Todd Snyder: “It’s Such A Tough Sport & It Takes So Much Dedication.”
By Chris Akers
In part three of this interview, we discuss why boxing lends itself to art and language so well and the different layers and motivations of a boxer both in and out of the ring.
Earlier this year, I interviewed two people who, while not competing in the ring, are involved in the sport in different capacities. Sarah Deming, a former Golden Gloves champion turned young adult author who wrote the fictional book Gravity and Jennifer Charlton, a photographer who has taken photographs at boxing shows, including at the World Boxing Super Series. Creative writing and photography are two art forms that have benefited from the composition of boxing.
More than any other sports, boxing seems to lend itself to artistic and linguistic depiction. Seeing as he is a professor of writing, I decided to ask Todd why this is.
“Think about it this way. So much of our language is tied to boxing metaphors,” says Snyder. “You hear people say, ‘I’m down for the count,’ ‘I’m up against the ropes.’ We say it in our everyday language. Folks who don’t even watch boxing will use boxing terminology and don’t even realise it. ‘Oh I got sucker punched.’ All these terms that are loosely connected to the sport. I think that’s part of it. It’s ingrained in our language.
“Two, boxing doesn’t require that I explain the rules very much. Now if you were teaching me how to play cricket or soccer, I’d need you to explain the rules. Boxing is easy on the eye. That’s why it makes great films too. It’s easy to see what’s happening most of the time. Folks like us, we love the nuance. We love the art of it. We love the skills that we see go into it. But it’s easy to write about because it’s raw. It doesn’t require flowery discourse. It doesn’t require fancy words. That’s why Hemingway loved it I think, because it’s easy to talk about. It’s blunt and to the point.”
“That rawness is a major attraction for many people towards the sport. Boxers seem to be less down the line in terms of how they talk about themselves. They can be less PC, appear not corporate (though there are some exceptions to this). There are layers upon layers of their story, even before they get to the ring.
“There’s an American writer called Charles Bukowski. He used to write about boxing and he said one time, ‘You’re never really a fighter. You have to become a fighter every time you come through the ropes all over again.’ He compared it to being a writer when he said ‘Every time you sit down at the typewriter, you got to be a writer again. Just because you were a writer yesterday doesn’t mean it translates to today. You’ve got to prove it every time.’
“And I feel like as far as boxing goes, it’s such a tough sport and it takes so much dedication. And it takes so much focus and so much courage that it’s impossible not to admire folks who are doing it at the high level. If you watch Canelo Alvarez or watching Terence Crawford or one of these guys, the years and years of dedication, courage and strength that it takes to make to that level.
“For me it’s just inspiring. I think boxing inspires people because these guys are doing things that we couldn’t imagine doing. You’ve probably played soccer for fun in the playground. We’ve shot basketball at the YMCA. But boxing fights, we’re programmed to avoid that. We don’t want to be punched in the face. We don’t want confrontation. These people are doing it every day of their lives. So there’s something inspiring about people who face adversity so much and it translates to literature and film, because life is a fight. Life is full of adversary and everyday you get out of bed; you have to go through hit all over again. I romanticise it in so many ways. It just speaks to what we go through as human beings.”
This rawness can relate to the environments and situations most boxers come from, which in turn motivates them to do the best they can. Different boxers have different motivations for stepping into the ring. Some have a great amateur career and aim to move into the professional ranks and be a world champion. Others, like Dustin Wood, come into boxing initially to defend themselves. All boxers want to better whatever circumstances they and those close to them, are in at that time.
“A lot of boxers, at least the ones I know, are motivated not just to help themselves. They’ve got people they need to help. Their parents or their siblings. You’ll see that story with a lot of boxers too. They’ve doing it to help a lot of people get out of their circumstances,” said Snyder, whose passion for boxing shines through. “I love the sport and I’ll love it ‘til I die. It doesn’t mean that I have to ignore the bad parts of it, because it’s a tough, unforgiving sport. That’s what makes it great though. That’s what makes these guys special.”
In part four, the focus is on the life of Bundini Brown, cornerman and aide of Sugar Ray Robinson and later, Muhammad Ali, whose life was as interesting as the boxers he assisted.