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Prizefighting

PRIZEFIGHTING

A contest of punching between two men wearing padded gloves. No adequate definition applicable to boxing or even to its most important levels is possible without introducing many distinctions. This article is restricted to a moral analysis of a single type of prizefighting (professional), though amateur fighting at some levels possesses many of the characteristics of professional boxing and would share to some extent the same moral analysis.

The Catholic Church has made no official pronouncement on the morality of professional boxing. However, theologians applying traditional principles have found it increasingly difficult to defend the sport. In assessing its morality they have admitted its advantages: the opportunity it affords for the development of physical fitness, alertness, poise, confidence, sportsmanship, initiative, and desirable character traits. Furthermore the game has given countless underprivileged youngsters a chance to better themselves. It is generally accepted that the fatalities that occur are accidental to the sport and not central to the moral question. Three considerations have been basic in theological literature.

The Knockout. Many fighters aim for a knockout. Not a few theologians find it difficult to admit that the knockout is justifiable. Directly and violently to deprive oneself or another of the use of reason is morally reprehensible except for a sufficient reason because it is the rational faculties that distinguish man from brute. Sport, money, or fame do not qualify as sufficient reasons. If such violent deprivation of higher controls is reprehensible, then the intent to produce it is reprehensible. A sport in which this intent is integral must be condemned. The argumentation is not completely convincing. The knockout is understood in a limited sense (rendering unconscious). This is not a necessary sense of the word. It is realistically capable of meaning the incapacity to continue. Second, such deprivation of the use of reason, if it occurs, generally lasts only a few seconds. Independently of other factors (injury, injurious intent), it is doubtful that so brief a deprival would suffice to condemn the sport.

Intent of Injury. Professional boxing is the only sport in which the immediate object is to damage the opponent. In all other sports the immediate objective is something else, (e.g., to score a basket in basketball); injury and incapacity to continue are incidental. In boxing, however, injury of the passing or permanent variety is the object of direct intent. Intent of transient injury is clear. A puffed eye, a lacerated cheek, a bleeding nose are signals for an intensified attack on the vulnerable area. Intent of lasting damage is more difficult to show. Certainly few fighters would explicitly desire to maim permanently. However, it seems that every head-pommeling is likely to leave some portion of the brain tissue permanently affected. While such injury does not manifest itself clinically until later and while it need not imply malfunction of the brain, it is cumulative. Hence, though the fighter's only explicit intent is to win as decisively as possible, the means he chooses are directly injurious. Man does not possess the right to inflict damage on himself or another in this way. He is charged with the duty of a reasonable administration of his person. When he pounds another into helplessness, scars his face, jars his brain and exposes it to the danger of lasting damage, he has surpassed the bounds of reasonable stewardship of the human person. Hence, a sport in which such an intent is central is immoral.

Brutalizing Effect. Boxing as we know it today tends to foster the brutish tendencies in man by provoking him to take pleasure in the sufferings of another. The nearer the knockout, the more frenzied the howling of the crowd. The fighter is goaded by the crowd; his own intensified fury further stimulates them. Because the modern prizefight is too often the canonization of brute force and because man tends to grow in the image of that which he cheers, the sport is seen as one that fosters growth in the brutish responses.

In recent years there has been a growing consensus among theologians that the moral discussion must begin with the sport itself, not only with its circumstances. Theologians increasingly see the sport as involving a directly injurious intent and as unduly fostering the instinct of brutality. These conclusions are not necessarily true; nor are they factually true of all fights or fighters; but they are too generally true of the sport as a whole. Thus the

overwhelming unfavorable, if still somewhat tentative, majority vote of the theologians who have discussed the moral question.

Bibliography: g. c. bernard, The Morality of Prizefighting (Washington, D.C. 1952). e. hillman, "The Morality of Boxing," Theological Studies 12 (1951) 301319. e. g. laforet, "Boxing: Medical and Moral Aspects," Linacre Quarterly 25 (1958) 5667. g. perico, Difendiamo la vita (Milan 1960). a. boschi, "Sports e Boxe: Per una guista valutazione morale," Palestra de clero 34 (1955) 769786, 817830, 865881. l. l. mcreavy, "The Morality of Boxing," Clergy Review 41 (1956) 413416.

[r. a. mccormick]

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