Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Giving Smokin' Joe Frazier his due

I've never been much of a boxing fan. My father watched it on television when I was a kid. I remember the big names from back then like Ali, Frazier, Forman, Spinks, and Holmes, and even some of the lesser lights like the Quarry brothers.

Actually, as recently as the 1970s boxing was fairly mainstream. Most would have been aware of the "Thrilla in Manila," which was one of the marquee bouts between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975. And though I am no boxing historian, going back even further into the '50s, '40s, and '30s, there was a certain, I don't know, perceived nobility to the fight game.

It's all crap, of course, grown men beating the snot out of each other for sport and illicit gambling purposes is as despicable as it sounds. And though professional boxing has long since fallen off the radar screen for a great many serious sports fans, I guess it still goes on. I certainly pay no attention to it.

Having said that, I was intrigued by Jessie Jackson's eulogy for boxing icon Joe Frazier, who died last week of liver cancer at the age of 67. Actually, what grabbed my attention was Jackson's comment that Philadelphia, Frazier's base of operations, had long ago erected a statue in honour of Rocky Balboa, a fictional movie character made up by Sylvester Stallone, but never bothered to do anything to honour Frazier, a real flesh-and-blood former Olympic and heavyweight champion of the world.

As The New York Times reported:

In his familiar, incantatory style, Jackson said that if Rocky, a fighter that existed only on the movie screen, deserved a statue in downtown Philadelphia, so did Frazier, a somewhat forgotten figure whose former gym in north Philadelphia is now a store that sells furniture and mattresses.

Apparently struck by the absurdity of it all, Michael A. Nutter, Philadelphia's mayor, has said he is working with the Frazier family to build a memorial, an idea, the Times indicated, "that seemed to gain momentum with the rhythm of Jackson's eulogy."

As Jackson continued:

Rocky is fictitious; Joe was reality. Rocky's fists are frozen in stone. Joe's fists were smokin'. Rocky never faced Ali or Holmes or Norton or Foreman. Rocky never tasted his own blood. Champions are made in the ring, not in the movies.

Okay, Jessie. Take a deep breath. But you do have a point. It's true that I really cannot imagine how anyone can justify boxing, a sport the goal of which is to literally incapacitate one's opponent to the point that he cannot go on, with bonus points if rendered unconscious.

But if Philadelphia insists on glorifying a well-known practitioner of the sport, better they should choose one who did the thing instead of one who pretended to do the thing.

The pugilistic arts are surely beyond redemption as an activity for civilized people, but fair is fair.

Not sure what all of this says about our culture, that we would rather honour make-believe, but it's nothing good.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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