The most emotionally invested in a sporting event that I’ve ever been was at midnight on May 2, 2015, while watching the four-title fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
My Filipino heritage is what initially led me to idolize “PacMan” Pacquiao, but my fascination quickly spread from Pacquiao to boxing in general. Occasionally I would watch boxing matches on the television and read about the sport’s new developments on the news.
To 14-year-old me, the sport was captivating — the thrill of throwing punches, the honorable one-on-one nature and the dashing outfits all drew me in. A few years later, I joined a boxing gym with the hope that I could bulk up and become a professional boxer.
For a while, I was in the best shape of my life and I was considering booking my first fight. Boxing had become my favorite sport, and I sincerely cared about it. Unfortunately, I can no longer proclaim that to be true.
I still remember the inexpressible disappointment that overtook me when Stephen Hildebrand, professor of theology, offhandedly mentioned in his Christian Moral Principles class that boxing is immoral.
He said something to the effect of “if one’s intent is to physically harm his opponent, then for him to box would be in violation of the sixth commandment — thou shalt not kill.” Thus, I had to seriously ask myself if my faith was important enough for me to give up watching or participating in my beloved sport.
I decided I like Jesus a lot more than boxing. My decision to leave boxing behind was not ill-informed; rather, I have done research and prayed, both of which have convinced me boxing is immoral indeed.
Here are some realities that make this truth more concrete. Many are aware of the countless safety reformations American football has undergone for the sake of protecting players’ heads from trauma. A lot of fuss has been made over saving football players from concussions or worse.
If football — which requires helmets — puts players’ noggins at risk, then how much worse for athletes’ brains must boxing be? Causing one’s opponent to lose consciousness is one of the primary goals of boxing, for crying out loud.
Being knocked out occurs when trauma to the head causes violent movement of the brain. If the part of a person’s brainstem that controls consciousness is jostled, then the person will black out, according to BrainFacts.org.
When these crimes against the brain are committed continuously, the effects can be devastating. Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time, suffered toward the end of his life from Parkinson’s Disease caused by repeated brain trauma in the ring.
Supporters of boxing may claim that causing physical harm to one’s opponent is not the goal of the sport. The goal is merely to score points and win the match — any damage to the opponent’s person is arbitrary.
I answer that the act of forcefully striking another human being in the context of a sport cannot be separated from the real damage the blow does to the opponent. No matter what one’s intent is during the bout, those punches are bringing the other person closer to death and are therefore inherently immoral.
Whether one intends to or not, the reality of physical evil being carried out is present. Moreover, I doubt any boxer worth his salt is intent on merely scoring points. His ideal goal is to lay the other guy out — there’s no way around it.
On the other hand, there are tangible benefits to boxing. Boxing can promote physical health, as it did for me. Boxing is a notable confidence booster and de-stressor. On a grander scale, many of boxing’s greatest legends have come from squalor and risen to riches through the sport.
Unfortunately, faithful Christians may not partake in these benefits if it means carrying out harm to another person. There may, however, be a way around this conundrum.
Amateur-level boxing requires head protection, and I have participated in taekwondo sparring that requires torso protection. Combined and reworked, these elements could provide a way to moralize boxing.
Something else Hildebrand said has rung in my ears since that fateful day in Christian Moral Principles class: if boxers wore padded targets, and the goal of matches was to hit those targets and score points, then boxing would be morally permissible.
If the inherent intent of the boxer is to strike padded targets on the opponent without causing him physical harm, then it’s morally permissible. This form of boxing would also require more skill — hitting targets that the opponent can block requires much more precision, cunning and agility than the bloody slugfests that modern boxing matches can sometimes become.
And don’t even get me started on kickboxing.