Brain Damage: Ethical?

I remember watching this about an hour before the Super Bowl. Although I don’t agree with Maher’s driving point behind the video, that perhaps the Super Bowl is such a grand spectacle because of the NFL’s new found communist ethos, he does bring up some interesting points about the business ethics behind “The Big Game”. Is it ethical for the NFL to “Punish Success” by ordering the draft from the worst team to the best team? To answer Bill with a couple of questions I’d ask him, at which point in the season is it ethical to begin throwing games in an effort to have a better draft status and if the next season’s draft class is especially promising, and each team’s star player plans to retire the next year, is it ethical for each team to compete solely for draft position? I think the most interesting point he throws out there is: What exactly is so ethical about watching two teams of young nouveau riche men causing each other both immediate and long term physical damage? This question is better suited to be answered in the sport of boxing.

My grandfather boxed because my great-grandmother prohibited him from playing a dangerous sport like football (she didn’t exactly know what boxing involved). Some of the most captivating stories I’ve ever heard have been my grandfather’s stories about boxing in the late 40s, early 50s. He and my father began sponsoring prize fighters in the early 90s. My grandparents and my parents would fly all across the country to see their fighters fight. When I asked my father why they stopped sponsoring fighters,  it seeming so glamorous and exciting, he said, “Because of your mother.” Confused I asked her why she put the kibosh on the fun, to which she responded, “What exactly is fun about two grown men hitting each other in the face in an effort to rattle their opponent’s brain in a way that would cause them to be momentarily unable to stand?” Solid question. Is there ethical justification to deriving pleasure from watching two men club each other in an effort to cause the other brain damage? Two men stand across from each other having to each eat a healthy portion of knuckle-sandwiches for our viewing pleasure. Not only is it seemingly sick and twisted for the viewer, as my mother implicated, it may be more unethical for the two men standing in the ring. What these men do for a living would be considered, anywhere else in the world other than a boxing ring, to be a string of 50 or so attempted murders.

The ethics of prize fighting doesn’t lie within the act of the fight, but within all the benefits gained by becoming a successful prize fighter. The short doc above, done by super insightful sports blog Grantland, features a fighter by the name of Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin. One of the first things Peter says is that he began boxing because he was picked on as a kid. When you look at Peter now it’s hard to imagine he’d ever been or ever will be picked on, but when he begins to describe his childhood you begin to understand how one life event led to another. Peter’s father dealt drugs and when Peter was very young his father went to prison. Peter recalls, in the aftermath of Peter’s family losing its main provider of income, eating government distributed cheese, having no heating or hot water, and sleeping on a mattress he found in a dumpster. Boxing and fighting became his way out of poverty. Boxing enabled this extraordinarily underprivileged soul the ability to be better than the rest. Peter implies that if he didn’t take up boxing he’d probably be in jail or dead; using utilitarian ethics, it’s pretty simple to determine that prize-fighting is the more ethical option.

PS: While on the topic of academia and sports, I found this great article (coincidentally published in the Huffington Post) about the philosophy behind basketball a while back that’s a pretty interesting read.


7 thoughts on “Brain Damage: Ethical?

  1. I totally agree with you about your views on boxing. I am a huge sports fan and will watch literally any sport except boxing. I do not get the concept of two men standing in a ring hitting each other till one is knocked out. I thought your quote that outside a ring the actions of the boxers would be seen at attempted murder was very insightful. I have had 5 concussions from contact sports and I never played football or boxed. While concussions and brain damage can happen in any sport, it seems like brain damage is more common in boxing and football. People use sports to go from rags to riches, but I do not think that justifies the nature of the sport. I do not see the appeal of boxing and I cringe when I think about the damage that these boxers will have later in life.

  2. Did you dodge your own question? is boxing inherently ethical?

    Part of me agrees with you- if one objects to violence as entertainment, I am not sure why boxing is better or worse than gridiron.

    • I tried to pose two opposing arguments about whether it’s inherently ethical or not. Kyle states below, these are two people consenting to compete with a set of rules and regulation; Lauren states above that the brain damage incurred far outweighs any positives the sport brings. I personally love to watch boxing. I suppose the ethics behind boxing, or other combat sports, are subjective.

  3. Great video on “Kid Chocolate.”

    To me, as great as his story is, a 7 year old in poverty should not have to rely on boxing as his best way to a better life.

    • While I agree that it’s a tragedy that he is a product of the system’s failure, I’m glad he has the opportunity to better his life through what he does best.

  4. Maher is not saying that the superbowl is a success because of the “private” socialism of the league. He is saying that the collectivist ideology of the league is more like the Democratic party’s ideals (not always practices) than the Republicans and he is using that point to tweak the idea that “big macho football” is more of a “competition is good and lefties are weenies” mindset than it actually is.

  5. Nice blog post – i believe that any activity that two people consent to is inherently ethical. The activity that always comes to mind when thinking about this is dueling. It was an honorable way to confront someone a few centuries ago (hamilton – burr). As far as boxing goes, i think most people are entertained by how much endurance and agility the sport takes (try to last 3 rounds without puking), not necessarily the endless pounding on each others heads (any rocky movie).


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