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Sports Medley: Boxing Should Be Unacceptable in a Civilized Society

by Tony Medley

When I was growing up in the 50s my dad and I watched Friday Night Fights every Friday night at 6 PM Pacific time on ABC, called by announcer Don Dunphy, who was to boxing as Chick Hearn was to basketball. I was young, and boxing was a recognized sport. In fact, I remember that as a young child we had attended a charity fundraiser at former Heavyweight Champ Jack Dempsey’s home in Los Feliz, an upscale Los Angeles residential neighborhood, and Margaret O’Brien had signed my white shirt. Boxing was an accepted entertainment venue, and I didn’t give it much thought, no more so than watching a baseball or football game.

Things changed for me on March 24, 1962 when I watched Emile Griffith kill Benny “Kid” Paret in the ring at Madison Square Garden on Friday Night Fights. I can still see Griffith pummeling the helpless Paret unmercifully with continuing lefts and rights to his head as Paret stood trapped in the corner unconscious and helpless. Griffith held Paret up so Paret couldn’t slide to the canvas in order that he could continue to pummel him, as referee Ruby Goldstein did nothing to stop Griffith. I thought, “This can’t be right.”

And it’s not right. In a society in which even the avaricious, brutal NFL is making efforts, however halfhearted, to protect its players from concussions, boxing is an unacceptable anachronism, a throwback to the Roman gladiatorial contests.

And now it’s gotten much worse than when I was growing up, in two ways. The first is the emergence of ultimate fighting (UFC), or mixed martial arts. This is, in essence, no holds barred. You can hit a man when he’s down; you can kick him, you can do just about anything to him. While a lot of people actually did find this abhorrent and some rules have been changed outlawing the most outrageous, it’s still a lot worse than boxing.

The second is the emergence of women engaging in boxing and UFC. It’s bad enough to see men do this to one another, but to watch women, the mothers of our children, viciously fight one another is beyond the pale.

While other sports often result in injury, especially football, injury is not the purpose of those sports. They are a byproduct of the sport and there are rules, lots of rules, to protect participants.

Boxing and UFC, to the contrary, have one main purpose, to physically injure the opponent so that s/he is physically unable to continue. The best thing a fighter can hope to achieve is to knock his/her opponent unconscious. This should be unacceptable to any civilized human being. Boxing and UFC appeal to the base instincts that ruled the ancient Romans when they watched two gladiators fight to their death in the Colosseum in the first century A.D. We see movies like Gladiator and in our self-righteousness wonder how the Roman crowds could be so bloodthirsty as to scream for a man’s death and cheer when he is executed by the victorious gladiator. But what’s the difference between the Roman crowds screaming for one gladiator to kill another and boxing crowds screaming for one man to knock another man unconscious?

There is no difference. People who scream for one fighter to knock out another fighter have no moral superiority over the Romans who screamed for the death of gladiators. Boxing and UFC have no place in a civilized society.

But, morality aside, what these people do in the ring would be a violation of law in every state in the union if done outside the ring. For an example, here is what California Penal Code Section 240 states:

An assault is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.

For some reason, undoubtedly the fact that such pugilistic matches make a lot of money, the California State Constitution was amended in 1924 to allow for the regulation of boxing matches and provisions were added to the Business and Professions code to regulate them. While a reading of them does not reveal anything that takes such matches out from under the purview of Penal Code 240 et. seq., the lawyers and courts undoubtedly take the position that such regulated matches are not “unlawful” and therefore are not assaults or batteries pursuant to the Penal Code Section.

When George Hearst, William Randolph’s father, was running to be U. S. Senator from California, he was castigated for his lack of education. He countered this by saying, “People say I’m illiterate. People say I spell cat “K-a-t.” Well, if K-a-t don’t spell cat, what in hell does it spell?”

I’m with George. If what occurs in the boxing and UFC rings are not criminal assaults and batteries as defined by Sections 240 et seq., what in hell is it?  

If it is the law in California that such fights are legal if regulated (and it apparently is) it leads to another, equally vexing question, can one morally agree to being assaulted and battered? Is that something that should be countenanced in a civilized society? I say no. If the law says yes, then the law is an ass.

Regardless of the law, can people who scream with delight when viewing one person legally beating another to a pulp inside a ring claim to be civilized? I say no to that, too.