Boxing is a harsh sport, the only one that permits the deliberate injury of an opponent. At its worst, it can be ugly and appalling, as it has been the past few weeks when, in succession, we saw the frightening knockout of Alexis Arguello, the death of Duk Koo Kim and the one-sided pounding of Randall Cobb.
It's awkward at such times to defend boxing, but defend it we do, remembering the extraordinary drama inherent in a good fight and the pride in human achievement that can be derived from it. Joe Louis in the ring at his peak was an exciting and admirable figure. So was Muhammad Ali. Memorable fights—such as Zale-Graziano, Ali-Frazier in Manila, the first Leonard-Duran bout—rank with the greatest of sporting events.
Part of boxing's appeal is undoubtedly atavistic, a deep, generally hidden desire in humans to attack and conquer, if only vicariously. We are civilized animals, with laws to restrain our baser instincts, but we are still animals, and mock-savage play like boxing and football is part of our heritage. But because the primitive-ness of boxing is so apparent, we are quick to condemn it after a tragic accident like Kim's death.
Yet curiously, boxing, while unquestionably dangerous, is not as dangerous as it looks, and neither death nor serious injury are disproportionate aspects of it. A report entitled "Brain Injury in Boxing" that was approved by the American Medical Association last June implies that most investigations of the sport and its problems have been limited in scope. An oft-cited British study of the "punch-drunk syndrome," published in 1969 by A.H. Roberts, was based on examinations of only 224 of the 16,731 pro boxers registered with the British Board of Boxing Control between 1929 and 1955. The AMA's report doesn't dismiss the risk of brain damage to boxers but it does say that past studies haven't taken into consideration the possible effect on the brain of alcoholism, venereal disease and the aging process, and that such studies have often failed to include control groups for purposes of comparison.
As for fatalities, the death of any athlete is distressing, but fatality rates (deaths per 1,000 participants) for various sports mentioned in the AMA report reveal that fewer boxers die in competition than do college football players, scuba divers and jockeys. The AMA cautions that it has no information on how these statistics were compiled and can't attest to their validity or reliability, but it concludes its report by saying, "Boxing is a dangerous sport that can result in death or chronic brain injury. However, other sports may also result in accidental death or brain injury.... [Boxing] does not seem any more dangerous than other sports presently accepted by society."
At the same time, the report strongly recommends stricter supervision of boxing, particularly on the professional side, and so do we. Too often, the callous greed of promoters and the political maneuverings of the underqualified hacks who ostensibly are the guardians of the sport undermine efforts to protect boxers. That should be corrected. But abandon the sport? No.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE...
In case you think financial lures to recruit college football players are something new, here's a paragraph The Herald-Independent of Winnsboro, S.C. reprinted this fall from its issue of Nov. 18, 1937 under the heading, 45 YEARS AGO. It reads, "This was overheard at the Carolina-Furman football game last Saturday. We do not vouch for the truthfulness of the statement—in fact, we hope it is false. Said a spectator: 'Two Gamecock players were talking. "Why didn't you tackle that man?" said one. "Why didn't you?" replied his companion. "You make more than I do." ' "
A BIGGER BANG FOR A BUCK?
Gun-control advocates may wince at the idea, but for several years now a handful of banks around the country have been giving away hunting rifles to folks who invest in long-term time deposits. It's something like the standard practice of giving investors premiums of dinnerware and toasters, except that the expensive rifles are presented in lieu of interest. The Bank of Boulder in Colorado has been doing this for about seven years, advertising in such magazines as American Rifleman and American Hunter, and says that over the last six years an eye-opening 30% to 40% of the money deposited in the bank has been rifle-inspired.