Boxing, also known as prize fighting is one of the oldest sport activities according to the world’s chronological account of game events and occurrences. Over two thousand years old prints that were found on the Egyptian tomb walls illustrate the ancient Sumerians engaging in boxing matches. Additionally, it is well documented that in the ancient Greece, boxing sport was done by two men seated on the ground facing each other. They would strike each other with hands that were wrapped with leather strips until one died or became unconscious. In the United States, boxing was introduced in the late 1700 and mainly occurred in the large cities such as The New Orleans, New York City, and Boston. Owing to the reason that boxing had been established in other parts of the world such as London, boxers could travel all the way to the United States in search of greener pastures in this sport. At this particular time, many of the United States fighters were whites either from America or London. Although boxing was initially viewed as an illegal sport activity that drew very few supporters and fans, over time, the American boxing turned out to be the epicenter of the international professional boxing league. Indeed, the American boxing league gave opportunities to people of all nationalities, including the Irish, Hispanics, Asians, and Africa-born Americans to name but a few.
Ethnic prejudice and discrimination have been issues that have existed in America ever since the colonial epoch and the slavery times. In its best description, social and legitimately sanctioned rights and privileges were accorded to the Whites, but not to the minority groups and people of color. Therefore, one cannot deny the fact that discrimination against race has reared its uncouth head in the field of sports, including boxing. The issue of racism was experienced in the boxing ring in the old days when boxing was introduced in the United States, and in a more subtle manner, racism is still felt today. Although the American boxing has become the epicenter of international professional boxing league, the issue of racism is still experienced in the boxing ring as shall be evident from the discussion.
Background of the Study
Boxing is one of the oldest sports in the world with its earliest depictions being traced in Egypt and the Ancient Greece. It was known to have been introduced in the ring in 688 B.C (Silverman, 2003, p. 164). In fact, boxing was characterized by fighters wearing leather-made gloves all round their wrists to prevent them from getting injured. The boxing ring did not have rounds; instead, boxers would fight until one became unconscious or succumbed to death. Weight was also not an issue, which was a factor that meant that people with more body mass had a higher potential of winning a match as compared to those of low weight. The boxing style was done through an advanced leg posture. The left hand was semi-extended and not only served as a guard, but was also used when striking. The right arm was usually drawn back in readiness to hit the opponent. Although the head of the rival was the usual point of target, there are evidences that suggest that a boxer hitting the opponent’s body was a common phenomenon.
In the United States, boxing started towards the end of 1700s, whereby the sport activity was done in bigger cities. People from other places in the world, especially those of England and Ireland, traveled to America in a quest for better opportunities. In its early form, boxing was generally viewed as harmful and illegal due to what was perceived as detrimental to the welfare of the fighters as well as that of the spectators. This forced many fans and fighters to carry out the sport with vigilance and watchfulness while trying to protect themselves from being arrested by the American authorities. In America, the boxing epoch came to an abrupt end in 1895 when people detested the sport, citing its brutality and the aspect that the game did not follow the Queensbury’s rules and regulations (Beekman, 2006, p. 32). These rules and regulations required boxers to put on gloves, also known as mufflers on their wrists. As opposed to the ancient Greece times when fighters contested until one became unconscious or even died, Queensbury rules also required fighters to take three-minute rounds and a minute of rest during the prizefighting sport. Boxers were also not supposed to strike their opponents upon falling. Hitting below the belt was also not permitted in boxing. Additionally, gouging the opponents’ eyes and throttling their necks as well as butting the heads of the opponent were prohibited. A boxing round is typically ended when a fighter was either knocked down or put-aside by a referee.
Boxing sport would later get advocates in the early 19th century, especially during the era of the “Muscular Christianity” movement, which was a religious faction that perceived gaming activities as an activity that augmented the health and wellness of individuals as well as their moral and physical strength. Another aspect that saw the legalization of boxing is the support and advocacy it received from President Theodore Roosevelt during his political career and more so in his time as the United States president. In fact, President Roosevelt continued to play boxing until he received a blow that left his left eye blind. After the legalization of boxing, it gained support from numerous numbers of individuals including whites and African Americans as well as other minority groups.
