Boxing is a sport in which its competitors are expected to show no sign of vulnerability either in a physical or mental sense. It is seen a masculine, tough sport in which boxers are almost expected to be non-human and machine like with their emotions.
These people punch each other for a living and because of that, there is a general stereotype that they are naturally vicious and violent people who don’t think like the rest of society. Yes, boxers are a different breed of person as they show bravery and endure the physical punishment that most couldn’t even comprehend.
Boxers Are Ordinary Human Beings:
The dedication that they show to their sport is awe inspiring and most of us can only dream of having the level of determination that they possess. Boxers are non-the-less ordinary human beings with feelings just the same as any other person and it is about time that was truly accepted.
There is a growing issue within the noble art and that is depression. Boxing is a lonely sport where a competitor enters the ring alone and his success relies on his own performance. In team sports, you have people around you to support you if you aren’t in top form. This simply isn’t the case in boxing and can create huge pressure for the boxer.
There Is Lack Of Knowledge On Mental Health:
The mind is an intriguing and fragile thing that we as human beings cannot fully understand. We know what we feel but we cannot possibly understand what another feels.
We may look on another being as appearing to have a perfect life but to them, there is something which keeps them low. It is a time that acceptance of mental health issues and help is given rather than a lack of compassion and suggestions of fragility.
Even the strongest person can go through periods of depression in their life and it is not up to me, you or anybody to judge them on that. In fact, it takes an extremely strong person to open up and admit when they are struggling.
We all go through unique experiences in life and are subject to different environments which partially influence the way in which we think. We are all individuals and we all think in different ways which is part of what makes life so fascinating but it is also part of what makes this world so judgmental and often results in a lack of understanding.
The Difficulties Of The Retired Boxer:
Over the years there have been many famous examples of boxers finding it difficult mentally to deal with the sport and especially to find something to keep them busy when they leave the sport. Boxing has been their lives for such a long time that they find themselves not knowing what to do when they are no longer able to compete.
Retired boxers often become depressed and suffer hugely with trying to integrate into society after dedicating their lives to the sport. They have trained hard every day for years and have been used to the gym environment and when that is gone it is often tough for them to accept.
Famous examples of those who have struggled include Ricky Hatton. Hatton is one of Britain’s greatest boxers and is an icon of the sport in this country. He is a man who hit rock bottom following his retirement and it is becoming more widely known that there are many out there who struggle.
Herol Graham widely seen as the best British Boxer to never win a world title is a man who suffered from depression badly following his retirement. Graham resorted to self-harming and was sectioned for his own safety. Thankfully he is now in a much better place in his life and I wish him all the best going forward.
Unfortunately, Hatton and Graham are not alone with their struggles in this often lonely sport with for WBO heavyweight champion Michael Bentt also suffering majorly.
Perhaps the best-known boxer to have suffered with mental health is the much loved Frank Bruno. Bruno began to act strangely and this resulted in him being forcibly taken from his home and sectioned.
Bruno has been diagnosed as suffering with Bipolar disorder which is where a sufferer has major mood swings where one moment they can be on top of the world and the next be in the depths of depression.
This is something that Bruno manages better these days but naturally still suffers with.
With the mentality of the sport and its macho image often boxers feel as though they are unable to express their feelings to others as they will be ridiculed. They are expected to be strong men who let nothing faze them. This is not a healthy attitude to have and it is one which no human being can truly achieve.
Boxers are still human beings and as a result go through their good and bad times but the environment in which they work makes them more susceptible to depression than most others.
Dark Side Of The Noble Art:
Boxers can also have all their hard-work and glory destroyed by the dark side of the sport which is the seemingly never-ending poor decisions from ringside judges. Can you possibly imagine getting your moment of glory and something you have worked your who life for taken from you unjustly? Even for the strongest minded person could crumble under such circumstances but boxers have to keep on going.
Boxers are more than most other sportsmen promised opportunities which never come to fruition. They are promised a fair crack of the whip and the chance to prove their abilities. That is all that boxers ask for but so often this is a cruel and heartless sport in which talent doesn’t always shine through.
Opportunities in the sport are more based upon promotional prowess and the ability to be a lucrative ticket-seller rather than your skill as a boxer. To know that you have the ability to go on and achieve things in the sport but to be held back because of lack of people willing to give opportunities must be an extremely difficult thing to deal with and could lead to depression.
The aforementioned Ricky Hatton suffered with depression following his loss to Manny Pacquiao and admits that he considered suicide. For any human being to be at the stage of considering ending their life things are horrifically bad for them.
Hatton was drinking and was caught taking drugs. He was at an all-time low as a result of the crushing loss to the Filipino great. Boxers are proud men and elite level boxer pride themselves on being able to beat any man. When a boxer has been beaten in such a devastating manner it is hardly surprising that they struggle mentally afterwards.
Boxers can feel like they have let people down and they lose some of their pride. For these warrior like men to accept defeat is a real struggle when they have competed at the top of the sport.
Neurological Damage Of Boxing:
It is widely known that many who participate in the sport of boxing suffer neurological damage due to repeated trauma to the head.
Dementia is an illness which has been found to result from repeated trauma to the head and it is also known that as part of the illness that depression can result. Naturally these conditions can result without the participation in boxing but there is a link between the two.
This would appear to make boxers more vulnerable to depression and other mental health issues and consequently more should be done to support them.
Promoters exploit boxers for personal wealth and that it to be expected but there have been horrific stories over the years of boxers being abandoned in physical and emotional trouble. You only have to look at reported stories such as that of Shannon Briggs who following his loss to Vitali Klitschko was left in hospital and received only $25,000 of the agreed $750,000 purse.
Promoters, managers and all within the boxing profession should owe a responsibility to the fighters as they directly benefit from the hard life that boxers endure.
Mental health was for years a taboo topic in society with those suffering unwilling to seek help or be open with their struggles. Those who did come forward were often outcast or ridiculed. Thankfully society has come a long way since such days and help for those suffering is more widely available.
The media plays a big role in the perception of mental health generally and thankfully headlines such as “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up” appear to be a thing of the past but boxing is still to a large extent stuck in the dark ages.
Often portrayed as a sport for thugs and as a backward-thinking sport it is in fact a sport which takes young kids off the street and gives them a sense of belonging and teaches them the values of hard-work and determination.
Boxing is however stuck in the past in terms of mental health to a large extent. Sport in general is in a transition period of adapting to the social awareness relating to this subject with more and more sportsmen coming forward with their struggles.
Something Has To Be Done:
The mental side of the sport is one that is often overlooked but it is becoming ever more apparent that there needs to be a framework in place to help those who are struggling.
Whether it be compulsory for boxers to undergo mental health checks every so often or there is a system whereby those who are suffering from depression are able to speak to someone who can help them.
Another possible alternative would be a system whereby boxers who have had issues with depression are made available to those struggling. This would not only allow for greater understanding as they are from the same sporting background but it would hopefully show those suffering that things will get better with time.
An anonymous system may be the answer. I do not know what systems, if any, are currently in place but it is clear that action is required.
Education is a key part of any action. As mentioned previously there is a sever lack of understanding relating to mental health and that is something which is slowly changing through the education of the young. This must continue if we are to improve the situation as it currently stands.
No longer can we as spectators of this sport allow boxers to go out there and put their health at risk without some sort of protection for their mental safety. Protecting their physical safety is an area which has come a long way in the sport but the mental side seems to still be severely neglected.
Those within the sport and us as spectators to a certain extent owe a duty of care to these fighters who put everything on the line for our entertainment. It is time for change!