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Lingering in the Herd

By John Philapavage | December 11, 2007

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“The first thing I thought was, ‘this is not good for MMA”.

That’s an actual quote from a fan who was at the show in the Toyota Center and saw Sammy Vasquez carried out of the arena on a stretcher. The fan called into Sherdog’s Beatdown Radio program the Wednesday after Vasquez passed away to share his story.

It sounds callous. Uncaring. Dismissive.

He wasn’t.

The man was obviously affected by what he saw. Shocked. Saddened, yet well spoken. But that was the first thing he thought, or at least that’s what he said. He’s not wrong, because there is no right answer. Another person who didn’t know or care about Sammy Vasquez until he died, and is now struggling with how to react to it. He’s one of the many confused people who find themselves in the herd.

Defined by Wikipedia, a herd is a large group of animals. The term is usually applied to mammals, but some human groupings may behave more like herds. Herd behavior describes how individuals in a group can act together without planned direction. The term pertains to the behavior of animals in herds, flocks, and schools, and to human conduct during activities such as … sporting events, episodes of mob violence and even everyday decision making, judgment and opinion forming.

If you are reading this, you are part of the herd. You’re an MMA fan, and you’re reading this and thinking about how you feel about Sam Vasquez. How you reacted, and how others have. There’s been a lot of that since I read of Vasquez’s death a week ago. At the time, on Fight Opinion, Luke Thomas was the only commentary on the tragic death (Steve Sievert and Adam Swift links were eventually added). I posted the information on, and felt compelled to write a commentary of my own, having not read yet what Thomas had written. A day later my comments sat linked next to Thomas’, the only ones.

I can understand why Zach Arnold and Luke Thomas have asked why the online MMA community hasn’t reacted. I also understand why many have sat frozen, only adding to blogs by way of comments, or thinking about the situation, and not writing. We look around the herd and feel uncomfortable. What do the rest of us think? Thomas, outspoken as ever, was somewhat forced to assess the reaction – or lack or personal comment from friend Sam Caplan. Caplan, in turn, was forced to write an explanation and extended feelings on the subject of Vasquez’s death. I’m not sure he wanted to do it that way, but the situation demanded it. There is unease among the herd.

So what DO WE DO?

There is a thought that we as a herd stop, and as a group, address this. Talk about the death, react and put forth our feelings and emotions, as a whole. But there are others, smart and thought out people, who have no thoughts or feelings. They don’t have feelings or thoughts for a fighter they never knew and never cheered for. They don’t want to face a death they didn’t witness, or perhaps feel dwelling on mainstream reaction may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their message is simple. A member of the herd has fallen, but to stop the whole herd would stop the whole from moving forward. These members of the herd are concerned with moving forward, because they feel that stopping would somehow lead to the herd’s demise.

After a week of reading, listening, and thinking; dealing with this issue on a community and personal level, I think the idea of the MMA herd is more complex then those who want us to move on, or the Thomas or Arnold’s of the world who feel we shouldn’t move on until the situation is completely addressed. This is not a black and white issue. We are all of the herd, and there is no true agreed upon group thought. The only agreed upon idea is that we love MMA, and so we are part of the herd.

It is your family. Your mother, father, brothers, sisters, and you. There will be stragglers in the group who want to stay and fix a wrong as the rest of the herd rolls on deliberately. They should be allowed to linger. Someone should. There will be others to come and help. Luke and Zach wanted reaction and reflection. They have and will continue to see it trickle in. Those that can not deal with the death, refuse to, feel it is not their place or not something that warrants “dealing”, will move forward. They will continue to remain in the herd. The herd is forever moving, but its stations are not assigned.

In my head, I look at this last week and I see a tragic but beautiful mosaic of the people who take a little or a lot more time then the next person to enjoy their MMA. I see a snapshot of a community in various stages of development, both proud and raging at the same time. It won’t be Sam Vasquez next month, but it will be something. The Vasquez story doesn’t leave us, it gets filed with those in the herd that keep the history of the group and never let us forget.

A herd by definition is unstructured, but some believe a control animal will be mimicked by other animals. They are not necessarily socially dominant, but they are deliberately taking a leadership role.

Those in the MMA Media who take a leadership role, if it is not said, then it is implied: THANK YOU, from the herd. It is being addressed by you standing in the herd and raising your voice.

Some of us in the herd must linger. Rest in Peace, Mr. Vasquez.

Topics: All Topics, John Philapavage, Media, MMA | 12 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

12 Responses to “Lingering in the Herd”

  1. GassedOut says:

    Well said. I did not personally know Mr. Vasquez, and I think his death is tragic. My condolences are with his family.

  2. Rollerskates says:

    So the topic of this column is that reporters should do their job and report the news?

    For your next column can you write that doctors should keep fighting diseases?

  3. MMA Fever says:

    I wrote about Vasquez’s death. Yes, it was a tragedy on a human level as well as the obvious sporting level.

    I’m having a difficult time deciphering your message or even if there is one in your piece other than recognize the loss of Sammy Vasquez the man, then the loss of a fighter in MMA.

    We’ve done that so should we belabour the point to where the state governing bodies notice that a death occurred then the ripple effect happens that triggers the sanctioning to dry up state by state for this burgeoning sport?

    Hell no!

    Using your analogy, there are casualties in every herd and Sammy happened to be the first. So be it.

    The true story here is not that the MMA media didn’t react, it’s that it was expected and overdue given the brutal nature of the sport.

