The Chisora-Haye post fight Brew-ha ha over the weekend was a stark reminder that the world of Boxing provides us with the clearest and noisiest examples of the many pitfalls open to the young sports star. The scuffle between the two men has seen papers of all stripes filled with talk of the ‘disgrace’ in which they’ve left the sport.
Of course, if boxing can indeed be discredited by an out of ring scuffle, its name is already irredeemably muddied. The Guardian and the Mail both took the opportunity to run in one form or another gleeful summaries of past dust-ups, from Tyson and Lewis back to the racially-charged mid 80’s scrapping of Mark Kaylor and Errol Christie. It’s now pretty difficult to talk about the noble sport of the pugilistic gentleman with a straight face.
Where once the great showman Muhammed Ali used pre show/off-ring hype like an artist, whether to catch George Foreman off guard in the Rumble in the Jungle or whipping up long term media coverage around his rivalry with Joe Frazier, the practice has become cheap and often counterproductive.
There’s a larger point to be made here. In boxing, when the young sportsman’s lethal combination of wounded ego and high visibility blows up, it never fails to make headlines. No matter what the news agenda, there’s always space for one big bloke punching another in a room full of cameras. In other sports, the problem is just as serious, but the reportage isn’t always so obvious.
If a young footballer gets pissed in a club or a cricketer cheats on his girlfriend, it’s a matter for the showbiz pages, where it becomes distorted and often obscured in a whirl of gossip and lo-budget star effects. Presumably the great and the good of pro wrestling, archery and Japanese extreme quoits also have their meltdowns, but nobody gets to hear about them.
So we must let this brawl highlight the problems endemic, even inherent, to sport in the public eye. Take a young man from relative poverty, shower him with cash and turn him loose in the media circus and you’re sure to get plenty of buzz. However, in every case managers, agents, promoters and whoever else are directly responsible for a hell of a lot of damage. In Chisora’s case, the wounds are obvious- especially now that the papers are falling over one another to print blow by blow dissections of the whole affair. Elsewhere, they may not be.
This is a clear symptom of an avaricious media age desperate for easy headlines. Like 1950’s rock n rollers churning out off the cuff singles, sportspeople are pumped for every story they can deliver then cast aside. While the music industry learned the benefits of long-term artist development, the sports media have not. These figures could be groomed for long-term, high quality coverage. Instead, they’re turned loose to do as much damage as possible in front a cheering crowd before the bell rings and they’re left standing outside the stage door in the cold night air.
In this age of self-analysis for the British tabloid press, perhaps those in the business of creating stars would do well to give their methods a similar once-over. In the new media landscape, where one-off brushes become permanent black spots, there simply isn’t a place for the easy stunt, the pre-match taunt or the sordid photo exclusive.