“You go to an amateur tournament… You get an inner-city, really rough, hard-core black kid, and you get a white kid from Minnesota. Maybe they never even say ‘hi’ to each other all week. But they fight each other, and after the fight, they hug.”—John Scully
I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me. It would be a better world– Muhammad Ali
Boxing: Sanctuary from a Country on the Edge
From Chicago to San Bernardino to Baltimore to Orlando to Baton Rouge to Minnesota and now to Dallas (and many places in between) , a series of horrific and deadly events have forced an introspective look at just where our country is right now in the grand scheme of things. These horrible things are real; they happened. Now men are dead including five Police officers. America is mourning.
A travelling President Barack Obama said the reaction of the majority of Americans, protesters and police to the week’s trio of tragedies showed a nation remarkably unified despite some views it is polarized on racial issues. “There is sorrow, there is anger and there is confusion about next steps but there is unity in that this is not how we want our communities to operate, this is not who we want to be as Americans And that serves as the basis for us being able to move forward in a constructive and positive way.” I hope and pray he is right.
Like most, I am trying to analyze what this all means, but while doing so, boxing thankfully has been one of my safe havens. When immersed in Boxing (whether as a spectator or writer), my feelings off uncertainty, helplessness, and fear are mitigated and are not as great as they probably should be. However, it’s difficult to misperceive a dangerous edge that seems to exist right now—one that is predicated on racial issues.
Boxing doesn’t have that edge and is essentially colorblind. While those behind the scenes of boxing often use issues of color and ethnicity as a means to generate more cash, it’s never really about race or ethnic differences; it’s always about cash. In this regard, it should not be taken as seriously as it sometimes is. Black vs. White often is designed to equal green. The “Eastern Euros have arrived,” will likely be replaced by something else, maybe “Here Comes the Chinese,” and while the paradigm might change and the normal might become “new” along with a changing business model of more bangs for the buck, the essence of the thing won’t change anytime soon.
Boxing—warts and all– is a safe place for me to be without having to worry, for the most part, about what I say. No prissiness or self-righteousness. No phony artifice, no plastic smiles or soft and clammy handshakes; There is no “right” way to behave. You either love this thing or hate it, but if you think it’s a barbarian ritual, you had best tread with caution. There is no political correctness here. It’s the boxers and cornermen who interest me the most. No ultra-fragility or overly sensitive psyches or sucking up—except among a few journalists. The sport is not a meeting of the Rotary or Kiwanis and it hardly shackles me with corporate handcuffs.
Sure, it’s far from perfect and I am disheartened by a sport that has never been all that stringent in its application of scruples or morality, has made only halfhearted efforts to provide benefits for its combatants, provides a platform for the malfeasance of unqualified judges, celebrates out-of-shape referees who allow fights to last dangerously long, and grants awards to writers who insult the intelligence of serious fans. I am especially appalled by supposedly grown-up “journalists” who display petty jealousies and engage in cyber catfights and shameless sycophantic behavior overlooking the fact that the boxers are the primary story and that journalists exist only because humble and accommodating boxers are happy to talk to them and allow them entry into their lives. However, given what is going on these days outside of boxing, these shortcomings pale in the scheme of things.
Yes, I know all too well there is a dark place in boxing. Reduced to its essence, a fight involves two combatants that engage with knowledge of deadly risk and anticipation of high reward. It’s about swallowing blood, shaking off the sting of a shot to the jaw, or absorbing a lethal hook to the liver with its deferred and paralyzing result. It’s waking up the next morning with the nausea that comes from a dangerously concussive head shot. Worse of all, it’s too many who have never woke up the next morning. As the legendary Ralph Wiley wrote in “Serenity”, “Boxing was on the one hand barbaric, unconscionable, out of place in modern society. But then, so are war, racism, poverty, and pro football. Men died boxing, yet there was nobility in defending oneself.”
In the end, boxing is hardcore, but the violence here is controlled and not generated by external and far more edgy variables. Boxing in the ring is genuine; it’s my safe place and, given the nature of this past, never before have I cherished the sport so much.
Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records. He enjoys writing about boxing.
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