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Friday, September 23, 2005

How 'Bout We Put the Rich White Guys in the Ring?

Mark Kleiman is right. There is something particularly barbaric about sitting around and taking pleasure in watching two people beat the shit out of each other. And yet I like it. I can't defend it, but I do.

I particularly like to watch the vintage fights on ESPN. Ever see Sugar Ray Robinson fight Jake LaMotta in the St. Valentines' Day Massacre? It's mesmerizing. Yet as Mark notes, seven boxers have died from injuries sustained in the ring since 1982 in Nevada alone. The human body wasn't built to take that kind of punishment.

And you'll notice a definite dearth of rich kids in the ring.

It's hard to call for a ban -- these are adults, after all, who knowingly engage in the sport. And people do strange, dangerous stuff all the time for money -- NASCAR is dull as dirt 'til somebody chalks up a fiery wreck. There is only so much you can do to save people from themselves, and most of us are not willing to make the ultimate sacrifice that would surely put a halt to the madness, i.e., stop watching.

But I do like Mark's idea of returning boxing to its turn-of-the-century days of bare knuckles fighting:
As long as prizefighters wear boxing gloves, which protect the delicate bones of their hands so they can safely concuss one another's brains, a few of them are going to die and a lot of them are going to suffer permanent neurological injury. The deaths are more newsworthy, but to my mind the injuries are more heartbreaking.

The contrast between the witty, agile Cassius Clay who struck down Sonny Liston and the brain-damaged stumblebum who is now Muhammed Ali is all the evidence anyone should need to conclude that a major reform is necessary.

And that reform couldn't be simpler: take off the gloves. Then fighters will pound one another's bodies for hours on end, as they did in the Gentleman Jim Corbett era. That might not be as exciting as watching shorter bouts decided by knockouts, but unlike contemporary prizefighting it would be a sport that a decent person who understood was happening could watch without disgust.
Oh and if Mark Burnett and Jeffrey Katzenberg do return the "noble and heroic" sport of boxing to TV as The Contender returns (pointing to brain-dead Muhammed Ali as an example -- WTF?), the first two people who step in the ring and take a beating should be the rich, white Mark Burnett and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Talk about a ratings bonanza. HBO could pry my wallet open real wide for a pay-per-view fee on that one.