Azael Rodriguez slaps Jesus Gaspar at a Power Slap event in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, Nov. 30, 2022.

Azael Rodriguez slaps Jesus Gaspar at a Power Slap event in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, Nov. 30, 2022. (Mike Roach, Sciaffo LLC )

If you’re collecting indices on the decline of civilization, you’ll want to include this one on your list: two burly, overbuilt men, often bald and bearded and nearly always tattooed, facing each other across a waist-high table and taking turns slapping each other across their faces as hard as possible.

This is slap fighting. Reportedly this “sport” originated in Russia — that figures — and spread westward, apparently picking up momentum during the pandemic until it reached Nevada, where, in October 2022, the State Athletics Commission authorized the first regulated American slap fighting league: Power Slap.

The California Athletic Commission followed suit in December 2023, and Florida approved slap fighting in March. This month, the Combative Sports Advisory Board of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation is considering a change in state rules that would sanction slap fighting as a regulated combat sport. Early indications are that the answer will be yes.

This is a very bad idea.

Let’s start with the obvious: Slap fighting punishes its participants with excessively brutal physical harm.

We’re inclined to think of slapping as a feminized version of what men do when they get in a fight. It’s the way girls fight. It’s boxing lite.

This depiction of slapping, however, has nothing to do with slap fighting. The blows are powerful, vicious and damaging.

Neurologist Nikos Evangelou told Sky News that the rotational forces applied to the brain by the impact of a hard slap, especially when the rules of slap fighting forbid flinching or other defensive actions, are a “recipe for disaster.” He says, “It’s all a matter of time before we see more serious brain injury from a dissection.”

But this clinical assessment doesn’t properly convey the brutality of slap fighting. For that, search “slap fighting” on YouTube and spend five minutes watching. If you haven’t seen slap fighting before, I predict that you’ll be shocked — or at least surprised — by how hard the blows are and by how much obvious damage is occurring.

Knockouts by the first blow are not uncommon. As the victims fall backward into the arms of husky attendants, you’ll see their eyes roll back in their heads and their arms begin to tremble convulsively as they hit the floor. It’s not a pretty sight.

I don’t believe in the so-called “nanny state.” The state should not interfere in the right of its citizens to engage in nearly any activity, even risky ones such as mountain climbing, jumping out of airplanes and smoking, as long as the rights of others are protected. If two men (or women) want to take turns slapping each other, that’s their business.

But the state has an interest in regulating — and, in this case, prohibiting — the promotion of the violence and the values that slap fighting embodies, as well as the profit-taking industry that is already developing around this pseudo-sport.

By the term “state” I’m not referring to the mythical Deep State or even to the legislators, officials and bureaucrats who make up our government. The “state” I’m referring to is you and me and all the citizens who have agreed to participate in a social contract that serves the interests of individuals and our culture as a whole.

And that version of the state suffers damage when young men are given to understand that our culture unquestioningly values and supports the kind of meaningless violence embodied by slap fighting, especially when the violence is implicitly connected to the idea of what it means to be a man.

Dana White, the owner of Power Slap, calls slap fighting “the ultimate test of toughness.” No, it isn’t. It’s actually a way for White and the developing slap-fighting industry to turn a profit that relies on human carnage and the promotion of a set of very bad values.

With mutual consent, Americans should be allowed to slap each other all they want. Knock yourself out. But the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation should say no to the slap-fighting industry. So should the rest of us.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Texas.

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