During the 20th century, America had become the focal point of skilled and professional boxing. As a matter of fact, the popularity of this sport activity saw its commercial and economic success. The dramatic rise in boxing sport and its economic incentive saw people from the entire world irrespective of their racial and ethnic backgrounds, religion, social statuses, or gender participates in the boxing league. In fact, the beginning of the 20th century saw the first successful champion of the minority groups in the United States, despite the severe racism that plagued the land in the days. Boxing thrived on and continued to be a popular sport in the United States until the time of the golden era in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Although the popularity of boxing in America has waned and waxed over its elongated and storied chronological record of accounts, the dramatic fights and characters as well as the mythical accomplishments and actions of strength and endurance, and the engagement of the sports as the peak of strength and masculinity are aspects that have made boxing tournaments to continue to thrive in the United States. Indeed, many people from all walks of life have been engaging in this sport as opposed to the times when it was introduced.
Racism and racial categorization have become a common phenomenon in our contemporary society. Despite the fact that a lot has changed over time in the sport of boxing, there is a potential that there are some elements of racism that still affect our modern boxers. There is also a high possibility that boxing has been used as a political weapon. In fact, this research delves illuminating the manner in which racism has changed over time in the American sport of boxing, which will help in apprehending whether it is still an issue that dwells in our modern society.
Race and ethnic backgrounds are intertwined in the fabric of boxing chronological accounts. No one can repudiate the notion that the topic of race shown its ugly face in the boxing sports not only in the old times, but in a more subtle manner, it still affects our contemporary boxing. Long ago when boxing started, White boxers refused to enter a boxing ring with African-born Americans. Gone are times when fighters such as John Sullivan declined the offers to defend their titles against men of color. It is beyond reasonable doubt that race has always been an element of concern in the boxing field due to its prevalence and marketability in the mutual consciousness of both the old and modern society. Not only has race been utilized to hype boxing as it was in the earlier days, but it has also been utilized in spoiling fights. Despite its manifestations in various boxing podiums and the fact that it is rarely discussed openly, race has existed in boxing just as in other sports and will continue to have adverse impacts unless the issue is brought to book.
John Sullivan’s decline to engage in boxing with African Americans, as well as the reluctant of doing the same to fighters of the mainstream American society who followed him, is one of the instances where racism has been manifested. Although some studies on the issue of race in the sport of boxing have claimed that the reluctance of the white boxers to defend their titles against men of color and other minority groups resulted from elitism and selectivity, and thus was a way of giving the minority factions a chance of hope in the boxing field, the emergence and the ensuing dominance of the minority groups, especially the African Americans gives credence to the existence of racial prejudice in boxing.
As such, the issue of racism in the sport of boxing in America from the late nineteenth century to the contemporary times is an interesting topic for study. All through this period, boxing has become a sport in which racial backgrounds, social statuses, and gender are highly interactive and observable (Soto & Johnson, 2009, p. 17). In the earlier days when boxing was made a legal sport activity in the United States, it was more or less related to the manner in which rule and authority, as well as power, were distributed in America, with white middle class men participating in it to earn fame and celebrity (Conyers, 2014, p 194). In other words, boxing has been an excellent illustration of the cultural texts that attempt to shed a light on the dynamic interactions amid social class structuring and reconciliation, racialization, and virile bonding, and race reproduction and Americanization, particularly in the nineteenth century and the twentieth century. Considering the unique position of the sport of boxing and the social and cultural interactions, it is amazing that the field has occasionally been a topic that has interested researchers. Therefore, this research paper is an attempt to bridge the gap in the study of boxing and racism.
Views of Racism
The American popular culture in the nineteenth century characterized by the urban masses is a term that was devised to refer to the ever increasing division amid the working class and the middle-class cultures and their unique leisure practices during this time. Back in the nineteenth century, the popular culture, also termed as the vulgar culture, referred to the uneducated people. Although the middle-class people separated themselves from engaging in the various forms of entertainments that existed at the time, including boxing, they are known to have been enjoying high culture as they used to spend much of their leisure time in artistic paintings. On the other hand, the working class people enjoyed the high culture of the time.
