No mas

Rarely do you see a sports team so utterly demoralized and defeated as the Cleveland Cavaliers were last night.  By the last minute, the Cavs didn’t even foul on defense (an admittedly low success strategy) or run the ball up court on offense.  Reminded me of Roberto Duran against Sugar Ray Leonard when Duran just quit, saying “No mas.” 

Which leads me to this question: is boxing immoral?  Should it be banned (note: it is banned in several states)? 

Ralf Bader, a young philospher, has a book chapter on the subject here.  Bader’s bottom line is:

Boxing should not be banned, even thought it may well be a dangerous, imprudent and immoral thing to do.  There is no justification for using the coercive power of the state to interfere in people’s lives and prevent them from voluntarily deciding to fight for money.

I have a hard time seeing any sound reason to disagree with Ralf on the legality issue.  But is it immoral?  Bader argues that we may have a Kantian duty of virtue (not a duty of right) to avoid it since the aim of boxing is to intentionally inflict harm on others (even though participants consent).  However, I’m not so sure it is all that clear cut from other perspectives. 

An act utilitiarian would certainly have to favor boxing since it is hard to imagine, especially given its consensual nature, that it doesn’t increase general utility (especially since the duration and intensity of the pleasure of those who watch and love the sport is likely to far outpace the pain of those who disagree with the activity.  On the negative side, the duration of the pain of those who get injured fighting is likely to be long lasting [and participants may have an excessively high discount rate on the possibility of long-term harm] – but there are a lot of benefits accrued to participants as well). 

If one uses a virtue ethics approach, one could argue that boxing is inconsistent with human flourishing since it can lead to damage to the human body, especially the keystone faculty of reason.  However, the same could be said for a number of other sports as Bader discusses (which might lead us to the unfortunate conclusion that sports like rugby and football, as well as cheerleading, are immoral).  But much of the training that goes into boxing is good for participants’ health and the training lifestyle contributes to temperance.  And the “sweet science” can train us to have greater courage and discipline.  Indeed, its education in the “manly virtues” is a net plus – not to mention leading to a certain joy of living (and the satisfaction of independence gained from going toe to toe with another man with no help but one’s own head, heart, and fists).                

So, is boxing immoral?  I’ve only hit on a couple of possible approaches, so there are likely a lot of other interesting takes out there worth thinking through. 


7 thoughts on “No mas

  1. OK, you are asking important questions, so forgive my NBA comments.

    As small-market guy I’d love to see an Orlando-Phoenix series just because it would bug the League and the Media, who have been drooling over a LeBron-Kobe match up and are now devastated

    I do have to say, though, that I like the Celts. I like teams that pass and play defense. And KG is a super-stud, especially as a team player.

  2. Anything that makes David Stern cry is good in my book. He’s the most annoying executive of any enterprise I can think of. Smug does not accurately convey Stern’s outlook/attitude. But you gotta love Pierce/KG/Allen/Rondo. Wish there could be a way to trade Wallace 1 second before a championship is delivered.

  3. The problem with the Bader quote is that it assumes that those people who take up boxing are fully-formed, competent adults. They are not. The brain continues to develop (particularly the part of the brain that deals with risk assessment) well into the late 20s, well after everyone already begins boxing. This research finding explains so much stupid behavior by adolescents, particularly males.

    Do we let a young child bang its head against the wall or play in the busy street? No, we protect the child, just as we need to protect the bigger children that want to start hitting each other for sport.

    There are, of course, enormous implications for the type of research findings I’m alluding to (for instance, the ethics of recruiting young adults into the military, but at least military service has a higher purpose).

  4. Yes, I agree that as we learn more about the brain and child development, the more sketchy military recruiting and military service by 18 years olds – in particular – becomes. Indeed, I’ve long argued that JROTC programs are a problem because of this.

    So, that just means we should be careful about allowing young children to box, not that boxing should be illegal — but what does that say about football and cheerleading?

    1. I wouldn’t want the state to go too far down the paternalistic road in this area, so I’m hesitant to talk about banning anything.

      I would probably make an exception for boxing, though. A main purposes of boxing is the KO (which is short for traumatic brain injury). I don’t think banning boxing for people under 30 would be that big of a loss to our liberties. And if people over 30 want to do, let them at it.

  5. Boxing rules require that you face your opponent, you cannot turn your back or duck below your waist. The ropes confine you, you have no teammates to hide behind, and everyone (including probably your family and friends) is watching. No excuses offer escape, and you can only prevail by the skill in your hands and the fortitude in your heart.

    If you watched an ordinary fight, say Adamek-Arreola, you witnessed something few witness in American: courage and fortitude under brutal conditions. A smaller Adamek- rocked repeatedly, wobbling, but always responding and surviving; the larger but less skilled Arreola forced to wade through scores of shots to land just one, but doing so again and again, trading punishment for that one chance at glory and victory. They both showed pain and frustration, but fought to the final bell. Courage and fortitude by the bushel, and in a form the ancients would recognize as virtuous and honorable.

    (And grace: Arreola took a tough loss in his hometown and his Mexican fans booed. He took the microphone and said, “Hey, Mexicanos! Shut the F*** up. This guy is tough bastard and beat my ass, you give him respect”.)

    The brain damage claims are pretty specious and anecdotal, like second hand smoke studies. The opinion has become common-think because it seems logical that a beating produces long term damage, but the brain is a lot more complicated than “slosh=permanent damage”. None of these guys were going to college to study Latin in the first place, so the baseline should be consulted in any serious study.

  6. (Sorry for the rant, and I recognize that Grover covered the same points (with a picture to boot), but man do I love some boxing, my dad taught me and I teach my kids, and we all watched that fight together. None of it seemed immoral.)

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