Saturday, June 04, 2016
Muhammad Ali and the Brutal Sport of Boxing
He was a giant, an unforgettable character on the stage of life.
And he deserves all the tributes that are pouring in from all over the world.
But while many call Muhammad Ali "The Greatest" for the kind of boxer he was.
I choose to admire him for the courage of his convictions.
And for what he did out of the boxing ring.
It wasn’t his pugilistic prowess that captured the public’s imagination. It was his courage in standing up for his beliefs, at great personal cost, that endeared him to millions. He stood up against racism and war at a time when doing so was career suicide.
As he said later, “I’m gonna help my people. I use my fists so I can get to where I can use my mouth.”
When he refused to report for military duty during the Vietnam War, he was vilified as a coward. His explanation — “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong . . . . No Viet Cong ever called me n-----” — sparked outrage among the establishment though won him favour with the growing anti-war movement.
For at the time that took far more courage than stepping into a ring. It was quite a mouth. And the tragedy is that it was silenced or muted so soon, so long before before his death.
Which is why I sincerely hope that Ali's final gift to the world is to remind everyone of the dangers of boxing.
For while his Parkinson's disease that struck so early may have been caused by genetic factors, I don't think there can be much doubt that the many blows to the head he absorbed during his boxing career contributed to the neurological damage.
We have seen what has happened to many other boxers, and to some of the NHL's so-called enforcers.
And in the case of Ali, those blows to the head may have also have triggered the early onset of his Parkinson's disease.
Comparing the brain to a squishy ball, Isacson explained that when it’s hit extremely hard, the ball bounces against the skull. About three to 12 days later, massive inflammation follows and the brain is flooded with proteins that are associated with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s results from a loss of brain cells that produce the chemical dopamine. After inflammation, these dopamine neurons are much more fragile, Isacson said, and more likely to become injured by other things, such as regular aging.
And any sport that encourages blows to the head is not a sport as far as I'm concerned.
For while boxing is far less popular than it was decades ago, it still continues, and so do the casualties. As the case of the British boxer Nick Blackwell proves only too clearly.
Who just over a month ago was left looking like this...
And almost died in the ambulance after suffering from bleeding in the brain.
Anyone who wants to fight should take up martial arts like Judo or Karate or Taekwondo, like I did when I needed to learn how to defend myself. For they are far more civilized, and far safer.
And the brutal and demeaning sport of boxing should be banned.
No other sport has the express goal of causing injury to the brain. That is certainly the aim of professional boxing. Even in amateur boxing blows to the head are crucial, and protective headgear may not stop injury from rotational acceleration.
Nothing can be more killing of joy than personality changes, violence, substance abuse and dementia. I also think it is demeaning as a society for people to get pleasure out of watching others fight and that we should consign this public spectacle, as we have done public executions, to the dustbin of history.
Like the neuroscientist who wrote that article, I realize that view is not popular with many sports fans. But since nobody else to my knowledge was standing up for our precious but very fragile brains, I thought I would.
I can't help thinking that if Ali had retired earlier, his voice would not have been silenced so soon.
And wouldn't it have been great to hear him take on a bigot like Donald Trump in the last great fight of his career?
Muhammad Ali was a great American, and a hero to millions all over the world.
But for me he will always be so much more than just a boxer...
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