Montreal Gazette - - CITY -

Acou­ple thou­sand years ago, in a gen­er­ally less civ­i­lized time, en­thu­si­as­tic spec­ta­tors used to gather in Ro­man are­nas to watch glad­i­a­tors bat­tle, of­ten to the death. Even­tu­ally, the rise of Chris­tian­ity put a stop to the bar­baric, mur­der­ous “sport.” So­ci­ety has not ad­vanced quite as far as we might think. To­day, we have box­ing. There is noth­ing sweet about the sweet sci­ence. While there may be fewer lives taken in box­ing rings than in the are­nas of old, the sport is a fun­da­men­tally bru­tal one, the ob­jec­tive be­ing to pum­mel one’s op­po­nent into sub­mis­sion, with punches to the head if pos­si­ble. Yes, foot­ball and hockey can be violent, too, but the vi­o­lence is sec­ondary to the main ob­jec­tive. What hap­pened to Mon­treal boxer Ado­nis Steven­son last Satur­day in Que­bec City, as he sought to de­fend his WBC light-heavy­weight ti­tle, was not the re­sult of any dirty tac­tic by his op­po­nent or any ap­par­ent mis­take by the ref­eree. The punches to the head that Steven­son ab­sorbed were part of the game. Now, he lies in a hos­pi­tal bed, with a “se­vere trau­matic brain in­jury,” breath­ing with me­chan­i­cal as­sis­tance and in deep se­da­tion. His prog­no­sis is un­clear. Within the last two years, two Cana­dian box­ers have died as a di­rect re­sult of fights. There is now also in­creas­ing aware­ness of the long-term toll taken by re­peated blows to the head: chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy (CTE) can in­clude mem­ory loss and bouts of rage. Is en­ter­tain­ment more im­por­tant than a hu­man life? De­fend­ers of box­ing will point out that it in­volves con­sent­ing adults; that box­ers at most ama­teur lev­els wear pro­tec­tive head­gear; that the “sport” pro­motes phys­i­cal fit­ness and has al­lowed trou­bled youth to fo­cus their en­er­gies on a le­gal, and some­times lu­cra­tive, pur­suit. Those ar­gu­ments are not per­sua­sive. Con­sent is not a blank cheque: in Canada, there are le­gal lim­its to how much harm con­sent can ex­cuse. Pro­tec­tive head­gear does not of­fer suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion. There are any num­ber of other ways to get fit. Like­wise, out­lets can be found in less harm­ful martial arts or other pur­suits. There is sim­ply no ex­cuse for box­ing. It should be banned by law — along with mixed martial arts, which is ar­guably worse. As for sports like foot­ball and hockey, while aware­ness of CTE has in­creased and bet­ter con­cus­sion pro­to­cols are in place, much more re­mains to be done to make those sports safer. There should be noth­ing en­ter­tain­ing about peo­ple do­ing se­ri­ous bod­ily harm to each other. Not two mil­len­ni­ums ago. Not now.

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