Boxing by its very nature is a troubled sport. When the exact goal of an endeavour is to entice two grown men into viciously attacking one another, it’s evident the entire affair and its surroundings will always be rife with unrest and agitation.
Controversy and accusations of cheating are perhaps more prevalent in prizefighting than in any other sport.
It comes as no surprise then that until recently “deflated balls” was a punchline better reserved for any joke about bodybuilders, professional wrestlers and boxers — men with physiques that beg the question: “What juice courses through their veins?”
Now, though, the ubiquitous and vaguely sexual term runs rampant across sports pages and late show monologues, referencing the controversy that arose after the New England Patriots were accused of taking the air out of their paunchy little pigskins to garner an unfair advantage in pitching and catching in the cold during their recent victory in the AFC NFL Championship football game.
Reactions have been mixed to the allegations; fans’ and pundits’ responses have ranged from shrugs and complacent malaise to indignant outrage.
Much the same response greets every mild and mysterious outrage that proliferates in boxing. Whether it’s a low blow slung purposefully in a time of need, a judge’s scorecard that seems tainted by a promoter’s grubby fingers, or a pugilist’s suddenly ballooning physique, everyone has their own morality when it comes to rule-bending and outright cheating.
Veteran tactics, excessive holding, weight draining, spitting the bit, rabbit punches, low blows, thumbing, headbutting, hometown cooking, taking a dive, biased referees, payoffs, loaded gloves, blood doping, steroids — advantages come in all shapes and sizes.
There is a reason we should care about all of them more than we do. The ramifications are more far reaching than even the most vociferously outraged denizen of sporting morality realizes.
It’s not just affecting the sport — it’s affecting your life.
On a night, not so long ago, I caught the tail end of sports on the nightly news. A locker room reporter had stuck a mic in front of the goalie of a hockey team that had just lost in overtime. The glum little puck-blocker that had failed his team by allowing the disc to breach his stronghold stared morosely at the floor and had only one solemn line to offer in summation of the outcome.
“It was just… it was a really tough night,” he said shaking his head, in a tone more appropriate for conveying the sorrow of putting down a beloved old dog or regaling an acquaintance with the tale of that time you were stuck on a snow capped mountain and had to resort to eating one of the unlucky explorers who perished on your expedition.
I smiled at the television, in my mind scoffing at the seriousness of the pain expressed by this grown man, who had lost nothing more important than a silly game. Minutes earlier on the same broadcast the local anchor had told all of us viewing of tragedies, horrors and travesties scattered around the world over the course of the day.
Though I grew up in a land where lakes quickly ice over in late autumn and hockey skates are dug out of closets by boys with a glee akin to a patient housewife finally pulling out her one pair of Steve Madden pumps on date night, I myself was never much for hockey.
What I was for, however, was football, and I watched every single one of my team’s damn games from kickoff to the final tick from the age of eight to 27. Every single one.
Then I moved away and had no way to follow the team I loved on television. Slowly, as sometimes happens in life, I drifted out of love with what once stirred great passion, pain and joy.
In the heyday of the throws of my adoration, Sundays were a precarious proposition. As my team went, so too did I. A win meant smiles and an afternoon of light hearted fun. A loss foretold a churlish darkness that would descend upon anyone foolish enough to invade my life.
As I contemplated this, I thought of the goalie who had invested so much of his life, so far at least, to playing a meaningless game.
And I thought of the hours I’d spent watching my team. With pre-season and playoffs (but nary a single Super Bowl appearance) I had spent around 50 days of my life watching those men in jerseys scamper about the field.
As Deflate-Gate unfurled and past accusations resurfaced over the Patriots penchant for underhanded dealings, my recent interest in hockey gave me a renewed perspective on the power of sport. That sad sack goalie cleared my jaded thoughts like a Zamboni laying down a fresh glaze of ice.
I’ve used thousands of hours of my time on this earth watching various sports. When added together, days, weeks and months of my life have been used up doing so.
When you think of it that way, it seems like a waste of one’s time. But watching sports allows you to invest emotionally in something that can inspire in ways you may not find in your day-to-day life.
No sport does this better than boxing, because it lays bare the human condition, and the complexities of nearly all other sporting competitions fall away.
We project our dreams onto our fighters and through them see that impossibly difficult things can be overcome.
Deflate-Gate isn’t important because football is important.
I regret to inform you, but football isn’t important. What is important is the effect that football has on people.
Tens of thousands of fans in Detroit had their mood altered when a blown call in their wildcard game against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this month effectively ended their season. Folks in Indianapolis, now contemplating deflate-gate, feel similarly cheated.
Boxing’s two biggest stars, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, continue to fritter away their opportunity to prove their mettle against each other.
But should that mythical match ever come into being, it seems almost certain each man will have to subject themselves to testing for banned substances.
In a sport sorely lacking in agreed-upon oversight, such an agreement would help to ensure that fans don’t feel cheated, misled or let-down by a result so many would be invested in.
Sports are a pastime. They are entertainment.
In the grand scheme of things they are but a trifle used as a mechanism for injecting our often boring lives with contrived passion and surrogate accomplishment.
They fill the void, the empty pockets, and the dead spaces within lives across the world.
Sports regulate our emotions. It’s medication via competition.
Like a prescription bottle lottery, you might get an upper or a downer, but whichever way it falls, you’re taken someplace you otherwise aren’t likely to get to.
The irony is that we stage these events to revel in a passion that is not quite our own. The beauty of it, however, is that we experience every prick, every success and every injustice as though we are a part of the proceedings.
All we ask is that the deck isn’t stacked against us.
Sports are our escape. The fantasy we create to touch the unattainable.
We must punish those who steal away our escape when they stoop to amoral deeds and reduce our field of dreams to the paltry shittiness of everyday life.