UFC President Dana White’s latest venture, the Power Slap League, has been attracting a lot of attention online lately. You’ve probably seen TikToks or Instagram reels of the sport: two people take turns slapping each other in a professional setting complete with commentary — a spectacle seemingly primed for viral attention. I’ve personally seen many friend groups take part in this kind of thing, usually while partying.
I can’t stop watching clips from PowerSlap, this is insane content 😂pic.twitter.com/QmiuSj0stj
— Marc Luino (@GiraffeNeckMarc) January 21, 2023
It seems like the fact that this is a ‘sport’ with such a low barrier for entry is part of the appeal; the participants are usually nowhere near as athletic as other combat sports, and it seems a bit ridiculous to call them “professionals.” The show seems to have more in common with reality TV than professional sports: most of the fighters’ bios on the official website show that they work nine-to-five jobs or have families, not that they have been training for some kind of display of athletic prowess.
Of course, upon further investigation of their website, my reality TV theory was proven right: they have all of the participants living together in a ‘Slap House.’ Footage of them drinking, cooking, and playing shuffleboard is up on the site with the caption, “How do 22 strikers live together under one roof? It’s INSANE!” The attempt to emulate the popularity of Internet influencers living in one house — the Hype House comes to mind — is an interesting marketing choice for an organization hosting something it touts as a professional sport. And of course, the Slap House is in Los Angeles.
Putting the question of the validity of the ‘sport’ as an actual athletic competition aside, neurologist Dr. Nitin Sethi, chief medical officer for the New York State Athletic Commission, has serious concerns about the safety of slap fighting. Referring to the many chronic brain injuries retired boxers suffer from in a conversation with boxing journalist Thomas Hauser, he said, “In my professional opinion, those who partake in this ‘sport’ will also suffer the stigmata of chronic neurological injuries.” Chris Nowinski, a neuroscientist serving on safety boards for the NFL and WWE, tweeted out a warning about a Power Slap League contestant exhibiting the fencing posture with his arms reflexively extended following a slap, an action indicative of serious brain trauma.
This is so sad. Note the fencing posture with the first brain injury. He may never be the same. @danawhite & @TBSNetwork should be ashamed. Pure exploitation. What's next, "Who can survive a stabbing"? pic.twitter.com/jTENpUmJDd
— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) January 19, 2023
But the problem is that no one ever said it was safe to play this party game: there is no defense allowed, and the entire event consists of repeated blows to the head. Considering the concern from reputed neuroscience specialists about sports safety, I think the whole thing is extremely exploitative. The Power Slap League is a professional, sanctioned, televised organization, with the name of one of combat sports’ biggest businessmen attached, yet many of the contestants are not professionals. They might not be fully informed about the injuries they could endure. And, I’m sure, as is the case in most professional sports, most of the profit from their participation goes into the pockets of the businessmen backing the league.