It is argued that the invention of high and low cultures was the institutionalization of the construction of the relationship between class and culture. The cultural activities of the popular culture were defamed while that of the working class became admired, which was the source of pride for many people. People from the popular culture viewed the connection amid a culture and social status as a form of serving individuals of the dominant factions and disseminating the existing power associations. In fact, in an annual review article written by Washington and Karen in 2011, social classification and race are some of the aspects that have been discussed. The review examined how people of different social classes related to sports and the metropolitan locality in the industrialization era. Boxing was one of the sport activities, which was associated with the high class or the working class (Conyers, 2014, p. 194).
Social classification has still been viewed as a distinctive margin to engaging in various sports. In order to acquire pride and general support in the sport spheres, social class will play a key role. However, there are people who have gone above board to emerge successful in various sport activities that were initially viewed as belonging to the people of the high class. In fact, some boxers from the minority groups have been dominating the boxing rings. Additionally, the Williams sisters have also succeeded in the sport of tennis, which was a sport that was viewed as belonging to the affluent whites. In fact, there are several examples of individuals who have risen from humble race and ethnicity as well as lower social statuses to emerge as people with fame and wealth through sports.
How to Emerge Victorious in a Boxing Match
In order to emerge victorious in the sport of boxing, one has to lay down various strategies that should be observed with a lot of discipline. In fact, any boxer with the intentions of winning a boxing match ought to be dedicated to the training. They also need to remain focused on the reasons they are there and what they need to achieve from the practice. A boxing match is supervised by a referee in a sequence of various rounds with each round comprising three minutes and a minute of resting. The outcome of the game is settled upon when the opponent seems incapable to continue with the sporting activity. Moreover, when the referee debars the opponent for going against the set rules and regulations, then the other party is pronounced the winner of the match. A contestant can also throw a towel in the ring as a sign of resigning from the match. A person who has won in a boxing match is pronounced according to the judgment of the referee, which is based on the scores by the end of the match (Beekman, 2006, p. 32). However, there are instances where the two fighters in a ring are at par in terms of blows and scores. In such cases, they match is ended up as a draw. However, in Olympic prizefighting that requires a winner to be announced, the referee uses a technical criterion to determine the one who deserves to win in the boxing match.
Rules and Regulations
Ever since the publication of the Queensberry rules, they have been applied in all professional boxing games. A professional boxing game comprises of a total of nine to twelve rounds, which typically take three minutes and a minute of rest. A referee is assigned the mandate to count the number of scores and ensure that the match is carried out in a safe manner. Every boxer is assigned a certain corner of the boxing ring. They are supposed to enter the ring from their respective corners at the beginning of the match and in between resting intervals. The boxer who has the highest number of scores by the time the match comes to an end is ruled as the winner of the game. In essence, boxers are not supposed to hit their opponents beneath the belt. Other activities that should not be done by boxing contestants include salivating on the opponent and using the mouth to heart or cause injury to the rival. Wrestling and hugging are also prohibited. In fact, “Seconds” are not allowed in the ring during the game. According to Queensberry rules and regulations of a boxing match, every contestant should be on gloves all through the match (Hudson, 2009, p. 262). The gloves should be new and of good quality. In the case where they are torn or pulled out, they should be replaced to meet a level required by the referee. Wearing on shoes is also another activity that fighters should not undertake during a match. The rules of a boxing match start to emerge as shortly before the contestants enter the boxing ring.
This type of boxing takes place at the Olympic tournaments and at collegiate levels as well as in Commonwealth sports. It is characterized by a system that measures the total number of clean blows that contestants have gathered as opposed to the magnitude of damage they cause to their opponents. In both the Commonwealth and Olympic tournaments, bouts consist of three rounds of boxing, with each round utilizing a total of three minutes. Amateur requires that contestants wear white striped gloves and head protective devices, though the white color is not mandatory. It is imperative to note that the white strip only helps the judges to be accurate in rendering scores to the fighters. There is a belt that is worn on the lower side of the torso, which serves the purpose of giving the boundaries of where the blows should reach. If a boxer hits his or her opponent severally beneath the belt, they are disqualified from the match. In addition, repeated tripping, hugging, or holding of the opponent can result to penalization and eventual disqualification. In cases where one fighter significantly beaten by the other or in cases where the score divergences are highly imbalanced, the referee may decide to terminate the match, giving the win to the strong boxer.
