A  knock to the head could mean death or victory. Those who choose to fight, accept this risk – so why can’t we?

 

On September 30, Mike Towell tragically lost his life after suffering serious bleeding and swelling to his brain. He sustained injuries during a five-round fight with an opponent, fellow professional boxer, Dale Evans. Death and serious injury are inherent risks in most sports, but this doesn’t make things any less heartbreaking.

Mike’s fateful last fight has reignited the calls, mostly notably and persuasively by neuroscientists, for boxing to be banned. The argument from proponents in favour of banning boxing is twofold:

1. Boxing, by definition, revolves around aiming to knock your opponent out. To do this most efficiently would be to hit someone repeatedly in the head.

2. And, given the hyper-violent nature of boxing’s aim as a sport, this glorifies, encourages, and normalises violence.

I, however, think that despite the dangers, banning boxing would be more damaging to the boxers as well as impractical and expensive to the police. It would also be more damaging to society, not less.

Boxing injuries to the brain take two forms: bleeding from a haemorrhaged blood vessel, and, tearing of the brain tissue. The former is that which causes death, the latter can cause conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Solutions to lessen these injuries are surprisingly difficult. Ultimately, so long as boxing goes on, boxers will sustain injuries. No one wants to see their opponent or own boxer seriously injured or killed. So improving the safety of boxers is an ongoing dilemma and priority (most notably amongst trainers, referees, and ringside doctors).

Regarding the glorification of violence, I suspect, this argument has no merit in this debate. Violence, for better or worse, is a fundamental human trait. One look at our culture — music, film, T.V., literature, gaming and sports — shows violence is endemic in our society and inseparable from the human condition; a monkey on our backs we have yet to shake. Certainly there is no place for indiscriminate violence in society. Boxing however, like all sports, is consensual, regulated, and respected. We marvel in the achievement of the winner for overcoming his or her personal challenge; we respect the loser for their equally brave performance.

I am willing to concede however, given that boxing is the most popular and most prevalent combat sport, that it is uniquely placed to glorify violence like no other. And, the injuries can be life-diminishing or worse, deadly. So, let’s suppose we ban boxing on this reasoning. Great. Except, nothing stops boxing from being practised around the world. Moreover, it would be desperately misguided to think that banning organised boxing would end boxing in the U.K. It is inevitable that boxing (and any similar sport we ban) would fall prey to illegal organisation given its profitability. Simultaneously, the danger to the boxers would exponentially increase from competing in unregulated events. Not to mention, in a climate of unprecedented police cuts we can hardly afford to police a ban on boxing.

Statistically, violent crime in the U.K. is traditionally decreasing, despite the continued popularity of boxing. Instead of inspiring violence, boxing acts as a safe haven from more damaging surroundings for many. Boxing clubs provide young people living in socially deprived communities an escape and respite from their problems. Stephen Reznick’s experience as a fight doctor in the U.S. is a wonderful example of this, summarised as ‘Gloves not Guns’. The local boxing he oversaw exemplifies how beneficial the sport can be in helping to change the lives of young people. Similar results have been found in the U.K. Personally, as a young boy in primary school I was quite often involved in fights on the playground. My father enrolled me in Karate classes, the main lesson being, as with boxing, discipline — not to react violently in any given provocative situation. And, since joining my university’s amateur boxing club, I can confidently say that not only has my physical health improved, I am also far more psychologically positive after training and ready to take on the day’s challenges. There is also a social element at play. The sense of teamwork, training together; we sweat, fight through pain and laugh together.

The Bigger Picture

Putting this into context, consider this: each year the NHS reports 73,000 people die of heart disease. An alarming 96,000 deaths per year are due to smoking. We should be scrambling to lower these numbers. The Independent notes that around 500 boxers have died as a result of injury since 1884-1995. I do not mean to trivialise the dangers of boxing. However, it should be noted that boxing for fun is greatly beneficial for one’s health. And, those who choose to compete do so of their own volition — similarly to those who choose to smoke or eat unhealthily. Banning a sport which, on the whole, produces more good than harm is illogical, costly and ultimately will perversely cause more damage than benefit.

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