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In Defense of the Sweet Science
J. P. Heinz
August 16, 1971
Considering boxing's rich history, its artistic and wholesome nature, it is difficult to understand how the moral entrepreneurs regularly manage to stir up so much righteous indignation
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August 16, 1971

In Defense Of The Sweet Science

Considering boxing's rich history, its artistic and wholesome nature, it is difficult to understand how the moral entrepreneurs regularly manage to stir up so much righteous indignation

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In the long view, then, the lesson of history is clear—despite the current inclination to absurdity that afflicts boxing as it afflicts all our arts, pugilism might again prove resilient. Boxing is like Billy Miske. On Nov. 7, 1923, while seriously ill with Bright's disease and thus unable to train, Miske knocked out tough Bill Brennan in the fourth round.[5]

You will recall that we were at Lowdermilk's. As I reflected on the sneers of the fastidious and the cant of the hypercritics, such Pecksniffiian characters as Norman Cousins, David Brinkley and Arthur Daley came to mind. All three had condemned boxing within a few months before my visit to the bookstore—Cousins and Daley in print and Brinkley on television. The thought of them had barely begun to flare my nostrils when I came across this striking psychiatric insight by Bohun Lynch:

"Boxing has a peculiar effect on a certain type of mind. It is a mind that may have, but generally has not, some theoretical knowledge to back its arguments, within a body which has never practiced it. Put flippantly, but quite equitably, the inside of the head rejects what its outside cannot endure."

Norman Cousins? David Brinkley? Arthur Daley?

Arthur Daley of The New York Times is the sort of man who calls the 1920s "The Golden Age of Sport"—which always makes me suspect that the '20s were his golden age. The Daley column that came to mind appeared on a sad occasion: a journeyman boxer had died as a result of injuries received in the ring. Under the heading How Much Is Too Much? Daley informed us that "one more sacrificial lamb" had been killed "on the altar of this most brutal of sports."

While one cannot dispute Daley's opinion that boxing is the most brutal of sports, as brutality is a highly personal concept, boxing is hardly the most dangerous of sports. Shortly before Daley's column appeared, the deaths of two champions, Benny Paret and Davey Moore, had attracted considerable attention, but the prominence of those victims probably made death seem more likely than it actually is. It is difficult to get meaningful statistics about the incidence of fatalities, since no accurate data is available about the number of fights. A Dr. Thomas Gonzales, however, who studied deaths in both professional and amateur sports in New York City during the period 1918 to 1950, found 43 from baseball, 22 from football, 21 from boxing, seven from basketball and three from handball. In an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association he asserted that boxing was responsible for fewer deaths than baseball or football "in proportion to the number of participants," but he cited no evidence in support of their conclusion and I doubt that he knew the extent of participation in each sport. A more careful study, also reported in the AMA Journal, was conducted by Drs. H. A. Kaplan and J. Browder. They made electroencephalograms on 1,043 professional boxers and concluded:

"The amount of damage that may be inflicted to the brain by a blow to the head with a gloved fist, during a properly conducted professional boxing contest, rarely produces cerebral changes demonstrable by any test that we have at the present time."

Furthermore, Kaplan and Browder contend that while some blows to the head may stun, others may cause the state of the brain to be "altered to alertness." The finding of these modern experts was anticipated by Bohun Lynch:

"A smashing blow received brushes away the cobwebs of the mind...."

(That this is intuitively known by wives no doubt accounts for the classic treatment given husbands who arrive home inebriated.) In the final analysis we can probably do no better than rely on the judgment of those who are willing to back their opinions with money—this is the ancient method of economists and bookies, and the still-surviving 1855 classification of Bordeaux was, after all, based on the prices brought by wines. Thus I find it reassuring that the National Board of Insurance Underwriters considers the hazards of boxing small compared to those of football, hunting and auto racing. Across the top of the page of the Times in which Daley's column called boxing the "most brutal of sports" was a headline that read: "Three Killed in Argentine Grand Prix."[6]

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