Friday, February 25, 2005

Briefly, Boxers

Fair Warning : This post contains spoilers for Million Dollar Baby.

Once-Fearsome Boxer in Longest Fight of Life:

When he was a fearsome 160-pound middleweight boxer, Gerald McClellan's fights used to be measured in three-minute rounds. Often that calibration wasn't needed. He had 29 knockout victories in 34 fights and stopped 20 of his opponents in the first round. His last bout, only his third loss, left him in his present condition. It was his first as a 168-pound super middleweight and the first that extended him beyond eight rounds.

Now his fight against blindness and brain damage is measured in years, the longest battle of his life.

Ten years have passed since Feb. 25, 1995, the night his last bout ended with McClellan kneeling in a London ring and referee Alfred Asaro counting him out in the 10th round of his fight against British champion Nigel Benn.

McClellan rose and made it to his corner after the 10-count. Sitting against the ropes, he described to his trainer a sensation of "water running inside my head." Soon he was flat on his back as alarmed medical personnel called for a neck brace, an oxygen mask and a stretcher. McClellan was taken to a hospital, where he slipped into a coma and had a blood clot removed from his brain.

No one who saw the McClellan-Benn title fight or its TV replays can forget its savage images. . . . except Gerald McClellan.

He landed scores of brutal blows and absorbed just as many, including those that ended the bout. But now, at age 37, he barely recalls them and never will see them again.

This is a very affecting story, and prompts me to re-think my attitude to the sport in general, even though the injury was sustained, apparently, not from a punch but from an accidental headbutt. I wish Mr McClellan and his family the best, obviously, and hope he can be helped in any way from this story becoming public.

But this is a political blog, mostly, and I post this story for a political reason: I am certain that the cultural commissars of the reactionary right will seize this story to yet again pile on it their nemesis, Million Dollar Baby. They will point to Mr McClellan and say, "here's how it always should be done!", "Choose Life!", blah blah blah.

Therefore, I shall be pre-emptive.

Poor Mr McClellan's situation is not at all analogous with Hillary Swank's in the "culturally-morally objectionable" movie. The whole point to euthanasia is consent to perform an act of mercy for someone who is physically unable to perform suicide on their own. Mr McClellan is mostly alive in body yet effectively a toddler in mind, and impaired in his senses. He cannot ask for what Swank's character asks and know what he is asking for. Nevermind sentience or even sapience, Swank's character's mind is lucid; it's her body that has failed.

Obviously there is a gray area with those unfortunate souls who are comatose and in a permanent vegetative state, in which case I shall not judge -- nor, I should think, ought the state -- what the family decides.

But nuance -- much less mercy -- is rarely the first object at hand in the portmanteau of the average cultural commissar, be he The Pod, Michael Medved, Big Pharma, or bigoted Mormon nutjob Orson Scott Card, who presumably is doctrinaire, vituperative, and sadist enough to deny a merciful death to anyone wishing it, though he's a swell enough guy to offer a strong lecture on the character-building aspects of suffering until Jebus alone decides it's time to shut out the lights.

(Card links via Norbizness.)

Update: Roger Ebert finally, and systematically, destroys each of Michael Medved's pathetic objections to MDB.