Bliss in Maine is to grow old together in a pleasant home, or to trim the roses quietly in a summer garden. But just as there are many who desire peace and contentment, there are a few who prefer a spectacle of clamor and violent emotion, for example, a prize fight by the waterfront.
Bangor is not Rome, and a prize fight is not a gladiatorial contest, but our most insightful account of fighting as sport is given to us by a visitor to the Roman coliseum. St. Augustine relates that upon his first visit to the gladiatorial games, he pressed his eyes shut for fear of what he might see. But as the roar of the crowd grew louder, he opened his eyes little by little, and in a short while he was caught up in the spectacle. It is an instructive account, because it tells us that man by nature is repulsed by the sight of cruelty, and must learn to tolerate it gradually, much like a boy who is sickened by his first cigarette, but goes for another, then another, until he is addicted.
Prize fighting was once illegal in Maine, and was opposed by the clergy on ethical grounds. Today, prize fighting operates under the sanction of the state. The principle behind fighting as entertainment has remained the same down through the ages. The viewer takes vicarious pleasure in seeing harm done to others, and the spectacle ranges from violent video games for children, to boxing and professional wrestling, to the truly vicious sport of dog fighting. Mixed martial arts, in which human participants are brought to the ground and pummeled, ranks at the apex of this scale.
These forms of entertainment omit the truth that violence against one’s fellow man always has adverse consequences and often entails the severest legal and moral penalties. We should not wonder then if these all-pervasive forms of entertainment find eager imitators. Portraying physical aggression as entertainment results in violent crime, and this is the harm to society. The harm to the individual grows in proportion to his desire to see harm done to others, since this is the very definition of malice.
In prize fighting, the harm to the participants is real, whether a minor cut or bruise, or permanent injury to the brain. Far from being an unintended consequence of the sport, concussions and brain injury are desired goals, these being delivered in the form of a knockout, which decides the contest.
The law prohibiting prize fighting among men here in Maine was identical word for word to the law outlawing prize fighting among birds, dogs, and bulls. The laws were identical because the form of the contest is the same although the participants are human. Tickets are sold, bets are placed, and the cruelty of the contest elicits the frenzy of the crowd. Once the outcome is determined either by injury or by forced submission, prizes are awarded. There is in prize fighting, as opposed to amateur sport, an element of commoditization, and the commodity which is marketed and sold is cruelty and malice towards one’s fellow man.
We would do well to reflect on the fact that the worst theater disaster in history was a stadium collapse in a small town north of Rome. The eager spectators had come to see the pain and death of the gladiatorial contests, not knowing that they would soon be delivered over to the same fate. Reliable accounts put the number of those who perished at over 20,000.
Pain and suffering comes to us all, appearing sometimes as a mildly annoying guest, and at other times frightening us as a terrifying intruder, just as the afflictions of man range from a scraped knee to an incurable, raging illness. But we should never let pain and suffering dwell among us as a welcome guest. We should share in the wisdom of past generations who prohibited games and contests that capitalized on the vices of their fellow man and denied the very real consequences of aggression and violence.
Fritz Spencer of Old Town is the former editor of the Christian Civic League RECORD.