Sunday, May 13, 2007

Boxed Out

Bill Simmons ( ESPN columnist and author of Now I Can Die In Piece) had a few words to say about the growing decline of boxing, and why more young African-American athletes don’t want to be prizefighters anymore:

“Sure, it’s a completely corrupt sport that lacks any semblance of organization, but that’s been the case since, well, forever. The bigger issue? Lack of star power. American kids don’t grow up hoping to become the next Ali or Sugar Ray anymore; they’re hoping to become the next LeBron, Griffey, Brady or Tiger. The thought of getting smacked in the head for 20 years, soaked by the Don Kings of the world, then ending up with slurred speech and a constant tremor doesn’t sound too enticing. Fifty years ago, before anyone knew better, Allen Iverson might have been the deadliest middleweight alive and ended up broke and incoherent. In 2007, he’s worth tens of millions and there’s a chance he’ll be able to hold an articulate conversation when he’s 70.

“Which scenario sounds more appealing to an inner-city kid with serious athletic chops? Take a guess. It’s ironic that Muhammad Ali–once upon a time our most popular athlete and a boxing ambassador–damaged the credibility of the sport more than anyone else by turning into a quivering mess. Maybe he is a great man, maybe he had a great career, maybe he was the warrior of warriors, but nobody wants to end up like him.”

Even as brutal as football is, at least the NFL doesn't make the players wear leather helmets anymore. Yeah, I used to be a fan, but I can't stand to see any more ex-boxers turned into zombies. Poor white and African-American men who want an athletic career can find easier--and more profitable--ways to make money. Oh, Bill? There ain't no "maybes". Ali did have a great career, and he is a great man. Now more than ever. It'd be easy for Ali to stay out of sight so he won't make people like you uncomfortable. If going out in public in spite of his debilitating condition isn't bravery, what is?