- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
While Arthur Daley's interests are largely confined to sport, Norman Cousins is an all-purpose reformer. (Roscoe Conkling once said that Dr. Johnson, in defining the word "patriotism" as the last refuge of a scoundrel, had overlooked the possibilities of "reform.") Cousins' view of boxing, as of almost everything else, had been publicized in his Saturday Review, and this comment particularly fascinated me:
"It is nonsense to talk about prize fighting as a test of boxing skills. No crowd was ever brought to its feet screaming and cheering at the sight of two men beautifully dodging and weaving out of each other's jabs."
Disdain for the kind of performance described by Mr. Cousins would be justified; constant missing of the mark is usually a symptom of deficient hand-eye coordination. But since Cousins has also expressed concern for the mental health of boxing's public, I should admit that paranoia could be another explanation. If neither boxer were hitting the other, paranoiac fans might suspect conspiracy. This would, of course, be a delusion. The accepted method of simulating a fight calls for the opponents to strike one another lightly, which is more persuasive than not touching at all and nearly as painless. Only in modern wrestling and primitive cinema do fighters avoid contact entirely. Thus, "dodging and weaving out of each other's jabs" surely indicates neither skill nor guile. Instead, it is a rare symptom of an all too common ill—incompetence.
Boxing fans do yell "killum," but with neither the frequency nor the credibility of those who favor ice hockey. Moreover, the few boxing patrons who do call for blood are usually middle class and not yet middle-aged. It goes back to their formative years—they were raised on television boxing. When one's early instruction is taken in the family viewing room, one is denied the socializing influence of the mature scholars who may be found in arenas. Lacking these worthy examples, the young middle-class fan has been conditioned by other reference groups, such as pro football crowds, the impersonations of boxing fans presented in B movies and mothers. These fans have not learned the lesson stressed by Liebling, that the true function of the spectator is to advise his favorite of flaws perceived in the other boxer's style (thus the classic, "Hittum inna gut").
The final man on my list, David Brinkley, has also criticized boxing's public. Just before my visit to Lowdermilk's, Brinkley had done an hour-long television special called Boxing's Last Round. It was fresh in my memory then; it is fresh now because I took the trouble to get a transcript. Among other things, Brinkley announced:
"The more poetic fight fan will describe it as an ancient, classic art, a display of grace and agility, physical perfection like a Rodin sculpture, footwork and movement as stylish as ballet, and no doubt all that is true. But it's also true that nothing bores a fight crowd as much as a graceful display of classic pugilism. A minute or so of that and they will begin to clap and stomp and howl for action—meaning slugging, knockdowns and blood."
Saying that many spectators care only for the brutality in boxing is like observing that many Westchester drinkers appreciate only the alcohol in their Ch�teau Lafite-Rothschild. The statement is true, but it does not indict the wine.
I should admit, however, that non-brutal boxing would be as unsatisfying, even to the connoisseur, as nonalcoholic claret. It would be like removing all the blood from bullfighting or like not removing the net from below a high-wire artist; it would transform the thing from drama to display. Lynch again:
"Light hitting coupled with an intensely developed knowledge of science forms a pleasant enough show sometimes. So does the turn upon the music-hall stage of a dexterous swinger of Indian clubs, or Cinquevalli's astounding sense of balance. But it does not thrill. You admire it with your brain but not with your heart. And in the process of ultra-refinement a sport is apt to become emasculated, to lose its efficacy for the purpose from which it is sprung."
Boxing is sprung from fighting. It is a struggle of one lonely man against another. His manager can train him and advise him, his cut man can stick collodion on his wounds and ammonia under his nose between rounds, but the fighter does the fighting alone. Modern Americans find this hard to understand. It has no analogue in their daily lives. They live in large developments and work in large buildings for large organizations, and they seldom succeed or fail alone. When a company does badly its management changes. But boxing is prebureaucratic, preindustrial. It lacks specialization; the fighter performs all roles.