The sport of boxing has made me feel uneasy for a long time. It's not that I don't recognise the skill required - boxers must be extremely fit, and have huge stamina and quick reflexes. And it's not that I want to vilify a sport which is dominated by men. It's just that I think hitting people in the head is bloody stupid.
This fantastic opinion piece in the Sunday Star Times rebuts the arguments of boxing 'apologists' one by one. Ultimately, the piece argues, boxing never can be safe, for the obvious reasons that it involves hitting people. These blows aren't accidental, as they might be in another sport like rugby - they're integral to the sport, and required to win. The best way to conquer your opponent is with a head injury that renders him unconscious. All this is pretty hard to argue with.
The opinion piece mentions in passing one argument put forward by boxing's supporters: that if young men aren't given a 'safe' environment to take out their physical aggression, they'll do it on the streets. This really disturbs me. It suggests that male violence is an inevitable fact of life which we have to live with. The best we can do is try to direct it towards willing participants. Crap, I say. Everyone has the choice not to be violent.
Something related, but not discussed in the opinion piece, is what boxing says about the place of violence in our society. Frankly, I just don't enjoy seeing people getting hit. I enjoy seeing people knocked unconscious even less. Tales of young men permanently maimed by boxing injuries make me sad. It makes me uncomfortable that there is any area of life in which violence is condoned or celebrated, and I don't see that getting enjoyment watching someone being beaten up in a boxing ring is morally better than spectating a streetfight for fun. It makes no difference to me that boxing violence is consensual and doctors are on hand - it's still violence and it damages people.
I think boxing has had it's day. Eleven national medical associations, including the New Zealand Medical Association, have called for the sport to be banned. In time, I hope the community at large will come to agree with them.