THE MAIN EVENT
It's almost impossible to compliment the Rev. Richard A. McCormick, S.J., without tossing a similar bouquet at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (Is Professional Boxing Immoral?, Nov. 5). I can't recall having ever read such a scholarly dissertation on this controversial subject, nor one by such an eminent professor. Father McCormick has saturated his discussion with "heavy" and, to the layman, often laborious theological terminology—a natural course for a theologian to take—but he approaches the question as systematically as one would approach any theological "abstraction." SPORTS ILLUSTRATED deserves much credit for not holding him to the "10-minute sermon" limit.
There are moments, however, when Father McCormick allows his topic to stray out of focus, I think. He uses the term "instinct" a bit too loosely in discussing the fighter's own moral outlook. A prominent psychologist (McDougall) once listed 13 basic instincts, including aggression. In general, most of these 13 so-called instincts have been refuted. There are few true instincts. Aggressiveness is probably closer to a conditioned reaction. To say that the primary aim of boxing is to inflict physical damage is questionable. It is almost inconceivable that a fighter intends to inflict damage at all, but rather strives to win. Many fighters pray for the safety of themselves and of their opponents prior to each bout. He hopes for a way to render his opponent only temporarily helpless, never to inflict permanent injury. We know of football coaches who delight in outlasting the opposition through unnecessary piling-on, rather than strategy; but such a coach does not reflect the feelings of the majority who seek the winning score. The fighter who seeks to permanently injure is almost unknown.
It seems to me that the main argument must center around just how much "dehumanizing" results from damage inflicted by blows to the head. If any person is handicapped to the point of being even slightly less than completely human, is not this enough to justify the abolition of my favorite sport? Maybe any sport that "dehumanizes" should be declared immoral. Or perhaps the sport should be restricted to highly skilled boxers (like Harold Johnson and Eddie Machen) who make boxing more of the manly art of self-defense.
Ironically, in stark contrast to Father McCormick's skilled and intellectual approach, your 19TH HOLE carries an emotional outburst from a reader who blames his Golden Gloves participation for a "temper that frequently gets out of control." I, for one, prefer more thoughtful arguments like Father McCormick's. (I'm an Episcopal priest.)
FATHER LEWIS P. BOHLER JR.
Father McCormick dealt with the problem of professional boxing on a thoughtful and intellectual level. His argument against boxing, as immoral, is superb. Hooray for Father McCormick!
HENRY CRELLIN JR.
If this is typical of the theological discussion on boxing, it is no surprise a great deal of confusion exists. Rather than attempting to judge boxing as a whole, the subject has been separated into various elements: amateur vs. professional, skilled contests vs. slugfests, championships vs. tanktown matches, and even blows to the head vs. body blows. Other aspects are also considered, such as the effects of boxing on the character and financial status of the contestant and the brutality of a fight crowd.
In doing this, the theologian may pass moral judgment on certain fights, or certain rounds, or even certain blows. He, however, is no closer to a moral judgment of boxing as he has merely removed individual parts from the context in order to be able to judge them by previously accepted moral standards. Any immorality he finds is not so because it is a part of boxing, but because it is immoral in itself.
Were the theologian to view boxing divorced from its effects, both good and bad, I believe he would find the act itself completely moral and justifiable as a sport. While disabling an opponent is usually the direct intention of a boxer, this disablement is not intended to be, and in the great majority of cases is not, either harmful or permanent. Also personal hatred for an opponent is practically nonexistent among boxers.
Finally, the claim that boxing fosters brutality in its participants should be challenged strongly. The opposite effect is more generally the case.
If professional boxing today is immoral due to its explicit purpose (injury) and usual influence on moral values (fostering of brutish instincts), this immorality could very well apply to amateur boxing as well as professional. It is the individual boxer, amateur or professional, who displays in the ring those personal qualities upon which theologians pass judgment.