Monday 10 February 2014

Soon to be unacceptable

Boxing is called by the Greeks πυγμαχία and translated by aficionados as the 'Sweet Science' and aka The Noble Art.  I started boxing, in a ring, with ropes and a blue and red corner when I was seven or eight years old in primary school. The boys in my class used to do it for half an hour after lunch one day a week - with the full support and approval of the school and supervised by one of the teachers.  I was rather good at it despite being small, at least partly because I have a bit of a blunted affect.  Not the sort caused by schizophrenia, depression, PTSD or brain damage and within the normal range but enough so that I had no sense of empathy with the other small child whose face I was thumping.  For the same reason I was rather good as a soccer full-back because I wasn't afraid of wading into an opposing forward and cutting the legs out from under him.  I modelled myself on 'Nobby' Stiles who effectively closed out the Portuguese star Eusébio during the 1966 World Cup.

Last year, in the London Olympics, Ireland was raving about a young boxer called Katie Taylor who pummelled her way to the top and won a gold medal in her class.  In exactly the same way as we cannot, should not, try to prevent black people from becoming President of the United States or homosexuals from having a shot at wedded bliss, it is desperately unPC to think that girls really shouldn't be boxing. But I bet a lot of people, with rather sharper affect than me, were thinking it. I'm sure that, before Katie Taylor surfaced a tuthree years ago, most people didn't even know that women's boxing was a fully organised sport with rankings, training, bouts, champs and trainers.

Today is the 81st anniversary of Primo Carnera's 'victory' in the ring over Ernie Schaaf.  It is only memorable at this distance of time because Carnera's KO blow put young Schaaf into a coma from which he never recovered, he died on Valentine's day at the age of 24.  What a waste, he looks like such a nice boy.  But Schaaf's death was by no means out of the ordinary, he was exactly on the button for average age of death in a study of 334 fatalities in the boxing ring over just over half a century.  The Department of Neurosurgery team at UCSD carried that analysis from an extraordinary database called the Velasquez Fatality Collection.  These data were compiled by a humble trolley-driver from NYC called Manuel Velasquez who knew a lot of boxers and didn't like the way his friends were being injured and killed so that so that some hundreds of people could park their humanity outside of Madison Square Gardens for a couple of hours and bet money on the outcome of a bloody encounter in the ring between two fellow men.

In my list of things currently seen as unexceptionable or even desirable I forgot boxing.  So I'm happy to use the memory of poor Ernie Schaaf's death as the lever to rectify the omission. You possibly think that boxing is just another sport or that we've come a long way from encounters between retiarius and secutor in the Roman arena or the description of bare-knuckle bruising described by Hazlitt in 1822.  We haven't. Noble Art, my arse.

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