Darren Sutherland: Thoughts on a Tragedy

by John Wight - The untimely and tragic death of Irish boxer, Darren Sutherland, casts a light on the strains and pressures of a game in which far too much money and focus is expended on the elite of the sport, without anywhere near enough attention paid to those struggling to make a semblance of a career further down the food chain. Of course, as yet we don’t know the specific reason or reasons behind this tragedy, or whether it had anything to do with boxing, but regardless, it should give the sport pause for thought in terms of how up and coming young fighters are looked after and supported - financially, emotionally, and mentally - as they attempt to chart a course through a sport which increasingly allows no sympathy for failure or less than spectacular performances.

Boxers are human beings, not mere pieces of meat. Moreover, struggling young fighters are more vulnerable than most young men their age, simply by virtue of the fact they have so much pressure to deal with. Knowing that each time they get in the ring they may be about to move that little bit closer to the glory and financial security which the vast majority from their background could never imagine, or else to not having a contract with their promoter or manager renewed, heralding the end a dream they’d nurtured and pursued for years, is monumental. The harsh reality is that in boxing there is no middle ground – you are either hot or you’re not.

At every professional card up and down the country you see these young men, the vast majority anonymous, many sadly deluding themselves that ahead is the fame and fortune and titles that lend that magic to the sport and purpose to their existence. It’s this magic that keeps them going through punishing training regimens day in day out. Yet in their eyes is the same look of resignation which comes with the slow but steady erosion of their physical, mental, and spiritual health exacted by too many hard fights, by too much punishment in sparring and training, the kind of physical exertion that removes something which can never be replaced. For those who refuse to acknowledge the truth, namely that they don’t have the requisite talent or ability to make it in the sport, permanent damage beckons. Even for those who have and do manage to emerge, but do so while taking too many shots, the glory they believed they couldn’t live without carries a high price, in many cases a price far higher than they could ever have bargained for.

This writer has heard accounts of young Scottish fighters fighting on a undercard at York Hall and then, with their promoter refusing to pay for a hotel, being forced to rush across London immediately after their fight to catch the last train back to Scotland.

Certainly, it would be wrong to suggest that all promoters and managers are as callous as this in their treatment of fighters. But there are still too many who fall into the category of knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing to ever be complacent when it comes to the health of the hardest game there is.

Here, though, it should be restated – the reason behind the tragic death of Darren Sutherland is as yet unknown, therefore the finger of blame cannot be pointed at his promoter, manager, or anyone involved in boxing at any level. It may not even have anything do with boxing at all – at least not overtly. After all, on the surface, Darren was a young man with a bright future in the sport, of whom great things were expected. Yet perhaps therein lay the problem. After all, who could possibly imagine the extent of the pressure which such expectation and potential places on a young man?

Ultimately, this tragic event should give everyone connected with boxing pause for thought and serious reflection.

Article posted on 13.09.2009

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