By Coach Jay
Boxing has always been a sport of the ages, since the Roman Empire, pugilist have been making their mark in the world of combat sports. Although things have evolved tremendously from the times of brutal near death matches, one thing has continued to be constant. Boxing has always found itself to be a parallel microcosm to life's day to day struggles, events, and even its tragedies.
Boxing has walked with us through decades and given us front row seats to the blood and sweat of its glory, while all the while, helping us deal with the fights we face on a daily basis as a community and a society. In the 1930's, during a time when the second World war was brewing, the Alabama born, Detroit grown, "Joe Louis" was preparing to represent a country in the second biggest fight of his life. Racism was the first fight and enemy for Louis, as he grew up in the deep south. Joe Louis was no stranger to the racial tensions that would be consistently present as he trained to fight for the pride of black people and America. Facing Germany's own "Max Schmeling" during a political climate that no doubt attached itself to the battle of Adolf Hitler and the battle against his Nazi Party.
This wouldn't be an easy task for Louis, but nonetheless, it would be what life itself had seemed to train him for since his childhood in Alabama facing down the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. To Joe, this was no different when it came down to it, he was use to identifying his enemy and preparing to fight. In 1936, three years before World War III, Louis would face Schmeling in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Joe Louis would lose that fight, and although he redeemed himself in a rematch, many would say that his loss impacted the entire nation. Hence, boxing is the one sport that emulates life. Less than thirty years later, the native son of Louisville, Kentucky, then known as "Cassius Clay" shook up the World, and beat Sonny Liston to become WBA, WBC, and lineal Heavyweight World Champion.
But the fight he faced in the ring came second to the fight he fought against an establishment that would oppose his religious beliefs, arrest him for draft evasion and have him stripped of his titles. Yet, he never gave in to the pressure. He fought, and maintained his position, he gave racial pride to a people who were in the midst of a Civil Rights movement. Later becoming "Muhammad Ali", he continued to train and fight, but he too, was capable of preparing to face down his advesary. Boxing and the progression of our social climates have often mirrored each other. Some view the brutal combat sport as all too violent and destructive to the fibers of the modern sports community. But often times, boxing has come as a needed distraction to help ease racial tensions and serve as a calming solution to take the focus off of the deliberate, hate filled injustices that exist.
In February 1999, an unarmed immigrant from Guinea West Africa was gunned down by four white, plain clothes, NYPD officers who shot at him 41 times at close range outside the building in which he lived. His name was "Amadou Diallo, he was 22 years old. Tensions were high in New York, and there was racial unrest among the black community, but weeks after this tragic even, March 13,1999, the city of New York and Madison Square Garden would host the WBA and IBF champion "Evander Holyfield" against the WBC champion "Lennox Lewis" in one of the biggest bouts in years. And just for a moment, the sport of boxing once again brought fresh air to a very stale and hostile city. The fight filled Madison Square Garden with all the action a fight of this magnitude was anticipated to deliver, but at the end of it all, neither man stood victorious, the fight ended in a draw. That's the beauty of the discipline of boxing. A fighter can go into a training camp developing his game plan and strategy to execute that plan and after everything is done to perfection, after the final punch is thrown, the judges have the power to call the fight a draw. Mentally, fighter's must condition themselves for this type of adversity as well as the preparation for the fight itself. And just like many fighter's with a backstory of struggle and will, Amadou Diallo is a reflection of that very same determination to have a better way of life. Boxing is way out for most of its participants, it's a better option than what most of the inner cities offer its occupants, it gives a person a will to push through and a way to avoid what could be in many cases a senseless demise.
"Everyone has a plan 'til they get hit in the mouth"- Mike Tyson
After all of the investigating was over and done, the four NYPD officers were acquitted of all charges. Amadou Diallo had no way of knowing that he would leave home never to make it back. He couldn't prepare for the opponents whose weapons were guns and an intent to kill, there was no referee present to keep him from being harmed. Unlike a boxer who can prepare for what's to come, there are overwhelming numbers of everyday black men and women who were unaware that they would be facing down an adversary that would without warning strike the blow that would end their life.
Since 1999 there have been at least 76 unarmed black men and women killed by police while in public or in the custody of police officers. Yet, there have only been 30 or more Heavyweight World Champions since that time. There have been 18 boxing related deaths since 1999.
Unlike many sports in this country, and in the world, boxing is one that those who are involved in it know and understand the benefits as well as the dangers associated with it. A fighter that trains and prepares to go against the odds, has more than likely faced tremendous odds in life itself. Facing difficulty is part of the recipe that makes a fighter a fighter. But in everyday life, a person prepares for the common challenges ahead, and he or she plans accordingly. Kids go to school, adults go to work and at the end of the day, everyone plans to make it home. Fighter's train to fight, win or lose. If a fighter loses, he or she gets back in the gym and trains to correct the mistakes they made in order to secure victory against the next opponent. 76 unarmed black people did not get a second chance. We live in a society that shows evidence that a boxer has a better chance of surviving everything the sport can throw at them, than an unarmed black man or woman has of surviving an encounter with the very police who swore an oath to "Protect and Serve".
How could they have prepared to face their opponent?