Boxing's doing my head in

MARK REASON
Last updated 07:06 09/05/2012

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OPINION: "Pretty formidable" vaunted the headline. Alexis Pritchard - provided she whacks a few foreigners on the melon at this week's world championships - looks set to box for New Zealand at the Olympics. It's a victory by KO for feminism, a raised glove for equality, a sock in the jaw for chauvinists.

Sisters are doing it for themselves. Girl power and all that. Finally women have earned the Olympian right to detach each other's retinas and induce early Alzheimer's. Political correctness stalks the land with a lead- weighted boxing glove and threatens to bean anyone who might suggest that this is a daft idea.

Now on Sunday morning the old grey cells were a little mushy with claret when I read this story in the Sunday Star-Times. Neural pathways were blocked with slow- moving early morning traffic and the synapses were on a long coffee break. So I flicked over the page for a story with big pictures and easy-to-follow words.

On the top of page 11 there was another boxing yarn. This one seemed to be about world champion Floyd Mayweather, possibly the best fighter in the world, who will shortly serve a 90-day sentence for domestic violence. Oh, and there was some stuff about his dad, a handy pugilist himself, who once used baby Floyd as a human shield against an enraged gunman.

I lowered my gaze, and there at the bottom of the page was an article about Junior Seau, a former NFL linebacker who had just killed himself with a bullet to the chest. He is the third ex-NFL player to commit suicide within a year. All three deaths are being linked to brain deterioration, a result of repeated impact to the head as a result of playing sport.

But if women want to punch other women on the head, then that is their right, just as it is the right of men.

A few years ago Dr Peter Foley, of the New Zealand Medical Association, said: "New Zealand as a society condemns other forms of violence, such as domestic violence, bullying and child abuse. It is high time that all forms of boxing are also condemned."

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, president of the Australian Medical Association, said: "International events based on the sport of goodwill - such as Olympic and Commonwealth Games - are no place for interpersonal violence and injury. It's time to remove boxing."

Instead, in the name of enlightenment, we are adding to it. Women shall go to the Olympics and hit each other. Our society seems to have a growing taste for beating people up in the name of sport. White collar workers are using their lunch breaks to go boxing or kick boxing or practise martial arts. Cage fighting is all the rage.

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Despite all the best medical advice, an angry society seems to be turning into some sort of Incredible Hulk. It's cool to biff people, as I found out at the Avengers movie this weekend. And biff them again and again and again. I yearned for some more Robert Downey Jr dialogue, but the kids seemed happy with all the punches thrown. Thor even had a big hammer to crunch people with. Cool.

And real life seems to be imitating art. In yesterday's paper the headline read: "Kiwi boxer dies within 32 seconds of bell for first pro fight."

The cause of William Rodriguez Gomez's death has not yet been established, but he collapsed with convulsions. Gomez, an experienced kickboxer, was 29.

On Saturday night I watched with horror as the Waratahs' medical staff allowed Tatafu Polota-Nau to resume playing after a horrendous head knock. After colliding with an opponent, Polota-Nau was laid out, face down on the turf. When he tried to get to his feet 30 seconds later, he staggered and collapsed.

Against all IRB protocol the medical staff treated him and let Polota-Nau carry on. A few minutes later he collapsed again. It should be noted that last season the hooker suffered concussion, the first of which induced onfield vomiting, in consecutive matches. What is going on here?

In the same match Berrick Barnes, a player who we all thought was going to retire because of multiple blows to the head, carried on after another head knock. Richard Kahui took to the field again after being concussed in the Chiefs game.

Is it any wonder that many people cheer women's right to box in such a macho culture.

Let's hope that life doesn't continue imitating art.

At the end of Clint Eastwood's film Million Dollar Baby, about a woman who fights for her right to box, Maggie becomes a quadriplegic. Her manager now has to fight for the right to terminate her life as she so fervently desires. The irony is obvious. And maybe, as Eastwood has hinted, it is an allegory of the American dream.

A dream of equal rights that has culminated in a 16-year-old middleweight Claressa Shields boxing her way to London via Spokane. She has only just reached the age of consent. And in Afghanistan the "burkha boxers" are being supported by Oxfam as they try to fight their way to London.

"Blah, blah, blah," says Pritchard. "Look at the opposition there was to women running the marathon. It's the same kind of thing. Women can do anything."

Oh dear, I need to lie down - I think I've got a headache. z Mark Reason is a sportswriter formerly with the Times of London and Daily Telegraph in the UK. He now lives in Wairarapa.

- Taranaki Daily News

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