St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck once signed 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat as a publicity stunt, knowing no pitcher would be able to find his strike zone (Gaedel walked on four pitches). In 1977, the New Orleans Jazz selected women's college star Lusia Harris in the seventh round of the draft (Harris was pregnant at the time and never even attended training camp). And the male vs. female tennis matchup between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King is still celebrated as one of sports' great publicity spectacles.
Here's another for the list, although which category you place it in is up to you: cops vs. criminals.
A promotion based in Pennsylvania called Xtreme Caged Combat has decided to host such an event for their debut MMA show on Oct. 3 in Reading, Pennsylvania. The official event name is Crime & Punishment: Cops vs. Cons.
I'm all for people who've paid their debt to society having a second chance, and I certainly think the structure and discipline that MMA provides can be a positive development in anyone's life, but branding a fighter as a "con" while competing doesn't seem to offer any positive reinforcement for that change. Not that anyone should run from their past, but I don't think most ex-cons -- especially those that are trying to advance their career as a professional athlete -- are proud of the title. Then again, no one is forcing them to fight in an event which will brand them as a criminal.
Still, it's all a bit cringe-worthy.
This clearly isn't the best way to market a still-growing sport in a state that just recently ratified it. Pennsylvania is one of the most recent states to regulate MMA, so this is going to be one of the first sanctioned local cards its residents hear about. There are still so many misconceptions about MMA and the supposed "bloodlust" of its fans. As a growing sport, MMA still needs to put its best foot forward as often as possible.
The "Cops vs. Cons" theme is obviously designed to evoke the bubbling tension that is always simmering and sometimes explodes between those who've spent time on either side of the legal system. While it is probably likely that all the competitors involved in the Oct. 3 event will be perfect sportsmen during the event, promoters have to know there will likely be a backlash from local media leading up to it, and in the end, it's likely to be more negative attention MMA doesn't need. In the end, the fighters should be able to walk in and out with dignity based on their performance and nothing else.
So far, the event's website lists seven confirmed fighters, including Lamont Lister, a onetime IFL and popular regional fighter who is a Philadelphia police officer, as well as ex-UFC fighter Kevin Jordan, who is apparently an ex-con.
In this day and age, everything needs a hook, and the promoters of Cops vs. Criminals definitely have one, but that alone does not make it a wise idea.
Is Cops vs. Cons MMA Event a Good Idea In Newly Regulated State?
In the long history of sports, event promoters have been known to come up with intriguing, bizarre and sometimes downright crazy ideas in order to get fans through the turnstiles.