by Aboubacar Kante
The world of an adolescent boxer is extremely physically demanding and even heinous. Training includes waking at the crack of dawn and sparring with someone double their size to gain stamina. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to attend Georgia’s largest boxing tournament for children between the ages of 8-17. Despite all the controversy surrounding youth boxing, I came into the gym with an open mind. The pre-screening room was a cold, bright room with chairs arranged by age groups. This is where the young boys are shuffled in, wearing nothing but their underwear to be given a physical by two onsite physicians. The scenario appears very militaristic and strangely reminiscent of the prisoner processing or some sort of juvenile detention center.
The gym had four rings lined up for simultaneous matches. As the fights began, guests rushed into the auditorium for their night’s entertainment. Amidst all the chaos, it started to seem as if this wasn’t about the children. Instead, it appeared to be for the enjoyment of the adults watching. During each fight, I could see the emotion on the face of every fighter, whether it was the excited fighter that maintained his winning streak while the crowd cheered, or the tears of embarrassment from the heartbroken fighter who had lost. Despite the outcome of the match, the children were either unaware or unfazed by how dangerous their sport actually is, a fact that still leaves me uneasy. When I look back at the images from this event I find myself thinking about the lives of the fighters and their safety in the ring.
Waiting for the next match, I set out to speak with some of the young fighters which turned out to be just a little different than speaking to any other 8-year-old kid. They all liked the same cartoons and played the same video games. The only thing different was that many of these kids had been trained to fight since they were able to walk. “I’m gonna make him bleed” were the words from one of the youngest boxers in the locker room as he was getting his hands wrapped before the start of the tournament. Child fighters suffer from numerous concussions and multiple injuries throughout their careers. There have been medical links between sports like boxing and football to Alzheimer’s, a long term trauma risk to the physical and mental health of these young fighters.
Community boxing gyms like Sugar Bert’s are usually associated with a positive influence on an otherwise at-risk youth and recounted upon fondly by those involved. Despite the controversy, the truth is that child boxing, as well as many other contact sports, has a dark side. Are the rewards worth the risk?
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