With boxer Chris Blackwell lying in a hospital and his family hoping that he will be successfully brought out of his induced coma in the next day or so, the world of sport and team games – particularly those involving physical contact – are once again confronting the implications of ‘danger’ and ‘injury’ as they apply to their particular circumstances.
Some opponents argue that boxing is unique because it involves deliberately targeting the head, while its adherents counter-claim that the sport is voluntary, that its participants are aware of the dangers and that it is better to allow it in controlled circumstances – not least the availability of expert medical services – than to ban it, which alternative will only send it underground and into more worrying pastures.
Yet boxing is not alone in facing detractors. American Football and rugby are currently addressing major head injury (concussion) issues and, at elite level, there is scarcely a sport on the planet that does not involve putting the body through physical strains and stresses that over time will eventually leave most ex-participants suffering from cumulative chronic conditions and long-term physical effects.
Does this really matter, especially in circumstances in which the overwhelming bulk of those capable of reaching the pinnacle of their chosen sport or sports would probably accept their actual or likely long-term infirmities as a price worth paying for the opportunity they had to gain the joy and excitement of a sporting career together with its attendant financial and other rewards?
The undeniable fact is that part of the attraction of sports and games is the opportunity they offer for individuals to test themselves against not only the stop-watch and current records at whatever level, but also against other competitors and/or teams in pursuit of glory – whether that be in the form of medals, cup, trophies or just simple, straightforward, recognition by the world at large.
The scene in the back of a taxi in which Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando’s former-boxer character in 1954’s On The Waterfront movie) wails to his brother “I coulda’ been a contender” is so famous precisely because it sums up perfectly the frustration and anguish that all of us might feel – indeed probably have felt – at a situation in which recognition by both our peers and the world at large might have been ours but for the vagaries of Fate, chance or circumstance.
And not just in a sporting context. This could apply equally to Life generally, or to love, the Lottery or indeed spiritual enlightenment.
For the fact is that life itself is dangerous, albeit that most of the time most humans conveniently choose to ignore, deny or refuse to acknowledge it.
Furthermore, for fans the world over, the ‘danger’ factor is a significant aspect of what attracts them to particular sports. Where would rugby, field hockey, ice hockey, football, basketball, horse and motor racing, ski jumping, sky diving and taekwondo be if all physical contact/hazard was to be systematically removed from them simply because it could?
It is inescapable that part of joy spectating is the opportunity to watch others more talented than we are cope with danger, often in circumstances or situations to which we know or strongly suspect we would not be prepared to submit ourselves. Well, not willingly.
Those who go into the military might be regarded as a special case. By ‘joining up’ they accept the potential that harm, wounding or indeed death may come their way. Presumably, on the face of it, by both extension and definition, those who argue against boxing as a sport because of its inherent capacity for causing head trauma also should be out-and-out pacifists.
After all, it is difficult to think of a more extreme case of ‘putting yourself in danger’ that being prepared to go to war just because someone has ordered you to. The ‘Elf & Safety’ brigade should be permanently on the military’s case.
At least boxers, well most of them, get into the ring voluntarily and pumped up with excitement and adrenalin at the prospect of getting involved in their impending contest.