It’s good to hear that Nick Blackwell has woken from the induced coma he was put into, a week after his title fight against Chris Eubank Jnr.
Blackwell was carried from the ring on a stretcher, at the SSE arena in Wembley following his defeat to Eubank Jnr on 26 March. The fight was stopped in the 10th round after a doctor decided Blackwell could not see from his swollen left eye. It’s lucky for Blackwell that his eye was visibly damaged, or the fight would have gone on, and in all likelihood he’d have suffered irreversible brain damage or worse.
The general secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, Robert Smith, summed up the attitude of those who run this ‘sport’ with these words: “Nick Blackwell wanted to be a boxer. Like everyone else who wants to take part in boxing, we all know the risks. I don’t think anybody did anything wrong.”
Smith’s words are true, as far as they go. But they leave out of the equation the simple fact that professional boxing is a ‘sport’ that involves two men (usually working class and often from ethnic minorities) set up to throw punches at each others’ heads with the aim of rendering the other incapable of continuing, up to and including causing unconsciousness and permanent brain damage.
This bestial ‘sport’ should be outlawed, and at least one great socialist – the US Trotskyist pioneer James P Cannon – wrote some articles calling for just that.
The following excerpts are from Cannon’s articles “Murder in the Garden” and “A Dead Man’s Decision,” They first appeared in The Militant on September 17 and 24, 1951, respectively, and are published in Notebook of an Agitator (Pathfinder Press). The two articles have been edited and combined together, into what is published below:
Murder in the Garden … A Dead Man’s Decision
By James P. Cannon
This begins as a straight news story with the who, what, where and when right up at the front. The why and the wherefore come later, after the bare facts are set down in proper order. The who in this story is, or rather was, Georgie Flores, 20-year-old Brooklyn welterweight. He was knocked out in the semi-final bout with Roger Donoghue at Madison Square Garden August 29. He collapsed in his dressing room a few minutes after the knockout and died in the hospital five days later without ever recovering consciousness. Georgie leaves a wife, Elaine, 18 years old, who was at his bedside when he died, and a month-old baby son who hasn’t heard about it yet.
Other technical information, as reported by the experts at the ringside: The fatal blow was a sharp left hook which floored the young boxer just 46 seconds after the opening of the eighth and final round of the bout. His head hit the canvas hard and he was counted out by the referee as he lay flat. Cause of death, as reported by the medical experts at the hospital, was a brain hemorrhage resulting from a torn blood vessel. Two operations were unsuccessful. His last hours were spent in an iron lung.
Georgie Flores didn’t die of old age or incurable illness, and there was no suspicion of suicide. He was killed. Murdered, if you want the truth unvarnished. And he was not the first to die that way. Sudden death is an occupational hazard in the prize-fight business. Six boxers have been killed in the U.S. already this year, if you count only those who died more or less immediately, as a result of blows in the ring. The score would be much higher if you include those who were badly hurt and had their life expectancy sharply cut down in this grisly business, which is sometimes described by fools or cynics as “the sport” or “the game.” This sort of thing goes on all the time. As a rule, the killing of a prize fighter doesn’t rate more than a few paragraphs in the news, a few floral offerings from the fight mob, and a small purse scraped up for the widow…
Dead men tell no tales; but sometimes, as is well known, the memory of what they did, or the way they died, exerts an authority over the living and affects their actions and decisions. The continuing influence of great men needs no argument. And once in a while, in exceptional circumstances, the lowly, too, speak from the grave. Even the lowliest of the lowly. Georgie Flores, the young boxer who was killed in the ring at Madison Square Garden just recently, cast a long shadow over the Turpin-Robinson fight for the middleweight championship at the Polo Grounds last Wednesday, and most probably determined the outcome of this million-dollar affair.
Turpin was on the ropes, but not out, when the referee stopped the fight with only eight seconds to go in the tenth round of the scheduled 15-round bout, and gave the decision to Robinson on a technical knockout. But it is highly doubtful if Robinson was the winner on actual merit. The fight was scored even up to the tenth round. Robinson was bleeding like a stuck pig from an eye cut; and Turpin, with the stamina of youth in his favor, figured to recuperate during the intermission between rounds and take charge from there on. Turpin and his manager protested the referee’s action on these grounds, and subsequent evidence seemed to bear out their contention. Turpin, according to all reports, was fresher and stronger than Robinson in the immediate aftermath of the fight….
Georgie Flores’ tragic and most untimely death was just another nine-day sensation. That’s all. It lasted just about long enough to influence the decision in the Turpin-Robinson bout. The echoes of the uproar are already fading away. The jitters have yielded to the sedative of time – it didn’t take long – and the boxing business is just about back to normal, back to business as usual. All that the hullabaloo produced, while it lasted, were a few proposals for better supervision of boxing bouts in the future; for some more elaborate rules and regulations; for what Governor Dewey, in his humane wisdom, called “precautions” which might keep boxers from getting hurt when they get hit.
It is a commentary on the times and the social environment out of which the boxing business rises like a poisonous flower from a dunghill, that nobody came forward with the simple demand to outlaw prize fighting, as it was outlawed in most of the states of this country up till the turn of the century.
Cock-fighting is illegal; it is considered inhumane to put a couple of roosters into the pit and incite them to spur each other until one of them keels over. It is also against the law to put bulldogs into the pit to fight for a side bet. But our civilization – which is on the march, to be sure -has not yet advanced to the point where law and public opinion forbid men, who have nothing against each other, to fight for money and the amusement of paying spectators. Such spectacles are a part of our highly touted way of life.
The “precautions,” advocated during the brief excitement over the killing of Georgie Flores, simmered down to a few piddling suggestions that fighters not be overmatched; that they be required to train properly and enter the ring in good condition; that the boxers’ gloves and the ring canvas be padded a little more; and that each boxer’s head be thoroughly examined by X-ray before each bout to see if he had suffered a previous brain injury. “Boxing can be made a safe sport,” said Dr. Frank R. Ferlaino to Milton Gross, sports writer for the New York Post, “if these regulations are observed.” The doctor, of course, is talking through his hat.
The precautions, which are supposed to take care of everything, in reality take care of nothing. When you get inside those ropes your head is a target for self-propelled missiles known as fists, and there is no way of making that safe. As the soldier said, when he was asked why he ran away from the front lines: “You can get hurt up there.” Blows over the head never did anybody any good. And if anybody ever got any fun out of it, he hasn’t been heard from yet. The “sport” in prize fighting is strictly for the spectators and the managers and promoters.
The incomparable Joe Louis himself testified to this in a notable statement at a newsreeled press conference when he renounced his title to turn promoter. A reporter asked: “Which do you think you like best, Joe, fighting or promoting?”
Joe, a man of few words, answered: “I like promoting.”
“Why is that, can you explain it?”
“Sure,” said Joe. “They can’t hit you when you’re promotin’.”
Those words belong in the Book of Proverbs.