HBO's Real Sports and Time magazine have done an admirable job shedding light on the concussive dangers of playing football. The information presented by them, and other medial outlets, has been thorough and thought provoking.
In Time (it was the cover story this week) the article stated "No other contact sport gives rise to as many serious brain injuries as football does." I respectfully disagree.
If anyone has spent time around a group of retired boxers, they would understand what I mean. In 1994, I wrote a profile of Hall-of-Fame featherweight champion Sandy Saddler for Newsday. I visited the former champ at a nursing home in the Bronx. He asked me, "What ever happened to Sugar Ray Robinson?"
I politely explained to him that Robinson had died in 1989.
Ten minutes later, Saddler looked up at me and said, "Hey, whatever happened to Sugar Ray Robinson?"
This is not news. We've known it for a long time. But what's troubling is that, while football has it's player's union and the NFL to assist, what does the boxer have? Nothing. If he's lucky, he has a loving family to care for him when the dark days arrive.
In boxing, there is no union, no pension and no central governing body for the fighter. And trust me, as we know, there are far more unsavory characters lurking in the sport of boxing than in football.
There are small altruistic groups that try to look after fighters but none of them have the gumption -- or funding -- to make a real impact on a single fighter, let alone the hundreds, maybe thousands, who slip through the cracks of society.
I wish I had answers. But there are only questions. For example, if Manny Pacquiao were to fight Floyd Mayweather, it would be projected as the highest grossing fight in boxing history. Of that take, which people are esitmating at $200 million, do you know how much is earmarked for Pacquiao's or Mayweather's retirement? Their long-term medical care? None. Aside from the mandatory post-fight minimum that is required to be purchased by promoters (which amounts to something like workers compensation) fighers have no health insurance. Now, out of all the athletes in the world, wouldn't you think they need it?
Maybe we shouldn't feel bad for the fate of a pair guys who stand to make $40-million each for a night's work. But what about the six-round fighter who never fights for much more than $100 per round. He trains relentlessly, takes punches while sparring for his fight, then takes more during the fight. And when it's over, he slips back into the anonymous landscape of life. Who rallies around him?
These stories always come back and haunt us, whether they are champs, or preliminary fighters. Look at Joe Louis -- which HBO did a fine job profiling. Look at Muhammad Ali. Who's next?
So yes, feel for the football players and their struggle. But don't forget about the fighters.