    Should we close the doors of MMA altogether? Did Boxing cease being a sport when one of their herd falls victim to the reality of the brutality of this combat sport?


    Recognition of the loss then move on.

    What would Sammy want? Would he want you to continue to write about his death or carry on with writing and promoting the sport that he gave his life to?

    I chose the latter.

  4. Nick says:

    I would just like to say that your column on Sam was very well written and I applaud your candor. The thoughts I shared with sherdog on Sam were true, it was the first thing that I thought of as a fan, but as a person…I had no idea what his injuries were and therefore was concerned for his safe return. The sad truth was that there was no return for Mr. Vasquez. If he were to come out of it people would really care less, but now that he hasn’t we as a “herd” will point fingers till we get our answers. I for one would not like to talk about his death but the man who did this for fun. Many people say that they would go to the extreme for something that they loved, but if you get down to it they don’t know exactly how far they would go. I for one should say to anyone, if you want to say anything about the tragedy that happened take a look at all sides of what happened. Don’t be callous to man that did the ultimate deed to do what he loved.

  5. Rollerskates says:

    Well said MMA Fever.

    The premise of this article is shaky at best and really unclear.

    It seems like Mr. Philapavage wants the whole sport to come to a grinding halt so they can fix the problem before it starts spinning again.

    This was an event that unfortunately was bound to happen. That’s the way it is in sports. Even if you accoutn for this one incident there will be an entirley different incident that pops up years from now. What MMA needs to do is keep moving forward but adjust the problem going forward. “Lingering in the herd” is silly and counter-productive because you’re fixing a problem retroactively and not proactively trying to attack issues.

  6. Rollerskates, it wasn’t about hard news reporting as much as dialogue and commentary among fans and writers alike. I actually would have liked the column to be out over this past weekend but it didn’t work out. Never the less, I suggest you re-read it. It was a “wrap up/summation” column. Nowhere was it stated or recommended that MMA come to a grinding halt. No broad sweeping accusations were made. It was a healing tone. I know that’s difficult since this is the net and we all like to slander each other, but I was actually pointing out that while people like yourselves press on others in the community stop and reflect. There are enough of us to fill all facets of emotions and reactions. It was somewhat observational. Actually, your “onward march” reaction was one of the reactions covered. I didn’t know I had to “pick a side”, so to speak. To clarify, Lingering in the herd referred to those who paused to pay respects and realize the moment. I never mention “problem” in the article. Thank you for the feedback.

  7. Tomer Chen says:

    Did Boxing cease being a sport when one of their herd falls victim to the reality of the brutality of this combat sport?

    Well, there were a few serious movements (and not “BOXING IS EVIL!!!111” cries that goes on ad nauseum) to get the sport banned, the biggest one after the televised deaths of Benny ‘Kid’ Paret and Davey Moore in the early 1960s. Boxing isn’t the best example to cite of a sport that was ‘above the line’ with regards to mainstream acceptance and regard to ‘sport vs. spectacle’.

  8. Rollerskates says:

    Your condescending tone is not allowing for people to move on. It’s liek you didn’t even read what you wrote before you formulated your response to me.

    Your summation is shaky at best. You can pretend to yourself you haven’t taken a side but your commentary points otherwise. Also you feel the people wanting to move forward are trying to sweep the death under the rug which simply isn’t the case. Any rational person would understand that you can acknowledge a death and still progress. Just because “linger in the herd” doesn’t make you superior to others- it’s makes you sillies becasue you don’t see how a sport can build upon their already strong regulations using this as a primer.

  9. Nick says:

    to rollerstates:

    i see how this whole situation has gone beyond everything we can see. there is a death before us, and no matter what way something is said or how it is perceived, you will still see views the way you do. maybe we do need stronger regulations or maybe the regulations we thought were strong just weren’t really up to par. i read his column and i dont see a condescending word in it. i viewed the fight and made the comment on the radio, now was i being rude or insensitive? no, because the fact that he could die wasn’t running through my head, that was the last thing i was thinking. death is a tricky subject for people to view, some want to embrace while others want to mourn.

  10. Rollerskates says:

    I see my spelling was adequate at best in my previous post so I apologize

    To Nick:

    I’m not saying your quote was condescending in any way. But your quote is not what he is building off of. He takes your quote and then constructs an entirely different column painting a picture that those who just try to move on are in the wrong.

    By “lingering in the herd” he is somehow superior to those people. As I said earlier- you can’t retroactively fix a problem- you need to take what you learned from an incident and build regulations moving forward that help protect against it happening again.

    The tone of his writing paints himself as above those who want to keep moving on.

  11. I can’t change your opinion. If you want me to be the evil superiority-complex guy off of one writing you’ve read that wasn’t intended in that way. Fine. You win. Move on with your life. Your opinion is your right. You are obviously very focused on the idea of regulation in this argument. I think Texas, from all accounts, did a fine job. This was going to happen. It was inevitable. I’ve stated I appreciate Those who “linger”, but I made sure to factor in the move forward as well. Obviously you feel attacked in some way for “moving on” that supercedes what I wrote, and there’s nothing that I can say to change that. Thanks for reading.

  12. Hansley says:


    It’s a shame you chose to use vitriolic hatred as a tactic because your point- whatever the hell it is- is completely lost.

    That being said, I really don’t understand the premise or concept behind the column. It reads in part like a circumvented obituary, but I doubt that is the intent of the piece.

    I’ve read through it twice and still have no idea the larger message contained within. That may be the English geek in me though.


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