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. 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: 26-27. 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