Of all American sports, it’s fair to say boxing is the least popular.
Of all American sports, it’s fair to say boxing is the least
Except for the occasional artistic interlude of a Muhammad Ali, a Sugar
Ray Robinson, an Archie Moore or (so we are told) a Jack Dempsey, it is
a brutal sport, poorly policed and administered (What young man aspires
to be a boxing commissioner?) And in the immediate past decades, it has
gotten increasingly corrupt and gang-ridden.
When one adds that roughly half the population actively despises the
sport and almost never attends a match or watches a fight, it is hard to
believe the game has survived this long or that it will make it, as the
sports commentators say, deep into the coming millennium.
By contrast, we read almost daily of the increasing popularity of
soccer, particularly among the suburban intelligensia who tend to
dislike contact sports, and who welcome the opportunity for girls to
compete in team sports.
Could politicians ever compete for the vote of ’boxing moms?’
How surprising then, to discover it is the scorned sport of boxing - the
’Sweet Science,’ as A.J. Liebling used to call it in some of its only
literary (and literate, for that matter) depictions - which has
contributed by far the most to our language, far out-distancing such
favorites as soccer, horse racing and basketball, or even chess and
bridge (competitions, at least, if not sports). There are, on a
preliminary check, no soccer words that have passed into the language,
and it even has appropriated a few from other contests to describe its
own features - e.g., ’shoot-out.’
Save for boxing, horse racing seems the leader, particularly in
political language. Words such as starting gate, homestretch, setting
the pace, wire-to-wire, handicap, photo finish, long shot and dark horse
are conspicuous examples; we read of ’early foot’ among political
contenders and even of those who ’left their race in the barn.’
Baseball has a few - out in left field, curve ball, pinch-hit, home run,
foul ball and (lately, to be sure) ’born on third base and thought he’d
hit a triple.’ These are all standard English, to which we could add
checkmate, King’s Row, grand slam, trump and finesse from other
’intellectual’ pursuits, but boxing - despised boxing - beats them all:
knock-out, glass jaw, low blow, below the belt, count of 10, in his
corner, the champ, sucker punch, saved by the bell, counted out, throw
in the towel, raise a hand in victory, drop one’s guard, come out
fighting, neutral corner; the list goes on.
Football borrows its language from war, but boxing provides words and
phrases for action of all kinds. Do we really hate it, and if so, why do
we preempt its language?