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The Cruelty of Boxing

A personal note on an ugly sport

April 2005

If the sport of boxing were not already with us, it would not be permitted in a modern, thoughtful, and caring society. As it shouldn't be.
Here's an idea for a sport:  We'll find two young people of the simpler mental classes, preferably poor and uneducated, youngsters ill equipped for productive work, and offer them money if they'll agree to be placed in a small enclosure, and there, for our enjoyment, strike each other in the head.  The instruction for the two is to strike one another in the head repeatedly, as hard as they can, to the amusement of the paying spectators.  The goal is to disconnect the opponent's central nervous system from his conscious muscular control, so that he falls insensate to the ground.

Of course, the combatants can't be expected to know when enough is enough, whether they are on the receiving or the giving end of punishment.  So it's expected that from time to time this interruption of the nervous system will not be as temporary as we might wish, so that the contest ends with the loser winding up dead or permanently maimed.  But, since it can't be avoided, it'll be all right;  it's simply the risk the kids take for the money we're offering.  Killing the opponent will be quite within the rules.  A blow, or a series of blows, that kills the opponent on the spot is like checkmate in the game of chess.  It immediately secures the win;  it is in fact the most effective way to win.  If you've got a haymaker in your bag that could kill a horse, you should find the first opportunity to land it.  Such a virtual sledge hammer to the temple, or perhaps to the nose, driving the nasal cartilage into the brain, are ideal maneuvers to incapacitate the opponent.  Perhaps he'll even survive, but of course that's not your concern as a combatant.

Well, now, we have such a sport, don't we?  Boxing;  the human equivalent of cock-fighting and bull-baiting, barbaric practices that have been banned in civilized countries out of concern for the well-being of the beasts.  Well, what of the well-being of the poor young men (and now, women) who are told  – and who believe –  that their best chance of earning a good living is to allow themselves to be battered into insensibility for our amusement?  Who cares about their welfare, about the future health impacts from the damage they regularly sustain to their nervous system?  Evidently not the unscrupulous promoters who are using the youngsters for their own profiteering purposes.  The field of boxing promotion is replete with accomplished con men who find they can easily gain the confidence of  – and shortly gain the purse of –  naïve and uneducated young boxers.

I must admit I did occasionally, when younger, enjoy watching boxing matches myself.  Not in person, but on TV, which unfortunately affords a sanitary insulation from the brutality in the ring, akin to the uninvolved "video-game" feeling of those who push the button to fire missiles in war.  Some basal emotional site in the midbrain allowed me to be fascinated by the spectacle, even as I felt strongly that I was participating in inexcusable barbarism.  There seemed to be no voice at the time to lead our social conscience to the idea that this activity  – youths attempting to maim or kill one another for our amusement –  should be considered illegitimate.  There is still not such a voice speaking loudly in the nation, though there must be thousands who are speaking softly.

Now that it seems clear, if there was ever a doubt, that years of receiving hard blows to the head will have lasting adverse health consequences for the boxer (Mohammad Ali is an example), the time has come to rid ourselves of this latter-day version of the Roman gladiator games.  It has this in common with the Roman entertainments that the purpose is to injure the participants, and that these are expendable;  that the sport feeds the spectators'  lust for cruelty and blood;  and that it contributes to a dulling of the moral sense of the society.  The public inurement to suffering, indeed the enjoyment of another's suffering, was a feature of ancient Rome that undoubtedly contributed to its moral decay.  This same use of an individual's pain and suffering for our own amusement is seen in boxing audiences today.  We will not be able to raise our society's sensitivity toward each other's needs and suffering to a higher level while we continue to use the infliction of pain as a public amusement.

A few civilized countries have taken the enlightened step of banning boxing.  This primitive sport is grotesque and lethal, and has no place in a modern society.  We will not be lacking for interesting sports when it is gone.  Let's call on the U.S. medical establishment and OSHA to do the morally right thing and denounce this sport for the mind-and-body-destroying profession that it is; and let's call on the Congress to legislate this anachronism out of existence in the U.S.  Let's call on the International Olympic Committee to remove boxing from the Olympic Games;  and let's call on the World Health Organization to study and report to the United Nations on the health impacts of this brutal sport.  With some luck we may in time rid civilization of this holdover from even more barbaric times.

© 2005 H. Paul Lillebo

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