*see here for a recent defense of boxing.
About a month ago, I was discussing that the American heavyweight boxer, Deontay Wilder, could be one of the potential candidates to finally dethrone the Klitschkos. The Ukrainian brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, have held most of the important belts in the heavyweight division for some time now.
As I am an avid boxing fan, and respect the fighters as athletes, I was disheartened to find out that Deontay Wilder was arrested recently for domestic battery by strangulation. He was bailed for $15,000.
While I’m sure that most professional boxers have never laid a finger on their partners, domestic battery has become an issue in boxing. British heavyweight, Dereck Chisora, who was recently slated to fight Deontay Wilder, was also convicted of beating his girlfriend. However, Wilder may not be able to go to the UK to fight Chisora, because of his recent arrest.
And of course, boxing favorite, Floyd Mayweather Jr., was also sent to prison for 3 months (only served 2) for domestic abuse. To add insult to injury, Mayweather’s sentence was actually postponed so that he could fight in Vegas. The argument given to the judge was that the fight would be a huge financial stimulus to Las Vegas, and so would benefit the economy. Mayweather, of course, also made millions from the fight. There were also children present when Mayweather hit Josie Harris, which can have terribly adverse consequences (Holt, Buckley, & Whelan, 2008). Indeed, watching the assault on their mother, by their father, made these children victims of the assault, too.
It would be foolish to suggest that there is some kind of causal connection between boxing and domestic abuse, but anyone who assaults another individual should be held accountable, and I am of the opinion that fighters and martial artists should be held to a higher standard – they should know better. There have been instances where judges have ruled that the hands and feet of martial artists should be counted as ‘deadly weapons’. Clearly, boxers have been trained to hit powerfully and hard, and this should be taken into account during any kind of assault.
As boxing remains popular and Mixed Martial Arts is rapidly gaining many viewers, we need more studies on the relationship between boxing and fighting to domestic abuse. Studies on domestic violence committed by fighters are surprisingly scarce. Here are some good research questions we need to address:
Are physically violent people naturally drawn into boxing?
– While it is a stretch to connect learning boxing with becoming violent, there is a chance that people who like to engage in violence become boxers to enable and promote their violent desires. If this is the case, can a gym really discipline these individuals to keep them out of trouble? A number of boxing gyms have been opened to specifically discipline young people and keep them out of trouble with law enforcement and to prevent them from joining gangs.
Does fame lead to leniency and an increase in the likelihood for domestic abuse?
– Floyd Mayweather, Jr. had his prison sentence postponed so that he could fight in Vegas, and he only served two months of a three month sentence. The maximum penalty in Nevada for a first offense of domestic violence is 6 months in prison. To some, it might seem that Mayweather got off lightly. It is certainly questionable that an amateur boxer, who committed the crime, would be treated as leniently. Only a handful of boxers make it to the professional ranks and even fewer start to get notoriety and world title shots, but once a boxer does achieve this they start to have fame on their side and become considerable cash cows. I fear that these aspects start to shield these boxers from holding them accountable for their indiscretions. The legal immunity of celebrities, however, is not limited to boxers.
What role does stress play in turning a boxer violent?
– Boxing is very athletic and physically demanding sport. The sport also calls for a strong mindset, which inevitably leads to a certain degree of “smack talk” even if it is just to promote the fight. The need to train hard and prepare for going twelve rounds in the ring is very stressful for a boxer, meaning that stress-related disorders, some of which are intimately connected with violence, could creep in.
Would a change in boxing promotional strategies deter acts of aggression?
– David Haye and Dereck Chisora got into an infamous scrap at a post-fight press conference in Munich. Both fighters lost their British licenses for this, but ended up getting sanctioned through the Luxembourg Board of Boxing so they could have a ‘grudge’ match in the ring. In other words, they were rewarded for assaulting each other in public, and the fight had a remarkable effect of convincing everyone that because they’d just fought each other in a ring (with rules), we could all now forget about it. The accountability of each fighter during the incident in Munich is still very disputable and should have been determined in a courtroom.
Many boxers are not guilty of domestic violence, in fact some, such as Sergio Martinez, actively campaign against it. However, the popularity of boxing and fighting, as well as the destructive potential of those involved, mandates that we shed some light on this important issue.
Jack Pemment, 2013
Holt, S., Buckley, H., & Whelan, S. (2008). The impact of exposure to domestic violence on children and young people: A review of the literature. Child abuse & neglect, 32(8), 797-810.