‘Brain damage is beautiful,’ my boxing coach told me. ‘You don’t have those … interregnums between your thoughts. They just come. It’s great if you’re a poet.’ He is also a poet. His brain damage is of the (relatively) genial sort, affecting mostly his memory rather than his motor skills, rendering him a kind of absent-minded professor who can still spar.
His opinion is in the minority, though. Most people who box for any length of time, whether recreationally or competitively, have a certain amount of dread concerning what might be happening to their precious brains. ‘Yes, I worry about it,’ one young woman at Gleason’s Gym told me in between rounds. She works in education. She cast her eyes about the building. “Most of these girls fighting here are like, dog walkers …” she trailed off. Left unstated: The more you want to fight, the less you had better want to use your brain outside of a ring-based environment.
Blood is not the scary part of boxing. Blood is an annoyance, a split lip, a split eyebrow, lending a vivid bit of color to a fight, but taking little physical toll. Far more scary is the thought of the unseen damage being inflicted inside one’s skull. Blood is cleaned up with a rag and some Vaseline and adrenaline and stitches and a scar. Brain damage is not cleaned up, ever.