The Moral Implications of Boxing
Recent events have touched the moral nerve. A stark reminder of what boxing can do. Danger is never far away, fighters know that, they understand the dangers. They bury their fears quite brilliantly. In truth, they have to. Those that watch the sport also hide plenty, those that have a conscious do anyway. But does any fan really have a conscious? Does anyone involved in the sport have one?
At the time of writing, Alejandra Ayala is fighting for her life in a Scottish Hospital after suffering a 10th round stoppage loss to Hannah Rankin on Friday night. Our thoughts are with her, we pray for a full recovery. But we must spare a thought for Rankin, what must she be thinking right now.
Boxing can do this, thankfully, such occurrences are rare. But each one is regrettable, and every single time it happens we should think about and question our role in the sport. Is it really a sport? The aim is to score points, but equally, probably more so, it is to knock your opponent out. Every punch absorbed is likely to have an impact at some point in the future. Read Tris Dixon’s thought-provoking book Damage: The Untold Story of Brain Trauma in Boxing, and your opinion, if it needs to, will change. Maybe every boxer needs to read it.
“Anyone who loves boxing–even the sport’s most die-hard supporters–must take a longer and more serious look at the issues that Tris Dixon writes about with such nuance and humanity in Damage…there’s no better argument for more studies, discussion, and awareness than this book, a volume equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring with respect to the need for change.”–Greg Bishop, Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated.
Damage is an uncomfortable read, but a must-read.
We all put the possible life-changing and at times life-ending, consequences to the back of our minds. The last few days should prompt us all to look further into our souls and question many things. I now worry more about the fighters I interview, the ones I am closer to. I have never spoken to Ayala, but if the brave warrior was a friend, how would I feel about boxing then. What if next time, and there will be a next time, it is a friend, someone I am close to. Could I seriously still write about the sport never mind continue to watch the Noble Art, if noble is indeed the right word. And should it even matter if I know Ayala or not? Should I be having the same deep soul-searching conversations with myself regardless?
I was ringside earlier this year enjoying the majestic performance of the ‘home’ fighter, but also deeply worried about the ‘away’ fighter. Too many punches taken without reply, a familiar story in every fight they have. I worried about what lies ahead. There should be no more fights, but there was another soon after, and more will follow. Each fighter has a reason to fight, for many, they can’t stop. I’ve thought about that fighter plenty since then. The fighter should stop. But I know that fighter can’t.
I have watched boxing for nearly 50 years, I have seen many stories of a similar nature to the one of Alejandra Ayala. Hopefully, Ayala will be one of the lucky ones but some of her contemporaries have paid the ultimate price. Johnny Owen, Steve Watt, Bradley Stone and James Murray are just a few of the brave souls who fought for the love of a sport and are sadly no longer with us. On the same weekend Ayala started a different kind of fight, the Turkish-born German fighter Musa Yamak lost his. Yamak suffered a fatal heart attack in a fight in Germany. A story that won’t get the headlines that it should. It was a difficult weekend for boxing, there have been many. Too many.
There are others like Michael Watson and Gerald McClellan who survived horrific injuries sustained in a boxing ring. But their lives changed forever. A reminder that it is not just a case of if they survive, it’s how they survive.
For those 50 years, after every tragedy or near tragedy, I have gone straight back in the following weekend for more. What kind of man am I that gets so much enjoyment out of such a sport. A sport that can kill. The deeper you go into boxing the more you discover what a dirty sport it is. A famous promoter once said:
“Everything in boxing is a lie.” He wasn’t far off the truth.
The fighters are in many ways, the innocent victims in a sport that often gives so little but takes so much. Some don’t get paid for their work, they fight for love and the hope that one day they might get a fight that changes everything. For the many, it never comes. But a fighter never loses that hope, that’s why so many carry on past the point of no return. But as they chase shadows, the damage mounts up beyond repair.
There are no answers, who are we to tell someone when to stop. How do you put a limit on how many fights someone has or at what age they have to stop boxing? I always say have one fight too few rather than one fight too many. But how do they know until they have that one fight too many?
Boxing is like no other sport, there are fights again this weekend. It’s doubtful many will think of Ayala when they tune in or take their seats or lace up their gloves. But they should. How many will even remember Owen, Stone and the other fighters who sacrificed everything? They should. We all should.
I too will be watching again this weekend, and I have friends fighting. The events of the week have made me think, a little more deeply than normal. I will worry more than normal, it’s not now about winning or losing. It’s now about much more.