Sporting: Ban Boxing, Not Tyson

A team of psychologists who examined Mike Tyson told the Nevada Athletic Commission that the fighter suffers "low self-esteem," "impulsivity," "depression," "anger and irritability," and -- what do you know? -- still declared him mentally to fit to box. The psychologists acknowledged only the slightest risk that Tyson would again blur the thick black line between pugilism and cannibalism.Reasonable people can argue that Tyson served his punishment for biting off Evander Holyfield's ear last June 28, or that the punishment should have been longer. Reasonable people can argue that Tyson deserves another chance, or that he doesn't. The real question is much bigger. It's a matter of whether boxing, itself, is legitimate enough an enterprise to continue into the 21st Century.Very little can be said on behalf of "the sweet science," as it was known in a more innocent time. As sporting contests go, it embodies at once the best and worst of competition. It's two men in a ring, testing each other's strength, smarts and skills, determining who can stay the toughest for the longest, seldom to be edited by coaches calling the shots.The spectacle is so electrifying that fight professionals will endure months and years of sweat and swindle just to make it to that one great fight. And the top fighters are very special people who have often endured in their real lives violence and anguish that pale the brutality of the ring.But the end game of boxing, to knock out the opponent, defeats the greatest benefit of sports, which is to enhance health. Tales of fighters dying or sustaining serious brain damage in the ring are endless. To the extent that humanity seeks peace and civility, the staging of such blatant barbarism is disgusting. Pro wrestling may be fixed and equally racist, but it at least has the decency to resist the hard core.Boxing is the most perverse and exploitative enterprise on the sporting calendar. Poor kids, usually from inner cities, usually African-American, see in boxing a legal possibility for escape, a possibility that is, in reality, miniscule. Those who make it are served up as entertainment for the wealthy in spectacles tantamount to human cock fighting.Boxing is very poorly regulated. The sport even finds its way to get over in relatively progressively environments. About ten years ago, a fighter named Aaron Pryor, discredited by drug use and suffering eye damage, actually secured a fight in Madison, Wisconsin. The state did not have a boxing commission and there is no over-arching national authority to ensure that men with no other way to make a living don't endanger themselves in the ring.True, the great fighters have entertained and edified the American people as have few others. Muhammad Ali, suspended for more than three years for dodging draft into the Vietnam War, has been one of the greatest forces for social change ever to wear a jock strap. But even the Ali story today wears the face of agony. He suffers Parkinson's disease and one wonders how all those blows to the head have contributed to his overall condition.If the danger of boxing isn't persuasive, the marketplace ought to be. Within the next few months, the elder likes of Tommy Hearns, Larry Holmes and George Foreman all will be back in the ring. Nobody cares about the fighters in their prime. Foreman may still be able to handle the palookas, but if it isn't unconscionable that a man in his fifties should be allowed to box, it exposes boxing as competition compromised for freak show. One prays that Foreman never steps into the ring with the likes of Tyson.Of course, one prays that no one steps into the ring with the likes of Tyson, but the fight game can't afford to keep Tyson out of action. It's hard to believe anyone actually believes Tyson is innocuous or mentally stable. He is an angry fighter with bills to pay. Only he can save boxing, and only temporarily.Without Tyson, boxing is past an era during which it enjoys any drawing power. Only the most attentive boxing fans even know that Evander Holyfield holds the heavyweight belt for the International Boxing Federation (IBF) or that Lennox Lewis is the World Boxing Council's (WBC) heavyweight champion.Maybe, in a rougher, tougher time, there was a place for boxing. Now, it's only justification is the wealth of promotors and gratification of blood- thirsty sports fans who want to see someone get hurt. Boxing isn't like other sports, in which injury is incidental to other objectives. The objective of boxing is violence. That's how points are scored and fights are won.Tyson and the Nevada Atletic Commission put on quite a show on October 19, during a hearing at which the commission elected to reinstate his license. Tyson wheeled out Magic Johnson, who promised to take the fighter under his wing. Evidently, though, Tyson didn't understand that to be a part of the plan, for he still is being handled by Shelly Finkel. The commissioners asked questions, but they already knew the answers.Nevada lives off gambling and the fight game. Without Tyson, the fight game is dead. With Tyson, the fight game is a farce. Either way, the fight game should be ended.

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