Monday, August 11, 2014

Blood Frenzy

Before Fox Sports decides to crucify Tony Stewart for driving a race car that hit and killed an angry driver who had walked out onto the track, in the midst of moving traffic, and was walking into Stewart's path and gesturing at him, let's read a paragraph from Wikipedia about the great and tragic fighter Emile Griffith:

In the sixth round Paret came close to stopping Griffith with a multi punch combination but Griffith was saved by the bell.[2] After the sixth round Griffith's trainer, Gil Clancy, later said he told him, "when you go inside I want you to keep punching until Paret holds you or the referee breaks you! But you keep punching until he does that!".[1] In round 12 Griffith trapped Paret in a corner. Stunned after taking hard blows to the head, Paret stopped punching back and slumped to the side against the ropes although his upper body was through them and partly out of the ring. Griffith held his opponent's shoulder keeping him in position while using his free hand to hit Paret, who was no longer trying to protect himself by head movement or an arm guard. Griffith repeatedly landed right uppercuts on Paret's head. Many watching were shocked, and there were calls from ringside for the referee to halt the bout; Norman Mailer said it was the hardest he had ever seen one man hit by another. Paret then lolled back and was hit with a combination. At this point Ruby Goldstein stepped in, thereby awarding Griffith a win by technical knockout. Immediately after the referee intervened, Paret, who had remained on his feet throughout, slowly slid to the floor. He was carried from the ring on a stretcher and died ten days later in hospital without regaining consciousness. Goldstein had a reputation as a tender-minded referee who stopped bouts at an early stage; admirers said he may have been suffering after-effects from a heart attack. He never refereed again.[citation needed] Paret's manager was also criticised for not retiring his boxer with a timely throwing in of the towel during the beating.

Emile Griffith was not charged with any crime, and indeed went on fighting for many years. There's a terrific documentary about his life, which was shadowed and altered by this sad event.

What racing ought to do is outlaw this macho displaying which has been occurring more and more frequently of late, of an angry driver walking out into traffic to point a finger or yell or punch or whatever the driver who spun him or blocked him or whatever. It looks great and the fans love it. Mr. Stewart himself is featured in frequent NASCAR ads during his walk into traffic a year or two ago, when he throws his helmet at (I think it was) Matt Kenseth's windshield, hitting it dead on. This sort of posturing is dumb and dangerous. It might even be, who knows, that Kevin Ward was emulating Mr. Stewart when he got all huffy about a very normal event in his racing Saturday and decided to walk into traffic and point and gesture at Stewart. Then, of course, he got snagged by Stewart's rear tire, run over, and killed.

The sheriff of the county where the race happened got it right. It was an incident on the track, just like the death of Benny Paret. Racing, like boxing, is a blood sport. But racing has worked pretty hard to try to stop the blood. Yesterday there were two wrecks at Watkins Glen that in earlier years could well have resulted in fatalities. Neither did, probably in large part because of interior safety design in the cars.

NASCAR ought to outright ban the behavior of walking out into traffic. It would be fairly easy to do, with fines and suspensions. That would seep down to the "minor leagues," which could and should also ban the practice. As for Stewart--he'll carry this tragedy in his heart for ever. This is very sad.

[That's Kid Paret after the ref finally stopped the fight.]

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