Warriors.....Not Quite

07.11.03 - By Bernie McCoy: Remember Bud Collins? He was the somewhat effete Boston sportswriter who rode the bandwagon of tennis interest in the seventies and early eighties to become the television "face" of the sport. Collins coined the term "Breakfast at Wimbeldom" as the marquee title for the national telecast of that event's final match. Collins also exhibited a rather annoying and somewhat presumptuous penchant for equating the sport of tennis to that of boxing.

It was Collins' contention that boxing and tennis were both sports that pitted two individuals against each other in head to head "combat". No doubt, tennis is a sport that demands prime conditioning and exceptional hand/eye coordination. However, it is at that point that the similarity with boxing ends. Any sport that includes "love" in its scoring lexicon is considerably out of its range when it is compared to a sport whose primary goal is to render your opponent unconscious. Put another way, tennis is to boxing what a garter snake is to a hooded cobra.

I often think of Collins whenever I hear some overheated sportscaster or writer refer to boxers as "warriors". Let me be perfectly clear on this issue; I have always had the greatest respect for the men and, lately, women who possess the courage to step into the ring and participate in the most brutal of sports. No other athlete exhibits the intestinal fortitude that a boxer needs, in excess amounts, everytime the bell rings and the fighter moves forward to face an opponent whose sole purpose is inflict physical damage. Boxing is the ultimate "contact" sport and only athletes with ultimate amounts of courage succeed in the sport. In almost every other sport, it is possible to take a point, an inning, or a quarter "off". In boxing, while you often hear that a fighter has "taken a round off", what is never added is that while the fighter may be coasting for a round, his or her opponent continues to be intent on landing punches, as hard as possible, in a very confined space.

It can be fairly argued that boxers are the most courageous of all athletes when it comes to simply participating in their particular sport. What cannot be sustained, at least to me, at least at this particular time in our existence, is to impart the appellation "warrior" to boxers. As defined by Merriam-Webster, the primary definition of "warrior" is one "engaged or experienced in warfare". I would probably add "and engaged in any and all peripheral duties relating to warfare".

Taken absolutely, such a definition calls to my mind those police officers and firefighters who ran towards the World Trade Center on that day when everyone else was running in the opposite direction. More recently, it calls to my mind those men and women who went down in helicopters in a country they were sent to for the ostensible purpose of making a better life for the people who were unknown to those soldiers. Historically, it calls to my mind those men and women who remain eternally young and whose names are forever honored with an inscription on a wall in our nation's capital. I'll always be convinced that's what Merriam Webster had in mind when they defined "warrior".

Thus, my purpose is not to denigrate boxers. To the contrary, their place as courageous athletes will always be secure with me. However, to ascribe the attributes of a "warrior" to one who is but participating in a sport denigrates not only those who possess the true qualities of a warrior but also, in a manner, serves to lessen the focus on the skills and courage of the athletes who enter the ring.

Bud Collins was silly when he compared tennis to boxing. Those who compare boxers to warriors are, to me, likewise foolish. Tennis is not boxing and boxers are not warriors. Is it a momentous issue? Probably not. However, if the trend continues, I can't help but feel that someday I'm going to hear some "blow dry" on TV refer to Venus Williams as a "warrior".

Bernie McCoy

Article posted on 08.11.2003

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