A Ring Requiem: From April 21, 1962
An early 1950s boxer Laverne Roach died from injuries sustained in a professional match. This was pugilisms first televised homicide—but not its last. Twelve years later, 15 million television fans had a double treat: they watched challenger Emile Griffith scramble the brains of welterweight champion Benny Paret beyond repair, and then saw a rerun of the climactic moments of this state-supervised slaughter in slow motion.
Thus boxing history repeated itself on March 24, just as it will do in the future until informed and outraged public opinion demands the abolition of civilized mans most atavistic sport—the manly art of mutual mayhem. For mayhem lies at the heart of the prizefighting game, as opposed to amateur and collegiate boxing where, whatever the incidence of injury, mishap comes about by accident or human malice, and not by the nature of the art.
Ringside requiems involve a predictable reaction ritual. The pugilistic massacre prompts an official investigation that finally leads nowhere. Humanitarians clamor for protective devices or rules that will reduce the likelihood of ring tragedies. A few sports columnists call for the abolition of prizefighting. And increasingly, of late years, moralists and preachers seize on every ring slaughter as a chance to compose a homily on the immorality of the professional boxing game.
This last development is a hopeful one. For if all teachers of morality could convince themselves and their public of the immorality of professional boxing, the days of this brutal pastime would definitely be numbered.
A dozen years ago, in this country, Catholic moralists seldom directed their attention to the evils of a professional boxing career. Even if they did so, they were loath to condemn it because it seemed to have wide popular approval and to encourage the ideals of clean, disciplined living and hardy virility.
Today things are very different. Perhaps most of our moralists now think that of its essence professional boxing is irreconcilable with the gospel and natural law, and they do not hesitate to make their opinion known. In this they agree with the Vatican City radio and newspaper, both of which forthrightly condemned professional boxing after the Paret tragedy, not just because it is a hazardous career whose rewards are incommensurate with its risks, but because it is wrong in its nature, aim and methods.
The basic reason why professional boxing is wrong is easy to grasp. It lies in the uniqueness of this activity: of all contemporaneous forms of sport in which man is pitted against man, professional boxing alone has as its primary and direct object the physical injury of the contestants.
This fact alone sets prizefighting apart from other sports, no matter how risky they are in themselves or how open to human malice. In amateur and collegiate boxing, presumably, the emphasis is on skill and dexterity, and elaborate precautions are taken to make the danger of real harm remote. But injury in a professional match is no accident. The very nature of the sport is that two career men, under contract, attempt to mutilate each other for gain. The opponents systematically attack each others physical features and organs in a mounting crescendo of mayhem that ideally terminates in a violent assault on mans most delicate organ, the brain. A successful assault ends in a moment of waking helplessness called a technical knockout, or, better still, a clean KO whose symbol is the supine gladiator with a mild concussion. Any less decisive climax gets short shrift from the gallery and contributes little to a fighters career.
Thus professional boxing stands condemned even before the statistics are compiled on occasional ring deaths and the all-too-common. The gospel law of love does not permit brethren to exchange wanton violence for mere renown or profit. There is no charity in a licensed assault that unleashes the beast in the boxer and the sadist in the spectator. As for natural justice, we who have no right to mutilate ourselves for external gain certainly cannot endow others with the right to attempt mayhem upon us by virtue of a contract.
We will welcome the day when the American people finally reject professional boxing for good, and inter it by the side of cockfighting, bearbaiting and the public execution of criminals.