The professional bouts of this type of boxing are longer as compared to those of amateur, ranging to about twelve rounds. As opposed to amateur, headgears and other protective devices are not allowed. Fighters are also given room for taking as much damage as possible before the match can be halted. However, referees are also allowed to terminate the boxing match when they feel that one contestant is not in a position to defend self or due to the severity of injuries. In such a scenario, the other contestant is given a technical knockout conquest, which is also issued when one gives a punch that breaks the skin of the opponent who is later deemed as physically unfit to go on with the boxing tournament by a medical practitioner. During this type of boxing, uppercuts are flung within a medium range with either hand (Scott, 2000, p. 44). Due to this reason, physicians termed as “cutmen” are assigned the duty of treating any open cut to ensure that the contestants continue with the game to the very end. The main difference between amateur and professional boxing is that unlike in amateur where one has to wear protective gears even in the chest, in professional boxing, male boxers are not allowed to cover their chests with any protective gear.
Slavery and Black Masculinity
Ever since boxing was legalized, men of color have experienced pressure in their attempts to meet the prescribed definition of masculinity by the whites. One of the most quoted reasons has been the aforementioned issue of racial segregation. Racial categorization, and its constraints, has caused a curtailed description of black masculinity as within the boundaries of Eurocentric bounds. The Eurocentric parameters of manhood are grounded upon the notion of individualism, which African Americans deem as a requisite for one to attain both social and financial opportunities and success (Woodward, 2004, p. 9). On the other hand, the model of manhood in African-born Americans is based on collectivity and communality.
Boxing is a sport that is intrinsically viewed as masculine in nature. In fact, this is due to the fact that only a few women participate in the sport on a grand scale. Many are times when different individuals have proclaimed boxing as about men, for men, and basically men. In fact, the sport offers a podium where men have power and dominance over their female counterparts. According to Mailer and Roth (2011) as cited by Rodwan, gender is one of the important division aspects of the sport of boxing (Rodwan, 2011, p. 84). During the late 19th century and the early 20th century, which marked the time of slavery for men and women alike, race considerably shaped the experiences of people of color in America. However, black masculinity did not operate independently of social statuses and race. Instead, it was interwoven in the constitutive aspect of social class, race, and ethnicity.
Approaches to Racism and Segregation of Blacks and Whites
Boxers hold a special place in the branch of professional athletics. However, this has not always been the case to boxers of minority groups in the United States, including the African-born Americans. By averting a resilient sense of individuality that has been enhanced through Americans exercising their individualized rights to love whom, to excel at, and to live in places where one desires, minority groups living in the United States have experienced the repercussions that stem from these individualized rights throughout the history of America. Despite the fact that laws have been made that concern human rights and the fact that slavery based by racial and ethnic backgrounds have been abolished, the Jim Crow rules and regulations have been the source of the punishable offenses that limit the African Americans’ and other minority groups’ desire to act upon their sense of individuality, through putting hurdles to their social and economic mobility as well as political mobility. The constructions of segregation based on racial establishments and the subordination that carried the day from the time the civil war was terminated all through the twentieth century. In addition, the aspect has been preserved by the manifestation of racism in the everyday lives of minority groups, and by the existing menace and the ever-increasing reality of hostility and violence. Indeed, this has made people from the minority groups to continue experiencing the impacts of racial segregation that threaten to jeopardize their courage and audacity to act in accordance to their sense of individuality just as their American-born counterparts.
