DeMarco and daughter following his win over Linares. A Woman Who Loves Boxing lobbies persuasively that we should make darned sure young kids can handle the brutality in the sport that adults might be desensitized to. (Hogan Photos)
Boxing is a beautiful craft but a brutal sport. Sometimes even the most knowledgeable observers and ardent fans find it hard to watch.
Recently, I could not help but cover my eyes during the latter stages of Antonio DeMarco’s cruel eleven-round pore-by-pore surgical destruction of Jorge Linares’s once-beautiful face.
Linares was the better quicker boxer and had clearly won most of the rounds. But he was cut on the bridge of his nose, then over one eye, then seemingly everywhere. Eventually, DeMarco’s white trunks were stained with Jorge’s blood. Linares was being hit on the same cuts again and again. Blood seemed to be spurting everywhere. Those things are part of boxing. But seeing it all and sensing the danger to Linares when it appeared he could no longer see made it unwatchable for me.
As I averted my eyes and looked around the arena, I was stunned to see children in the audience; some small enough to be in their mother’s arms. I was having a difficult time processing the blood and gore in front of me. I wondered, how could these children process it? More importantly, why had they been put in a position where they had to see it in the first place?
NBA great Reggie Miller said recently on HBO that he became a boxing fan when he was growing up by watching the fights with his father. I’ve heard many people say the same thing. As with fans of every sport, the vast majority of boxing fans have been cultivated in one way or another. In the best of worlds, learning about boxing is part of an integrated process that also includes learning about what is right and wrong, what is acceptable social behavior and what is criminal, what is sporting competition and what is savagery.
In the special case of boxing, there is context. Children should learn that boxing offers a rare vehicle to some for rising up from the lower economic depths of society. It should be pointed out to them that hitting and getting hit are serious responsibilities. Someone should be teaching young fans of boxing a moral code of respect for the sport and how its lessons often mimic life. Sometimes the best must accept defeat; sometimes hard work is the reward within itself; but at all times, hard work will get you further than you expected.
At what age is it appropriate to allow children to watch? From my perspective — that of a female boxing fan and a mother — I believe a child can watch boxing on TV or on-site when he or she has exhibited an understanding of the issues that surround self-protective behavior. For some, that may be at eight years old; for others, much later. That is for the parent of the individual child to decide. My own children are all boxing fans, but they are not ashamed to cover their eyes when they choose to. Young children have no compass for that. They just watch.
Even more disturbing to me than seeing young children in the arena is seeing the children of the fighters themselves attending their father’s (or mother’s) fight. The only thing I can think of more disturbing than a child watching his or her parent get beaten up is having that child watch a parent beat up someone else. My heart aches when the camera scans a child’s face just as his or her father is losing . . . or perhaps worse . . . winning. I have seen these children break down into tears, coil into a fetal position, or run from the arena.
Would a cop take a young child on a drug bust, even if the child would physically safe? Would a soldier take a child into battle? Admittedly, these are not spectator events; no one is selling tickets. But I submit that the same psychological dangers are in play. I hope boxers and mothers will give this issue their best, most serious consideration.
The American Psychological Association says that children who are exposed to violence at a young age become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, may be more fearful of the world around them, and may be more likely to behave in aggressive or hurtful ways toward others. There is plenty of time for children to find their way to the ring, either as spectators or boxers, if it is something for which they are ready. But children are still children. So please, until they know enough to cover their eyes . . . please, leave them home.