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2) The intent of injury. If the argument concerning the knockout is not satisfying, the objection from injury is much more arresting. Professional boxing is the only sport where the immediate objective is to damage the opponent. A puffed or cut eye, a lacerated cheek, a bleeding nose—these are signals for an intensified attack on the vulnerable area. When Jimmy Doyle died after being knocked out by Sugar Ray Robinson, Robinson was asked if he noticed that Doyle was in trouble. He is widely quoted as answering: "Getting him into trouble is my business." In all other sports the immediate objective is to cross a goal line, tip in a basket, throw a strike. Injury and incapacity to continue are incidental. A knee to the groin, a fist to the face in football, bean balls and deliberate spiking in baseball are penalized and would unhesitatingly be branded as immoral by the theologian. Patterson was simply describing the unique character of professional boxing when he wrote (Victory over Myself), after the first Johansson knockout, of his desire never to be vicious again: "At the same time I know that I must be, because I am in a business of violence." If direct damage to the opponent is immoral in all other sports, why not in this business of violence?
It is here that the medical evidence assumes some importance. Were the injury passing and negligible, theologians might perhaps mitigate their judgment. But if the specialists are right in their claims about injury, particularly brain injury, this must give us pause. The sport as now practiced tends directly to inflict this damage. When injury to the cranium and its contents occurs, it is, as Blonstein and Clarke note (British Medical Journal, 1954), "a direct product of boxing and not an accident as in all other sports." Since this is true, then these effects are also the direct object of the fighter's intention. This is not to say that the fighter explicitly desires to maim or cause lasting damage. Few would be that inhuman. As a rule, the fighter's only explicit desire is to win as decisively as possible. But the means he chooses are means that are damaging. Hence he implicitly intends this damage as a means. How could he disown it? The point might seem a bit fine, but can one choose to pound and sink a nail and yet disown the hole in the wood?
At this point professional boxing encounters the disapproving frown of many a moralist. Man, they argue, does not possess the right directly to inflict damage on himself or another in this way. He is not the absolute master of his person with the power to destroy or mutilate as he wishes. Absolute dominion over man's integrity is possessed by God alone. As a creature, man is an administrator charged with the duty and privilege of reasonable administration. His ability directly to mutilate himself is severely limited.
This is a cardinal principle of sound moral thought. If there is indecisiveness here, there will inevitably be ambiguity or error in the evaluation of many aspects of modern living. Once the limit on man's ability to mutilate himself is obscured, the condemnation of suicide, euthanasia, reckless medical experiment, useless surgery and so on tends to lose rational defense. The novelist knows that the first chapters profoundly affect the outcome of the final chapters of his book. Similarly moral theology is jealous of her basic principles because they contain the germ of practical conclusions.
Applying these principles, theologians believe that when a man pounds another into helplessness, scars his face, smashes his nose, jars his brain and exposes it to lasting damage, or when he enters a contest where this could happen to him, he has surpassed the bounds of reasonable stewardship of the human person. Surely there are equally—or more—effective ways for men to learn the art of self-defense.
Does the fact that this is done for money affect the moral analysis? Certain medical experiments on the human body, even if done for money, would remain objectionable. In fact, is there not a legitimate sense in which it is true to say that the greater the spoils, the more objectionable the whole business? For as the cash at stake increases, so does the danger of viewing the integrity of the human person as salable at a price. Money can be overvalued. When it is, something else is undervalued. If this something else happens to be the integrity of the human person, have we not made a wrong turn somewhere?
3) Fostering of brutish instincts. Man is a delicate combination, midway between animal and angel, with a bit of both in him. His characteristic balance is achieved when he harmonizes these elements. When he fosters one to the neglect of the other, he tends to become either a disengaged dreamer or a savage. Thomas Aquinas knew nothing of professional boxing; but with an unerring knowledge of human nature he pointed out that to take pleasure in the unnecessary sufferings of another man is brutish.
Anyone who has watched professional fights will know what Aquinas was talking about. The crowd too often has come for blood and the knockout. The knockout is the touchdown pass, the home run of boxing. The nearer it is, the more frenzied the howling of the crowd. As Nat Fleischer said simply of the first Patterson-Johansson fight: "The crowd, sensing the kill, went wild." We occasionally hear the referee urge the boys to mix it up, give the fans their money's worth. When a boy is being mauled around the ring, the arena comes alive and emotions run high. The fighter is goaded by the crowd; his own fury further stimulates them. The brutish instinct is in command. At this pitch the finest moves in boxing are missed or—worse—greeted by a chorus of hissing and booing. Tunney was so disgusted with this type of thing in one of his fights that he created the phrase, "the bloodthirsty yap of the mob." The modern prizefight is increasingly the canonization of brute force—and that at a time when we are struggling with all our might to understand the meaning of force in the world.
Is not man too weak a creature to unleash and give free play to these forces with impunity? Does he not tend to grow in the image of that which he cheers? If this is true, how long can he cheer these exhibitions without acting at variance with the demands dictated by his own rational nature? To many, this is the strongest indictment of professional boxing, an objection sufficient in itself as a stricture of the game.
These arguments are not frivolous. Any discussion of professional boxing which ignores them is playing the ostrich. They are drawn from natural law; whatever validity they have would surely be intensified by the Christian revelation through which man becomes conscious of an even more startling personal dignity. It was probably arguments such as these that led the Vatican Radio to announce its conviction that professional boxing is objectively immoral. L'Osservatore della Domenica insinuated the same thing. Informed Catholics, however, are rightly distressed at the implications in the assertion that these views are "semiofficial" ecclesiastical positions.