Men and women who have gathered the courage to exercise their sense of individuality are viewed as heroes in their minority groups. They have been the symbol of hope to their communities and have given them the assurance of overcoming the adversities that life offers at times. People from the minority groups in the United States who have beaten the odds to emerge as famous through their social, economic, and political success have actually embraced their associations and linkages to the black communities and other racial constructions, which has been the source of pride for their people. Instead of using their personalized success and achievements to portray that one can attain what they what despite the manifestation of racial segregation in this land, they have indeed acknowledged that segregation based on race has been continually manifested in the everyday lives of people living in the United States. In fact, racial segregation has been playing an important role in determining the social and political achievements of minority groups living in the United States, including the African-born Americans (Roberts, 1983, p. 37). These heroes have recognized that personal failure or attainment has a direct impact to the lives of their communities, and consequently, the influence on their communities impacts the range at which opportunities are made available to their factions abroad. In other words, the hard identity can become an excuse for their segregation and thus their status in the financial and social attainments and can turn out to be the source of their achievements in both political and economic arenas.
However, some of the people who emerge as heroes from the racial minority groups experience problems in their attempts to recognize their sense of personality with their statuses as members of a subordinate group. Not only do these people get difficulties in relating to the mainstream community of the United States, but also experience difficulties in relating with members of their communities. Although they have achieved great heights in beating the stereotype of inferiority and subordination through outrivaling in the communities they live in, they have also reinforced the stereotypical perceptions by renouncing their associations and interlinks with people of their respective minority faction (Roberts, 1983, p. 39). In other words, their reluctance to announce their relations with the underprivileged people and thus the significance of racial segregation in everyday life in their respective fields has frequently created the feeling that their minority group is something to be avoided.
The Battle Royal
The narrative “The Battle Royal” is about the struggles and difficulties that a black boy’s experience in his attempt to rise in a predominantly white society. In this symbolism narrative, the black boy is covered in his face and forced to go up in a boxing ring to deliver a speech that is intended to amuse his audience who are whites (Rankine, 2008, p. 135). Having been beaten up and with blood stains all over his body, the naïve high school graduate is coerced into giving an impromptu speech about the significance of humility and humbleness as well as education for African-born Americans. In the narrative, the black boy’s grandfather equips him with the skills of surviving in this chaotic world. He was told always to pretend to be submissive and meek when in the presence of the boys from the mainstream society in order to survive the harsh conditions, and that in the near future, he would emerge victorious, having undermined the racial segregation and the status quo. He is later rewarded with valueless brass coins after being pitted in the group of other boys of color.
When the end of the battle royal ends, the narrator gives a speech that illuminate the significance of schooling to the people of color living in the United States (Bicheno, 2017, p 187). The African-born Americans are advised to accede to the mainstream society of America by all means. Although this narration is set at a time when the Civil War had ended, where most people believed that racial segregation had come to an end, and when the minority groups believed that they were different from Americans but equal, the reference in this study is aimed at illuminating the existence of racial segregation in the United States, even after the abolishment of slavery and racism.
Emerging Black Boxers
The boxing sport is known to have been introduced to the United States by Southern slave owners. History also has it that the first wrestlers were black slaves. However, the first African American boxer on record who is known as Bill Richmond was not a slave. He was born in America’s New York City and had started his boxing profession in London, England. Tom Molineaux was another black fighter who emerged before Jack Jackson. According to the American boxing records, he won his championship title in the year 1810 when he fought Gribb.
Another black boxer known as Sonny Liston started his boxing career in 1950, which was a time he had been convicted at the Missouri incarceration center for criminal records. He was six feet tall and weighed a total of 200 pounds, which saw him be nicknamed as “the bear.” The official year in which he began boxing was in 1953, despite the fact that it was shortly interrupted by another short-term confinement. He is remembered for having knocked down Floyd Patterson on 25th September the year 1962 when he acquired his first global heavyweight title. Throughout his boxing career, he held two world titles, until the time when he lost to Cassius Clay who later named himself as Mohammed Ali. He is remembered for his robustness and punching prowess that saw him win a total of 39 fights out of the 54 fights he engaged in.
