Football is doing the rope-a-dope

In 1980 at the age of 10, I won what was perhaps my first sports bet.

It was Easter and we had a house full of relatives. On Monday, March 31, we all gathered in the living room to watch live boxing, which at the time was still a hugely popular sport.

The main event of the night featured a heavyweight title fight between WBA champion Big John Tate and an underdog challenger named Mike Weaver.

Someone started a cash pool and not knowing any better I picked Weaver, which gave rise to some chuckles among the adults. From the opening bell I could see why they were laughing – Weaver got destroyed for 10 rounds.

I was nearly falling asleep but I was still hopeful Weaver could turn things around and I could win the pot of cash and buy a load of candy. The adults were still teasing me, of course.

Closing my eyes, I could hear the announcer talk about how Weaver was hanging in there despite the beating he was taking. There was still hope, so I gave myself a shake and vowed to watch the rest of the fight.

By Round 15, Tate was gassed. Weaver, however, had somehow saved a little in the tank. With 40 seconds left in the fight, Weaver, en route to a unanimous decision loss, chopped down Tate with a wicked left hook sending him to the canvas for a one-minute nap.

The knock-out sent me into frenzy of screaming, jumping and first pumping, which woke up relatives who had long since gone to sleep.

From that moment on, I was a die-hard boxing aficionado. Little did I know at the time, that historic heavyweight tilt came near the tail end of the sport’s former glory.

Around the same time as Weaver-Tate, we began to hear Muhammad Ali slurring his words and shaking. Eventually we learned that he developed Parkinson’s disease as a result of boxing.

Then in 1982, a South Korean boxer named Duk Koo Kim died as result of head injuries suffered in a fight against Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. The fight was broadcast live in front of a national TV audience.

Over the years, we heard about more boxers dying or suffering permanent brain damage. And if that weren’t enough to turn people off, fighters, promoters and governing bodies controlling the sport started making headlines for corruption, scandal and greed.

Sure, there were still fights that drew big audiences, but there were fewer and fewer of them. Fans and athletes began to turn away from boxing and move on to other sports.

(The final nail in the coffin for boxing was rise in popularity of UFC, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.)

The reason I bring up boxing’s demise is because I see a parallel with football, which has never been more popular.

At this point in time, it is hard to imagine football going into decline, but consider some of stories that are making headlines.

Like boxing, we’re learning more and more about the devastating long-term effects of head trauma. Long retired football players who suffered concussions are experiencing dizziness and loss of memory. For some, it’s so bad they are unable to hold a job.

Others are suffering emotion-related issues such as depression or experiencing the early onset of dementia, which may have been caused by repeated head trauma during football games.

This week, a group of current and former NFL players, including two-time Super Bowl champion Jim McMahon, launched a lawsuit against the league in an effort to get compensation for the debilitating head injuries they suffered.

Meanwhile, we’re hearing about young players, many in their teens, collapsing and dying while training. We’re also hearing about the unsavory characters that are infiltrating the game and causing all kinds of PR nightmares.

So far, the sport has weathered the storm, but how many more waves of negative publicity can it take?

Like most of you reading this column, I love football. A big game has all the hype, energy and excitement of a heavyweight title fight.

Football is a fantastic sport to watch and wager on. It’s also a big reason why I can spend a couple of hours writing this piece. And for that, I am grateful.

It would be unfortunate to see sport’s popularity start to wane.

- Holmes

Comments

  1. Jim Sirody says:

    You hit this one out of the park.

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