It’s long been a cultural fascination. Most of the recent headlines have been complaints over the supposedly demeaning and sexist attire female competitors will be wearing inside the rings at the London Games.
Women’s boxing takes a huge competitive leap starting today when the U.S. Olympic trials get underway in Spokane.
Finally, it’s about the boxing. Or will it be?
In the coming months, viewers in America and around the world will be prompted to take the sport seriously as a sport, and not just as a novelty. Sanctioned by the IOC in 2009, women’s boxing will be on our screens like it has not before.
But as befits the American media formula for coverage of some Olympic sports, there’s got to be a human interest angle to serve as an introduction. The more tragic, the better. Barry Bearak’s profile of American medal contender Quanitta Underwood in The New York Times over the weekend was less about the boxing and more about her horrific childhood at the hands of her father:
“. . . she wants to be a symbol of hope to anyone who has ever been sexually abused, though to do so requires something harder for her than a thousand hours of hitting the heavy bag. She has to talk about what happened.”
I don’t want to diminish Underwood’s ordeal. It is a harrowing tale that Bearak reveals, and her father was imprisoned for his crimes. There’s no dodging any of that. But she didn’t seem particularly thrilled for this kind of attention, which included a muted interview with her now-freed molester.
These stories are hard to resist, and we live in a society marinated in media and public voyeurism. Given the Penn State tragedy, it’s understandable why these types of stories will multiply, especially in women’s sports and other smaller niche sports. It’s an easy formula to perpetuate.
But there was precious little in Bearak’s very long piece about how Underwood developed as a boxer. How have she and other women come to putting on gloves? What stirs so deeply inside of them to do this? What does stepping in the ring really mean to them ?
“Women Box,” an ongoing series on WNYC radio that has been picked up by NPR, has answered some of those questions, with a thorough, compelling mixture of the personal and competitive stories of young women who will make us confront some deep-seated notions about the most extreme levels of physical combat females can endure.
It makes all the silly complaints about wearing skirts seem as trivial as they really are.