Stories about the recent death of boxing heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali have focused on his athleticism, his larger than life persona, and his social activism. But not much attention has been paid to the severely diminished life he led due to his time in the ring. Ali suffered with Parkinson’s Disease for over 30 years, and experts believe that repeated hits to the head likely caused the disease.
Over the decades, there have been some movements to ban the sport of boxing. No one can deny that boxing is a brutal sport, but many people cite other contact sports such as football as being equally, if not more, likely to cause harm to the athletes involved. As the mother of a football player, I must admit that recent studies on CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) make me worry about my son’s involvement in the sport.
However, there is a major difference between the sports. Football requires blocking and tackling as part of the strategy to move the ball (or prevent its movement) down the field. Indeed, in many sports, there is the potential for serious injury due to bodies and heads colliding. But in boxing, the whole point of the sport is to knock one’s opponent out. If two men did to each other at the local bar what boxers do in the ring, there would be assault charges.
I realize that there are rules of engagement in boxing and that there is an art to the sport. I know that great boxers require hard work and discipline to be good at their sport. But at the end of the day, what they are doing is beating the crap out of each other.
The other thing I object to about boxing is that the boxing world is not regulated in the way other professional sports are. The vast majority of boxers come from impoverished circumstances and are ripe for exploitation. For every Cinderella Man, there are many more boxers who make little to no money for the brutal beatings they take on a regular basis.
The popularity of boxing reminds us that human beings can be bloodthirsty. Watch a crowd at a match, and you will see an ugly part of human nature that I don’t feel we should be encouraging. In her essay for The New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates describes boxing as “the most spectacularly and pointedly cruel sport.” I would have to say I wholeheartedly agree.