BLAME THE MODERN SPORTS FAN FOR THE DEMISE OF BOXING
Recently, I noticed that several major networks have committed to a robust schedule of upcoming boxing matches during primetime on a regular basis (ESPN, NBCSN, FOX Sports 1, HBO, and Showtime).
Since the sport had seen a major decline in viewership over the past decade or so, this makes me wonder – is boxing making a comeback?
Or, are the networks just hoping that more access will mean more fan base?
Unfortunately for boxing, I think it’s the latter. I just don’t see the sport ever becoming main stream again.
The problem is not just competition from other major US sports, lack of super stars in the ring, and/or weak marketing.
It has to do with us, the modern sports fan.
Unlike fans of yesteryear that made boxing into one of America’s most preeminent sports second only to baseball in popularity, we know too much.
Modern sports fans now have a vast awareness of how traumatic head injuries can affect athletes, thanks largely to the exposure of the NFL concussion crisis.
When those thousands of former football players brought suit against the league, they exposed how even just one concussion or one bad blow to the head can have a lasting negative impact on an athlete’s life.
Thus, fans of boxing like me are left… disturbed.
How can I expect to watch the sport of pro boxing now (where fighters do not wear any protective head gear) and not care about the athletes in the ring?
Despite the addicting tension that comes with great fights in the ring, it somehow feels even more like the boxers are playing Russian Roulette with their lives.
Of course, I understand that each boxer who now steps into the ring also has the same knowledge as me. He has heeded the warnings and yet, still chooses to fight.
But, I can’t keep pretending like I don’t know or care what happens.
Of course, we do have some previous awareness of the dangers of boxing via Muhammad Ali. It doesn’t take a genius to surmise that he is walking around paralyzed by Parkinson’s disease due to repeated blows to the head.
Yet, like the fans of yesteryear who watched his slow demise, I think we were all guilty of chocking Ali up to an anomaly. Namely, if he had just quit sooner… Or, perhaps if he just had one less fight…
Today, that argument doesn’t hold up.
We know now that even just one bad blow to the head can be problematic long-term.
And, that therein lays the ultimate dilemma that the sport of boxing faces.
The NFL has made adjustments to counteract its concussion issue without making fundamental changes to how its sport is played. They introduced safer/better helmets, improved education, and made changes to tackling rules, among others.
But, boxing has little it can do to make the sport safer for its fighters without alienating its current fan base. For instance, it could institute protective head gear and outlaw punches to the head, however its small fan base would likely not agree with those changes.
Still, boxing is by definition, a combat sport that relies on its competitors to land repeated punches in order to break down the stamina of the other. If the sport moved away from the head and focused on the body, it may have a chance.
Professional hockey (NHL) faces a similar challenge.
Its ratings are slumping continuously. But, Olympic hockey is hotter than ever.
The difference for the jump in ratings? It’s not just the international rivalries that have allure, it’s the lack of fighting in Olympic hockey that makes it so popular.
I’ll bet that if the NHL were to outlaw fighting altogether and focus on athleticism rather than the brawn and toughness of its toothless stars, ratings similarly would increase.
Well, that soon may be a reality. Two class action lawsuits were filed earlier this year by hundreds of former NHL players seeking damages for the league’s treatment of players and more specifically the dangers of head trauma.
What did the former NHL players claim was one of the culprits in its complaint(s)? “Glorified violence” due to fighting.
Like the NFL, though, pro hockey has a chance to make fundamentals changes to its sport in order to make it safer for its players, yet still survive.
Pro boxing does not have the same chance.
Yes, there will be a small sect of fans who will still turn out for pro boxing, but as we move forward in time, that group will dwindle. We have moved into a new era where awareness of health and social media are at the forefront of our lives.
Sadly, this probably means the end for boxing unless changes are made.
Blame the modern sports fan.
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