Few of us would have the sense to recognize that we cheer brutality even if it's something that's happening right in front of our faces. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the field of boxing - which by all accounts remains to be the toughest sport there is. In a way, television has cushioned some of the violence that boxers endure while inside the ring because ask anyone who has watched ringside or has seen fighters spar that those punches thrown are by no means, just pitter-patter slaps.
I love boxing.
I admit, I have such high regard for boxers. Not only do they endure the most difficult discipline of training but even more, most do it for measly sums of money. It's as if it's a test of character, spirit and strength all rolled into one. Inside the ring, it's mana-a-mano. No weapons besides your hands and the skills developed inside the training gyms. It's a virtual mythology happening within your lifetime, of rising from ground up and conquering odds, conquering through all that life has thrown at you. Victory and recognition are fruits made sweetest by the unmatched physical pain boxers go through.
Yet, much as I am ecstatic to see my boxer pull through, the fact isn't lost on me that besides physical punishment, the losing boxer loses even some of his spirit.
But those are intangibles and waxing poetic about health won't move legislation nor blind sports passion. And until a concrete proof comes - that such contact sports do cause harm in a big way, can all of us really stop to consider the consequences of our actions or inactions.
I think that, finally, there's proof or at least I think research on Alzheimer's opened something. Malcolm Gladwell writes.
The stained tissue of Alzheimer’s patients typically shows the two trademarks of the disease—distinctive patterns of the proteins beta-amyloid and tau. Beta-amyloid is thought to lay the groundwork for dementia. Tau marks the critical second stage of the disease: it’s the protein that steadily builds up in brain cells, shutting them down and ultimately killing them. An immunostain of an Alzheimer’s patient looks, under the microscope, as if the tissue had been hit with a shotgun blast: the red and brown marks, corresponding to amyloid and tau, dot the entire surface. But this patient’s brain was different. There was damage only to specific surface regions of his brain, and the stains for amyloid came back negative. “This was all tau,” Ann McKee, who runs the hospital’s neuropathology laboratory, said. “There was not even a whiff of amyloid. And it was the most extraordinary damage. It was one of those cases that really took you aback.” The patient may have been in an Alzheimer’s facility, and may have looked and acted as if he had Alzheimer’s. But McKee realized that he had a different condition, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), which is a progressive neurological disorder found in people who have suffered some kind of brain trauma. C.T.E. has many of the same manifestations as Alzheimer’s: it begins with behavioral and personality changes, followed by disinhibition and irritability, before moving on to dementia. And C.T.E. appears later in life as well, because it takes a long time for the initial trauma to give rise to nerve-cell breakdown and death. But C.T.E. isn’t the result of an endogenous disease. It’s the result of injury. The patient, it turned out, had been a boxer in his youth. He had suffered from dementia for fifteen years because, decades earlier, he’d been hit too many times in the head.
Which leads me to wonder if this was the cause of the behavioral changes that happened to Billy Collins after that tragic fight which ultimately led to his death. It was easy to attribute his broken spirit to the beating he took and failure to live to his celebrated potential thereafter.
Yet, it seems that what we have here is actually a direct correlation between head traumas and drastic behavioral changes which manifests as alcohol abuse, unexplained headaches and strange, out-of-the-blue violent outbursts.
I'm not sure how this will change sports such as boxing and football but people should know what they're cheering inside that sports arena and face the facts. Boxers, promoters, sports officials and sponsors are not entirely to blame.
We could be just as guilty as they are.
Kevin Iole on HBO's Assault in the Ring
PS: Also addressing it to you, Zaki, so you may not get the idea that Daddy is blood-thirsty as you may think just because he is a big boxing fan. Because, more than boxing, I care about boxers (and the well-being of all humans) even more.