The Prize Fighter (1914)

The Prize Fighter (1914)

Boxing is an ancient sport. It is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid and was a recognized branch of the celebrated Olympic games. During the middle age boxing went out of style among most nations, the preference being given to various sorts of encounters with weapons. In England it was revived in the Seventeenth Century, and fighting with bare fists became a national sport in the Eighteenth Century. Boxing gloves were invented late in that century, and in the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, John Jackson (note the prophecy!) became champion and teacher of Lord Byron and other great and titled personages.

Gradually the more brutal features of the sport were eliminated and the eighth Marquess of Queensberry drew up a set of rules in the sixties which have since prevailed.

There is still today some brutality connected with boxing, but as compared with football and boat racing it may be seriously questioned whether boxing deserves to be put in a separate class by reason of its cruelty. Certainly it is a highly civilized pastime as compared with the international game of war which produces so many “heroes” and national monuments.

Despite all this, boxing has fallen into disfavor—into very great disfavor. To see publications like the New York Times roll their eyes in shivery horror at the news from Paris (to which it is compelled to give a front page) makes one realize the depths to which we have fallen.

The cause is clear: Jack Johnson, successor of the Eighteenth Century John Jackson, has out-sparred an Irishman. He did it with little brutality, the utmost fairness and great good nature. He did not “knock” his opponent senseless. Apparently he did not even try. Neither he nor his race invented prize fighting or particularly like it. Why then this thrill of national disgust? Because Johnson is black. Of course, some pretend to object to Mr. Johnson’s character. But we have yet to hear, in the case of white America, that marital troubles have disqualified prize fighters or ball players or even statesmen. It comes down, then, after all to this unforgivable blackness. Wherefore we conclude that at present prize fighting is very, very immoral, and that we must rely on football and war for pastime until Mr. Johnson retires or permits himself to be “knocked out.”

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1914. “The Prize Fighter.” The Crisis. 8(4):181.