Boxing and Social Inequality

A recent thread concerning the Provodnikov-Algieri fight had some comments on Ruslan’s background and comparison of that background to growing up in a ghetto. It was a comparison I hadn’t really thought about previously and I found it fascinating once it was placed in front of my eyes.

It got me thinking about how hardship apparently assists with boxing acumen. Within the history of boxing (of which I am not an expert) many champions have come from hard knock backgrounds. The extreme reasons given for this can range from a culture of violence within certain segments of society (i.e. poor or ethnic minority) to the opinion that no sane man with better options would delve into the pugilistic sport. Of course, as with most things in life, the reasons are more complicated and have to do with society as a whole. I remember reading, a long time ago, an article that listed the main immigration waves into America by decade and charted those populations to boxing champs. The champs by ethnic group rose directly after initial immigration (when things were ostensibly tough) and dwindled as those groups settled into America and became more prosperous. Of course, by this time they were taken over by whatever new group was storming into America. So you would see a rash of Irish, Italian, Jewish, or whoever boxing champs based upon when they had high peaks of immigration. I believe Black Americans were also figured into this although I’m not sure how. I know that some sociologists have patterned Black migration from the south to the north in the postbellum period as a type of immigration but I’m not sure if that methodology was used in this instance. Unfortunately, I am having no luck finding this particular paper or article. I did, however, find an interesting excerpt from a book written in 1996 while googling around.

Although I haven’t read all of the excerpts, Boxing and Society: An International Analysis by John Sudgen has interesting thoughts on boxing, and inequality, and the ghetto.

On boxing like prostitution:

Selling your own body for the abuse and pleasure of others has been the last refuge of the poor as long as history has been recorded. In the modern world the inner city, where the rich can visit and where the poor must live, is the territory of both boxers and prostitutes.

On boxing’s role in the ghetto:

The exploitation of disadvantage which takes place is made to appear laudable by locating the boxing club within a pocket of urban poverty; a declared ideology of moral and social development legitimizes the club’s targeting of the male youth of the urban poor, offering itself as a deterrent against juvenile delinquency and a series of related social ills. However, the states of mind and physical skills displayed by male youth in [ghettos], which the boxing club purports to deter, are precisely those attributes required by the professional boxing stable as its raw material.

On boxing as not being only exploitative:

Boxing clubs do offer at least temporary sanctuary from the worst excesses of ghetto life, and a prolonged commitment to the sport often keeps ‘at risk’ young males on the straight and narrow.

His conclusion imagines giving a social engineer a task to create a society that would cultivate boxing:

[This] society would have a high incidence of urban poverty. In contrast it would also be an affluent society within which the accumulation and conspicuous display of wealth were prioritized. Abject poverty and conspicuous affluence would exist side by side and those affected by the former would be painfully aware of the lifestyles enjoyed by the rich and famous. The dissonance generated by this proximity would generate crime and vice inside and outside the ghetto as the haves were preyed upon the have-nots and as people confronting hopelessness and feeling trapped struck out at one another and/or sought refuge in drugs and alcohol. This would be an economically aggressive society wherein success was considered to a just reward of those who made it to the top in a boundless competitive marketplace. But the market would be rigged against certain sections of society whose access to the multiple avenues through which affluence could be achieved would be severely restricted. Make this a multiracial and ethnically divided society and, rather than being random, inequality would be structurally embedded and coherent on the basis of skin color…Finally introduce a sport and assign it fewer restrictions on entry than most other areas of social life. Create a professional tier to sport and make its stars highly paid and highly visible and within this nexus make boxers the highest paid of all.

There is more description to this engineered society between the ellipses; war, education, and treatment of women are all mentioned but I think the point has been made. I have two comments about this being written in the mid-90’s and primarily concentrating on inner city ghettos. The pessimistic attitude in the tone toward inner cities hasn’t necessarily come true, as many larger cities in the U.S. have experienced gentrification of some sort. However, over that same time inequality has been rising. By and large I think the main points are still well taken.

My second comment is about how the same conditions that are placed on inner cities in the book can be applied globally and to rural areas now thanks to technology. Being written during the mid 90’s the piece largely precludes mass globalization and the world wide web. To bring the point back to Ruslan Provodnikov and his "ghetto" experience I can see globalization and the internet affecting areas like Siberia or rural Argentina (to use Marcos Maidana as another example) in exposing young, poor, males to the boxing as an opportunity. Both Russia and Argentina had recently gone through spurts of economic growth, all within a rigged system, and certain segments of society watched as inequality (and unfairness) grew.

In a another section, the author brings up how Sweden banned professional boxing and then a few years later after an immigration surge that introduced various ethnic groups into Sweden, real economic differences began to appear and a rise in amateur boxing occurred. As an American who is under the impression that those Scandinavian social democracies may be more egalitarian than our current system, this seems to be decent proof for the author’s engineered society where boxing is cultivated.

If the above society truly is a reason for boxing to prosper then we have one part of the answer of why boxing won’t die in the U.S. I mean, the above engineered society is pretty much America in a nutshell.

I look forward to everyone’s thought on this matter. As in El Diego’s recent fanposts let keep this a civilized discussion.

<strong><font color="red">FanPosts are user-created content written by community members of Bad Left Hook, and are generally not the work of our editors. <em>Please do not source FanPosts as the work of Bad Left Hook</em>.</font></strong>

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