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Boxing: Down for the Count

The tenth edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines boxing as
“the art of attack and defense with the fists practiced as a sport.” I could be
mistaken, but there is a certain emphasis placed on the idea that boxing is
practiced as a sport. It is rather ambiguous. Is boxing a sport to begin with?
Is boxing something else that is just practiced as a sport? Is it, can it, or
should it be practiced as something else rather than as a sport? Maybe I am just
making too big a deal out of a simple definition here. Nevertheless, this simple
definition of boxing gives rise to one question we should all take some time to
answer: should boxing be practiced as a sport? Examination of medical findings
and statistics and re-examination of our views and goals as a modern society
will lead us to the one inevitable conclusion: considering boxing as a
respectable sport just flies in the face of decency and civilization and
therefore, it should be banned. Somehow, boxers and supporters have deluded
themselves into thinking that boxing, when properly conducted, is safe. The
classic justification goes something like this: “boxers are not two brawling
brutes seeking to maim or kill each other. they are two closely matched
athletes seeking, through the use of such skills an footwork, timing, accuracy,
punching, and feinting, to determine who is the better man in the ring” (Farley
26). Unfortunately, dead boxers tell a different story. A study on dangerous
contact sports conducted by Patrick Malone of the Knight Ridder News Service in
1980 revealed that from 1970 to 1978 in America, there was an average of 21
deaths per year among 5,500 boxers, or 3.8 deaths per 1,000 participants,
compared to college football’s 0.3 deaths per 1,000 and high school football’s
0.1 deaths per 1,000 (Sammons 247). Another more recent study conducted by the
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia revealed that
361 deaths have occurred in the ring worldwide since 1945 (NHMRC 22). Deaths and
serious injury suffered in boxing contests reveal only a small percentage of the
potential for danger. Unfortunately, the damaging effects of the “sport” are
cumulative and difficult to diagnose, sometimes resulting in death, serious
illness, or blindness long after the boxer is out of the public limelight.

However, convincing evidence has mounted over the years to the effect that
chronic encephalopathy (a disease of the brain marked by personality changes,
intellectual impairment, slurred speech, and motor deficits), Parkinson’s
syndrome (a nervous disorder marked by tremors, drooling, muscle weakness, and
speech difficulties), spine disorders, and other forms of permanent physical
injury are frequent companions of the “sport” (NHMRC 7). Those who argue for the
use of helmets in professional boxing (as in amateur boxing) should be brought
up-to-date with the current statistics. The study conducted by the NHMRC of
Australia also revealed that from 1985 to 1993, six of the eighteen deaths
reported were amateur boxers (NHMRC 22). These numbers suggest that fatal brain
injury occurs despite helmet use and that there is no safe way to box unless the
head, which has always been the prime target on the opponent’s body, is
specifically not permitted as a target. Simply put, the safest way to box is not
to box at all. The statistics and research findings mentioned so far are, for
the most part, a formality. It does not take a genius to realize that a “sport”
in which victory is obtained by rendering the opponent injured, incapacitated,
defenseless, and unconscious, can be quite hazardous to your health.

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Although the extreme physical hazards of boxing is, in my opinion, reason enough
to abolish the “sport”, perhaps a more important reason is the fact that boxing
just does not belong in modern society. It is surely one of the supreme
anomalies of our time. Modern society is supposedly against violence. We
constantly hear about controlling violence on television, violence in music, and
violence in movies. Large segments of society would want to see guns banned.

There are strict laws that protect wives and children who are victims of
domestic violence. So it would seem that we are intent on becoming a gentler and
more civilized society. Violent behaviour is just not acceptable anymore and
must be punished. However, how sincere are these goals if on the one hand
society advocates non-violence and on the other continues to allow boxing
matches to be held as sports spectacles. What kind of message is being sent
here? It is not right to be violent but it is acceptable to enjoy watching two
people beat and batter each other. Sadly, some people believe that it is a
boxer’s individual right to accept to risk his life for the entertainment of a
bloodthirsty audience; after all, he is in it for the money and fame. However,
advocates of a civilized society should not be duped by this violence-thirsty
segment of our society into labelling boxing a “sport”. It is not a sport. It is
a show for the barbaric masses, just as gladiatorial fights were great
entertainment for the Roman populace in ancient times. Would modern society
consider the gladiatorial fight a sport? Why not? Each man must defend himself
and also attempt to injure his opponent; he must show brute force, fighting
skills, cunning, and courage. Is boxing not the same in these respects? Although
a significant difference lies in the fact that gladiatorial fights, unlike
boxing, are carried out to the death, the comparison between the two does not
stand in the way of the point I intend to make: the inherent and intended
violence in boxing does not belong in the philosophy of sport that modern
society should adopt.

In relation to modern society, advocates of boxing argue that boxing advances
society in that it serves as a “safety valve” for violence, allowing people to
dissipate or redirect the aggressive tendencies they have for others. This is
known as the vicarious aggression catharsis hypothesis (Klavora 131).

“Catharsis” here is an Aristotelian term which refers only to the purgation or
draining off of tragic feelings, and not aggressive behaviour. So it is only by
loose analogy that anyone has suggested the possibility of vicarious catharsis
of aggressive feelings, and sure enough, research evidence does not support this
hypothesis (Klavora 133). On the contrary, most studies have shown that the
observation of violence increases subsequent aggressiveness (Klavora 133).

Extending the concept of vicarious catharsis to other feelings does not really
make much sense either. A vicarious hunger catharsis hypothesis would suggest
that feelings of hunger could be dissipated just by watching someone eat a
savoury meal. This, of course, is pure nonsense, as is the concept of vicarious
aggression catharsis. Another flawed argument supporting the importance of
boxing in society is that it provides a social and financial ladder for the
disadvantaged young. But let us be realistic. How many of the thousands of young
competitors out there will become another Muhammad Ali, another Mike Tyson? The
odds are clearly against these youngsters, no matter how tough they think they
are, as much as the odds are against other youngsters who dream of one day
playing in the NBA. What is particularly sad about this argument put forth by
boxing supporters is that it allows for disadvantaged youth to be exposed to the
risk of further handicap in, for most, the illusory hope of advancement.

Elevating the status of boxing from what it really is, fraudulent entertainment
for a bloodthirsty, violence-addicted audience, to the level of respectable
sport mocks the values of what we consider to be a modern, civilized, and
progressive society that deems to frown on violence. At the most, boxing is a
parody of the worst in our society. And therefore, if our society is true to the
values that it sponsors, it should at least remove boxing from the category of
sport and relegate it to what it really is: circus entertainment. Or better yet,
taking into consideration the injurious effects of boxing and the grip it has on
our youth, boxing should be banned altogether. It is high time that modern
society delivers a knockout punch to bring boxing down for the count.

Works Cited
“Boxing.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. 1996. Farley,
James A. “My Fight in Defense of Boxing.” Sports Illustrated 23 Apr. 1962:

Klavora, Peter, and Kirk A.W. Wipper. Psychological and Sociological
Factors in Sport.Toronto: U of Toronto, School of Physical and Health
Education, 1980.

Sammons, Jeffrey T. Beyond the Ring. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1988.

National Health and Medical Research Council.

Boxing Injuries. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia, 1994.

Category: Miscellaneous


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