Monday, July 29, 2013

Violent (R)Evolution

After Emile Griffith's death on July 23, I researched him and the controversial fight between him and Cuban welterweight Benny Paret. It made me think of the concept of violence in sports and how it has evolved into something that is so common that people don't give it a second thought anymore.

Unless you live under a rock--then again, if you did you couldn't read this post; I digress--then you should know that to some capacity, every mainstream sport is a physical one and that there are a lot of risks and dangers in being an amateur or professional athlete. Freak injuries could occur, lives could be affected forever, and you could even risk your own life. For example, March 24, 1962 is a very infamous date in the world of boxing. On that day at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Welterweight title was on the line in Paret-Griffith III. The fight was so well-hyped that it also received a national broadcast on ABC. The first eleven rounds of the fight were back-and-forth, filled with excitement and edge-of-your-seat action. However, the twelfth round is what would cast a dark shadow over the sport for an amount of time.

Screen capture from
You would think that seeing his head rock back and forth would have resulted in the fight being called sooner.
During the twelfth round, Emile Griffith opened the round with a flurry of punches, sending Benny Paret into a corner where he had difficulty in holding his guard. Within a twenty-second period, Griffith landed nearly thirty punches on Paret, and referee Ruby Goldstein stopped the fight. As he did so, Paret slowly slid down the corner of the ring and fell unconscious. The pomp and circumstance went on after this initial scene, as many spectators and analysts believed that Paret had collapsed of exhaustion. However, the next scene a few minutes later was an indicator as to how serious the matter was. During the post-fight interview, Paret was seen being stretchered out of the ring while medics checked on him. Obviously startled, Griffith had hoped that his opponent would be okay. Paret later slipped into a coma and died from his injuries ten days later on April 4.

After the fight, fingers were looking to point at a culprit to blame Paret's death. Some believed that it was Griffith, who had retaliated after Paret called him a "maricón," a Spanish gay slur (Griffith was identified as bisexual), during the pre-fight weigh-in. Others had placed the blame on referee Ruby Goldstein, in which they thought he took entirely too long to call the fight after the onslaught of punches brought on by Griffith. Both men have later expressed their guilt and their sorrow over the tragedy that happened that day, and both careers were never truly the same afterward.

On the other hand, the one major blip on the Paret radar was the period between his last fight and the previous was three months. Three months. Not to mention that Paret was completely destroyed in the previous fight and didn't have the motivation for the next fight. This was also his fourth fight within a whole year. You don't see anything like that today. A grown man today would cry if he had to fight that much. You couldn't blame him though, considering that money was tight in his family, and this was going to be his last fight considering his recent downturn.

Have we learned from this event? Has it made us more aware of the dangers of ultra-physical sports and events such as boxing and MMA?
I don't think so. Not in the eyes of spectators.

However, it has affected the awareness of serious (and fatal) injuries that can occur during an event.
Sure, we can't put pads on every single little thing that our bodies have, but we should also learn that bodies need to heal. We need to make money and perform at our peak, but when lives are on the line, is it truly worth it? Some athletes don't think that way. There's the mentality of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" that exists in society, whether its in a mental form, emotional form, or in this case, a more physical form. One thing that has differed from that time period is the enforcement of strong official rulings and the advances and drive to achieve peak physical health and fitness. I'm not saying that the men from fifty years ago were not in good shape--they totally were compared to the average male--but there have been advances in sports science that have given athletes the opportunity to use equipment to better attain their physical needs. Also, the cases of official rulings through board members and trainers enforce the policies of the sport, such as whether an athlete can be "cleared" to do any kind of physical activity. If you would like to throw drug testing in this category, you can do that as well. They're also there for that reason.

Certain sports aren't for the faint of heart, like boxing or MMA, but we as a society have become so desensitized to the near-glorified violence shown today that the main issue at hand is blurred. In other words, what should be an issue isn't seen to be an issue at all by today's standards! When Paret-Griffith III occurred over 50 years ago, seeing a man injured to the point where he later died of his injuries a week and a half later was shocking by the standards of that day. Plus, this was also broadcast on live television. That was a big deal back in the day, and seeing a scene like this almost put the practice to shame. While it would still be shocking in today's society, I don't think it would actually have a strong chance of occurring thanks to the reasons I had mentioned above. Also, there are the graces of the seven-second delay that occurs in most television broadcasts in case if something horrifying occurs. Sometimes the censors do not catch something soon enough, but when a death occurs, heavy discretionary measures are weighed.
[Note: There are several media examples of this that I choose not to get into since this is not a news-themed blog.]

Going back to the "issue that isn't an issue" at hand, more of these sports are being televised nationwide and more spectators have access to the sport than ever before. What used to be the case many years ago was that you either had to be there to experience the full effect or you had to listen to the radio to find out what happened. The announcers could add the emotional effect and paint a good enough mental image for you to know what was going on, and something like that doesn't have a humongous effect on a certain audience since that particular audience isn't seeing the real violence. Do we know where we're going with this? Yes. I'm talking about the children. Today, cable television is all the rage, and children now have the ability to see these events happening either in real-time or in recorded form. While it is up to the parents to decide whether their children are mature enough to understand what is going on, the desensitization of violence in sports begins at a young age. I could be overdoing the analysis on this because I am not a parent myself, but there were certain things that I was not allowed to watch as a young person, and since I'm not in that role yet it's hard to measure standards. In retrospect, I don't think my Dad cared if I watched Friday Night Fights with him, but that's beside the point. I think there are some moral things that could be learned beforehand and children could understand things at faster rates. Not everyone my age is a murderer or has an uncontrollable temper, so something was done right.

In conclusion, the violence revolution hasn't exactly progressed, per se, but it has become more commonplace in short bursts. We don't view men and women literally killing each other, but harsher programming has become more accessible in today's day and age. Seeing brutal punches, kicks, choke holds, and tackles don't mean as much to the human eye and brain as it once did. Seeing other people do it and seeing the pain on their face doesn't exactly translate well to immature eyes, and it could lead to people "trying things" on each other. It happens a lot with kids who watch wrestling, even when they suggest to not try what they do at home. Stuff like this could also lead to bigger and even more dangerous underground workings, but that is a concept that is too complex for even me to get into in a post like this. Heck, what goes on there may have nothing to do with violence in sports; in fact, it could just be out of stupidity for all we know.

Violence is becoming common in society, but is it for the best? It can't be stopped, though accidental death can be prevented. Violence is a key part in sports. What did they do in Rome? People getting eaten was their form of sports entertainment. However, we're not as barbaric as we once were. I'm sure we could see athleticism without a bunch of hungry lions. Can we see athleticism without showing as much brutality? In some cases, no (boxing and mixed martial arts), but in other sports it can be. Baseball, soccer, and basketball do not show as much physical brutality as other sports, and while injury still occurs, it isn't always because of a fight.

I guess if it sports violence hasn't affected one person, it might not affect another in the same way. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Has the level of violence evolved in sports to you? What do you think?