What will boxing learn from Patrick Day’s death?

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I am not much of a sports fan and certainly not a fan of the more brutal sports such as football or hockey. As for boxing, I can’t even consider it a sport. When the object of the game is to knock the opponent unconscious, to beat another man senseless, I can’t see that as sporting. So I don’t understand why I was moved to tears to read of the injury and subsequent death of middleweight boxer Patrick Day.

In the course of my job as a copywriter, I was searching online for an article about brain injuries from car accidents and falls. Instead I found the story of Day, who had dropped to the mat after a left hook from his opponent in the 10th round of a fight the night before. Day’s head bounced off the mat, his eyes rolled back, and the referee immediately called for medics without even finishing the count. But it was not the fall to the mat that caused the brain injury.

Fighting for his life

Morbid curiosity, I suppose, led me to search for a video of the fight, of the knockout punch that sports writers called, “vicious.” Day had gone down twice in earlier rounds. The video I found showed a punch from his opponent in the eighth round that sent Day staggering back into the ropes, his expression dazed. Then it replayed in slow motion, Day’s head jerking to the side with the blow to his chin before he dropped against the ropes.

But he was up again, assuring the ref he was good to continue, smiling. He had a beautiful smile, I noticed. And apparently others noticed, too. The many articles I read after his death mentioned his smile, his charm, his intelligence. He did not need to box, they said. He loved to box. And that, somehow, justified what happened next.

Round ten

Day was struggling through the final round, barely keeping his gloves up, clinging to his opponent, swinging futile efforts to connect. Both men were drenched in sweat, exhausted, but fighting fiercely. Then two jabs from his opponent’s right, and Day backed away and seemed to be trying to escape the next blow. His opponent pursued. Day did not even raise his gloves to deflect the left hook that brought him down. His head bounced twice; his legs began to twitch.

Reports say he began having seizures before they even got him into the ambulance. At the hospital, doctors performed surgery on him, but what could that have done? In my opinion, Day was already dying in the eighth round.

If Day’s death had occurred on the streets, in a bar, or in someone’s living room, his opponent would be facing felony charges. Instead, journalists are quoting the victor’s poignant social media post where he insists he never meant to hurt Day. He only wanted to win. And in Day’s honor, he vows to continue his boxing career because he is certain Day would have wanted it that way. Day’s longtime coach has given up the sport, closed and locked his gym forever, and says he will never watch another match.

What now?

I have heard the arguments. Boxers know what they are getting into. Boxing saves the lives of young men who may have no other way in their lives. Hollywood loves boxing movies. My husband tries to get me to watch them, Raging Bull, The Fighter, Cinderella Man, because they are not really about boxing, he says. They are about the characters and their lives. But inevitably, the climax of the story is the fierce battle in the ring, desperation in their eyes, the fight of their lives.

If not for boxing . . . what? They might die? They might get a bullet in the head instead of a fist to the head? If a boxer doesn’t die in the ring, he has an excellent chance of suffering the consequences of brain injuries later in life: dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, CTE, and other degenerative brain diseases.

And then there is the money. Boxing has a huge fan base, corporate sponsors and all that. It is an Olympic event, so it isn’t likely it will just go away. They will talk about making it safer. For a while, Day’s death, the third in the boxing ring so far this year, will be a touchstone for reforming the sport. Then the outrage will fade until the next young boxer suffers a fatal blow.


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