by Bobby Franklin
“Maybe our society could use a few old fashioned lessons in boxing and what it truly means to be an adult.”
For years parents looked for ways to build character in their children. Quite often sports was seen as one of the best ways for young men to learn the lessons of what it meant to truly be a man in the best sense of the word. Organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts were another institution that helped build character in young people in order to prepare them to enter adulthood equipped with the tools to live a decent and productive life where they would contribute to the betterment of society. There were many other ways that these lessons could be learned as well. Things from having an after school job such as working for a local business or having a paper route. These were all ways for young people to learn responsibility and to gain the skills needed to be able to interact with other people.
There were many ways to inculcate these values in our young people and they were used for years with much success. Unfortunately, many of these things are no longer in fashion. The Boy Scouts have been under assault for years and I can’t remember the last time I saw a young person delivering newspapers. After a snowstorm we no longer get a knock at the door from some eager young people ready to negotiate a price for shoveling the walk. Things have really changed.
I want to mention the connection my thoughts on this have to do with boxing, but first, one other observation.
As I write these words the leading candidates for both parties appear to be on their way to their respective nominations for president. According to polls, they both seem almost unstoppable. What also consistently shows up in polls is something very disturbing. The vast majority of voters, including those supporting both candidates, when asked about the character of each of these people consistently respond they find them both untrustworthy and dishonest. In spite of this they still say they will vote for them. In other words, character, that trait that was so important to Americans for so many years, no longer matters. It could be argued it is a detriment to success in today’s world. This is not only sad but dangerous for the future of our republic.
Now on to boxing and character. For most of the 20th Century it was almost impossible to find a man who hadn’t at some point while growing up had a pair of boxing gloves on and who had been given, at the very least, a few pointers in the Manly Art of Self Defense. These lessons were usually given by the young man’s father, but could also have been taught by an older brother, uncle, friend, or even a member of the clergy.
These lessons included, but were not limited to, being taught how to hold one’s hands in a defensive position, the proper use of the left jab, how to throw a one-two combination, and also some pointers in how to keep physically fit as taking care of one’s body was essential to being a good boxer.
Something else even more important was instilled during these lessons. That something else was how a real man carries himself. That with the knowledge of how to overpower someone and protect yourself also came the responsibility not to abuse that power. Never hit a man when he is down was a common refrain that would carry over from boxing into a valuable adage to in life to remind us to offer hand not a fist to someone who was having hard times.
Always fight fair even if the other guy doesn’t would be a constant reminder in life about not allowing yourself to be dragged down into the gutter by another’s ill behavior.
It was amazing how much could be learned from a few hours with the gloves on while listening to a mentor who would guide his student from the use of the right cross to never crossing his fellow man. It is sad that that world seems so far away now.
I am not saying there weren’t always rogues, cutthroats, and dishonest people around able and willing to take advantage of any situation. It is just seems to me the public better understood the difference between good and bad and frowned upon those who would act outside of the society’s code of decency.
Boxing has often been called a reflection of society. I believe this is true. On one hand it has been populated by the poorest members of society, usually immigrants or those recently descended from those new to our shores. They often came from struggling and desperate circumstances. I think of Jack Dempsey who grew up almost in the wilderness and lived the life of a hobo having to literally fight just to feed himself and stay alive. Or of Joe Louis, the son of a sharecropper, who would make all American’s proud to have him as the Heavyweight Champion. In both these men we see examples of people who struggled and rose from nothing to gain great notoriety by using their fists. And in both these men we see how they handled the power they were given with dignity. They were both the type of men who inspired good things in others.
I am sure there are people like them around today, but those people are not being recognized in the way they should be. Mike Tyson, a totally base human being is lauded with a Broadway Show and an HBO special. Floyd Mayweather beats his wife and still makes countless millions of dollars. And the two potential nominees for the highest office in the world are deemed to be dishonest rogues by the very people supporting them.
Maybe our society could use a few old fashioned lessons in boxing and what it truly means to be an adult.