Jack Jackson, who was born of a former slave, began amateur boxing when he was in his teenage phase. He was 6’2” and had a broad body frame and had wanted to contest for the world’s heavyweight trophy. However, many of the American boxers and African American alike had refused to contest against him. It was not until 1908 when Tommy Burns finally accepted to fight him that he won his heavyweight title trophy and championship, which resulted to the famous huge outcry of The Great White Hope that implied that it was the work of the American boxers to fight back Jack Jackson and regain their title (Runstedtler, 2012, p. 132). All through his boxing career, Jack Jackson had been a target of prejudice based on race. In fact, racism and discrimination were the order of the day during the time when he held his world heavyweight title. Indeed, many boxers of color have entered the American ring and have retired unremembered. Although many white boxers were well recorded and documented, they did not totally obscure the titles and names of black fighters. Today, there are many black boxers who engage in the boxing sport and have acquired several world champion titles.
How Boxing has Changed Racial Views
In the United States, the topic of racial discrimination in the sport industry is somehow perplexing such that many people opt to stay out of the issue, despite the fact that sport and racism has been interwoven all through the 20th century. The main argument about this topic is that many researchers and analysts single out black athletes as the main victims of race in sporting activities. In fact, many of the studies that have been conducted on racism and the sport of boxing have been captured in a model referred to as the binary and reductionist where social correlations and the constructivist model of traditional values and principles are studied. In fact, to cite an example, numerous studies about sport and race focus on the narrow edge of social correlations where black boxers are viewed as the utmost targets and victims of racism (Washington and Karen, 2001, p. 190).
Owing to the reason that the studies perceive boxing as a reproduction and reflection of racism where the dominating culture is the advantaged group, they fail to shed a light on the dynamic and diverse roles that the sport of boxing plays in our contemporary society with regard to social relations. One of the things that these studies omit is the fact that the boxing sport has significantly changed the widespread view that existed in the days when boxing was introduced as a sport in America. Indeed, the supporters of the sport have incorporated anti-capitalist feeling and sentiments in their day to day activities as far as social relationships and ethnic identities are concerned. Moreover, the existing studies assume that racial classification is based on skin color amid the American mainstream society and the African Americans. What they fail to explore is the manner in which the engagement of black people in the sport of boxing impacts their relationships with the whites. For example, giving the black people an opportunity to participate in the boxing activity gives them a platform to institute social relations with men from the mainstream society, which is overlooked in the existing boxing literatures.
Mohammed Ali is one of the black boxers who helped in transforming the racial views in the United States. Not only has he changed the outlook of racism, but he has greatly influenced the entire sports arena. Indeed, his achievements in the boxing ring have earned him various coveted titles, which have revolutionized the issue of racism in sport in the United States. Many people from the monitory groups have also gained hope that they can become successful in their social and economic statuses. Other boxers that have altered the topic about racism and sport include Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis.
Boxing, Media, and Racism
The emerging media technologies have had significant contributions in exposing the approaches to racism in the sport arenas not only in the United States but also in other parts of the world. Indeed, many people can now catch up with and air their views, comments and perceptions in the various contemporary media, including social media sites and online newsprints, thanks to the advancement of information and technology. The new media has created platforms where individuals of all walks of life irrespective of their color, ethnic backgrounds, and religion among other social distinctions can comment and give ideas concerning various sport events. However, there are traces of social prejudices that are realized in the media, especially those that relate to masculinity and gender bias, owing to the reason that most of the comments and topics that are aired reflect the racial prejudice and discrimination of the wider society (Baker, 1997, p. 111). This has given a clear indication that the utopian trance that the invention of the cyberspace and other online spheres will bring about the end of racism and ideologies that have been founded upon it, has not been the case. Indeed, the media has created groundwork where racism and social inequalities have proliferated.
Ever since the sport of boxing was introduced in the United States, it has been viewed as a sport of the affluent and upper-class people. During the early days, the sport was predominantly played by the whites, who usually turned down the offers of defending their titles against African-born Americans. Its phase would later turn to incorporate boxers from other minority groups, including the black people such as Mohammed Ali and Jack Jackson to mention but a few. The sport has been beset by a wide range of contradictions amid femininity and masculinity, racism and prospects, and amid the well-postured bodies and those that are fractured and severely damaged. All through the history of the United States, the issue of racism has been interwoven in the fabric of the society, and the boxing field is no exception. Although the approach to race and sport has changed over time in the America’s boxing arena, in a more subtle manner, it still continues to haunt the boxers of our contemporary society.