June 14, 2011
Last week Mike Tyson one of my favorite boxers of all time was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. I like Mike not only because of how he used to annihilate people in the ring but because he represents an era when athletes could actually speak their minds. In today’s sports world all of the athletes give interviews like politicians. They tend to overuse the same clichés, and they all speak in the same half removed quasi analytical tone which makes many of them sound extremely disingenuous.
Now I can understand why this is the case. I mean no one wants to lose millions of dollars worth of endorsements because something they said was misinterpreted (which happens far too often in this hyper-sensitive politically correct era which we live in) but my goodness it would really be refreshing if athletes could feel free to openly express themselves.
Alas, re-enter Mike Tyson into the American discourse.
In a recent interview when asked what his induction into The Hall of Fame meant Tyson responded; “I’m just real gracious to be involved. This is what I wanted to do all my life… I never even thought about being a human being. I always just wanted to be this big time fighter.” YES! I can always depend on Mike Tyson to give me something thought-provoking to roll around in my brain for a day or two.
For a professional fighter it’s hard to maintain humanity when you spend several hours out of each day learning different strategies as to how to knock another man unconscious. In the beginning of Tyson’s career his handlers had him fight every month in order to keep him out of trouble, which kept him in a perpetual state of training. I can imagine how this could make him just a little insensitive or perhaps even barbaric. It is in this way, as Tyson points out, that fighting makes a person less than a human being.
Another more serious example of the same phenomenon is the failure of so many combat veterans to get re-acclimated to civilian life once their tour of duty is over. They say that in war the first casualty is always innocence. There is no humanity in being a trained killer, and surely one sees no humanity in watching ones comrades be blown to bits by improvised explosive devices or shot to death by enemy fire. Moreover when troops come home it may be a little difficult to deal with a screaming baby or another driver cutting them off on the highway. It may take a while to relearn how to treat others like people.
As a society we embrace fighting as something necessary to solve disputes. We take pride in our fighters as if they represent us, and in a way they do. But we must be conscious of what any form of physical confrontation does to the mind and of all the ways in which it makes the heart of the individual fighter obdurate.
Whether it’s a career in boxing or a 10 year war, fighting erodes morality and suspends the feelings of compassion, and love for fellow-man. For that instance while one is engaged in combat he has sacrificed all emotions that make him a human being.
You know it can be really stimulating when people aren’t afraid to tell the truth. I wonder if we’ll ever let people do that again.