with him. One thing led to another, as they say, and I realized that the topic had never really been covered to this depth. I realized this needed deep reporting in order to really make this do what it needed to do.”
Harris’ piece was featured on prominently on Bleacher Report for a while Tuesday and did well, both in terms of reads and the response of readers, some of whom called the piece the best thing they’ve read in the MMA community, and not just on Bleacher Report, in some time. It’s an example of the kind of ambitious work that can get a writer noticed.
Follow Harris on Twitter at @ScottHarrisMMA.