Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pugilism

Paul Beston on the rise and fall of boxing [and, perhaps, its rise again] in the American sporting world:
Boxing has become a ghost sport, long since discredited but still hovering in the nation’s consciousness, refusing to go away and be silent entirely. There was a time when things were very different. For boxing once stood at the center of American life, and its history winds a thread through the broader history of the nation. ....
The article is a brief history of boxing, focusing especially on heavyweight contenders from John L Sullivan to Jack Johnson, Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. The sport's last great period starred Muhammad Ali who, although a great boxer and showman, Beston suggests, had a malign effect on the behavior of sports personalities generally:
.... His unmatched gifts as a showman have influenced athletes in all sports, though mostly not for the better: the athletes who mug before the camera, celebrate themselves at every turn, and denigrate opponents are part of Ali’s legacy. In a popular culture addicted to display, those who prefer to keep their thoughts to themselves are now suspect for lacking authenticity. ....
If you like good historical summaries, this is one.

The Ghost Sport by Paul Beston, City Journal Summer 2011