BOXING'S 'DARK SIDE'
By Missy Fitzwater
“I personally plan on being able to use my brain in the future...Why on earth would anyone choose to voluntarily get hit in the head and face?....You’re a sweet girl from the country, why do you want to hang out with thugs and gang members who have nothing better to do with their lives than get into fights?.....Anyone who would get involved with that is nothing more than a savage.....Have you lost your mind? Well, you’re about to!..... Have you no self-respect?”
These are just a few of the comments I received when I told family and friends that I had started boxing. I was stunned, rendered speechless. The impact of these sentiments was more crushing than any blow I had been dealt in the ring.
Where were the enthusiastic, supportive reactions I had anticipated? This was my initial encounter to the ominous stigma that boxing is branded with. It would not be my last. People were not at all shy in regards to sharing their opinion about boxing with me. As a matter of fact, it seemed that most felt that it was their duty to enlighten me to the perils of boxing.
My physical, mental, and yes, spiritual well-being were at certain risk if I continued down this bedeviled path. Few (if any) sports are so vehemently contested. The controversy is wide-spread and many have lobbied to have the sport banned. These strong reactions startled me.
To be perfectly honest, although I connected with boxing on a much deeper intimate level, I began to question the sensibility of my decision to pursue boxing. My heart wasn’t willing to give up on boxing without a fight.
So I decided to take a hard look at my sport and try to sort through the good and evil. Some of the objections I repeatedly heard were that boxing is violently dangerous, primal, and attracts an unsavory human element.
I began my research by going back to boxing’s roots. Boxing emerged as a sport about 5000 years ago. And yes, its beginnings were, indeed, brutal. Most contests, at this time, were declared victorious by a life or death decision. This was true for most sports of this era. Boxing has done its homework though, and regulations were established in 1743 with the London Prize Ring Rules and then further enhanced by the 'Marquis of Queensbury Rules'. These rules established forced boxers to wear padded gloves and rounds be limited to three minutes. This laid the groundwork for modern boxing. Boxing has continued to evolve through numerous regulations to protect and insure the safety of the fighters. Including, but not limited to the protocol that all boxers receive a physical examination prior to and following each bout, and that there is a physician ring-side for the duration of every bout.
Even with all of these rules and regulations people still preached to me that boxing is primal and therefore savage and brutal. I don’t dispute that boxing is primal; all sports fill the primal need for competition. Gathering food, seeking shelter, and caring for children are also examples of primal behaviors.
Primal does not equate brutal or savage.
So far, my research validated my passion for boxing. I was happy to report this to the nay-sayers in my life. But they were already poised to unleash their next attack on boxing…"What about all 'the studies?" They claimed that these were irrefutable, scientific proof that boxing is dangerously brutal and will most certainly result in my brain being permanently damaged.
Fair enough. There are a multitude of studies on boxing and I had not read even one. So, back to work I went. I tried to take into consideration the author, motivation, and the transparency in the methods and conclusions of each study I read. There are reams of papers on the incidence of concussions in sports. To my surprise, in many of these, boxing is not at the top of the list of sports that have the highest concussion rate. Football, ice hockey, and soccer often preceded boxing.
As I continued my, admittedly limited, exploration I was excited to find that for every study that surmised that boxing was unhealthy, I was able to find one whose findings found positive and healthy benefits in boxing. In summary, the negative conclusions included concussions, eye injuries, bruising, lacerations, and shoulder injuries. These are all common in any number of sports, and not limited to boxing.
All of these can be minimized in boxing by strict adherence to rules and regulations and the use of proper protective equipment. And, most importantly, the best way for a boxer to avoid injury is to put the proper amount of time in training, perfecting technique and building strength and conditioning.
Missy Fitzwater and Light Welterweight Champion Terence Crawford
I was exhilarated to find boxing’s positive side in a number of studies and papers. I had the opportunity to witness one such benefit first-hand. There were two gentlemen who had been training in my gym for a couple of months. One evening one of them struck up a conversation with me; he told me that the reason that he was in the boxing gym was because he had Parkinson’s disease. His disease had robbed him of one of the passions in his life, playing tennis. His friend had seen a report on CNN that explained the benefits of boxing training for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, and he decided to give it a try. After several months of training, he was able to return to the tennis court and play an entire game without the tremors and balance issues that Parkinson’s had left him with.
Renowned boxing trainer, Freddie Roach, spoke, in an article in The New York Times, about how the same training he does with his boxers has helped relieve him of his tremors from Parkinson’s. Rock Steady Boxing Gyms are popping up across the country to specifically offer boxing training to patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Another area that boxing has had a positive impact is the mental health field. The article Sweet Science 4 Life-Using Boxing to Support Mental Health Care, details how boxing therapy is being used in the mental health field as a therapy to channel aggression and help with impulse control. Academic papers such as Neurological Effects of Physical Exercise and a Systematic Review of the Psychological and Social Benefits of Participation in Sport for Children and Adolescents: Informing Development of a Conceptual Model of Health through Sport, both found that the participation in sports and activity improve cognitive function and critical thinking, among numerous other benefits and advantages of being physically fit.
The sport of boxing fits the criteria of sport and activity that is supported by the findings in these papers. Once again, with all of my freshly gained knowledge, I tried to ease the fears of boxing for my family and friends. There was still dissent, and this time it was focused on the social aspect of boxing. This was an argument that I could relate to. I have to admit that the first time I entered a boxing gym I was intimidated at the thought of the people I might meet.
I entered this world, regrettably, relying on stereotypes and uneducated inferences as to who they might be. I am happy to admit that I could not have been more wrong. After just a few moments in this gym, I knew I was among some of the best people I would ever have the privilege to know. I was welcomed warmly and there was not a hint of the atmosphere of intimidation that I’d imagined. I have been in many boxing gyms since, and have always found this to be true in each one. I discovered that we all came from a variety of backgrounds, and that each of us were called to boxing for different reasons.
Some of us needed discipline or empowerment, others needed acceptance, confidence, or simply a way out of a life that we may have felt trapped in. Sugar Ray Leonard may have stated it best when he said, “Without boxing, because of my neighborhoods, who knows what would have happened to me. It was always about following the leader. Boxing gave me discipline, a sense of self. It made me outspoken. It gave me confidence.”
Boxing has taken in many bruised and wayward souls and given them self-respect and the ability to respect others. It is then able to provide communities with good, solid respectful citizens who always seem willing to give back to their communities and take an active role in giving another bruised soul a hand-up. Not a bad model for any society. I am grateful to all of the people who preached the evils of boxing to me. I was given the opportunity to examine my sport and fall in love with it all over again.
I understand that I personally cannot change the popular view that boxing is inherently bad, but I have invited people to come and experience my world for themselves, and almost without fail, they have become fans and supporters of the sport. This may be my mission, to shine a light on this great sport that has done so much for so many, one soul at a time.
Missy Fitzwater is a passionate amateur boxer and writer for Boxing USA. Missy trains and competes in amateur tournaments and is an advocate for the positives both mentally and physically which Boxing can bring to any individual.