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Perception not always reality in sports

Sports commentary

All this talk about the merits of boxing as a sport got me thinking about an old adage: “Perception doesn’t always translate into reality.”

The perception is that boxing, in and of itself, is violent. People watch boxing on TV and, after seeing two fighters bash each other’s heads in for 12 rounds, turn to violence themselves. It’s the same perception that horror movies cause people to commit violent acts, or that heavy metal music spawns satan worshippers.

The reality is that boxing is a strategic sport that requires extremely high levels of endurance, quickness and agility. To dance around the ring and take head and body shots for an hour requires a person to be in peak physical — and mental — condition.

Another common perception is that teaching kids the sport of boxing breeds a vicious mentality — one that cannot be reversed. If kids are made to feel tough by hitting someone, they may learn to crave that feeling and end up hurting someone later in life.

The reality is that if a child is taught proper values — such as “every negative action has consequences,” and “treat others as you would have them treat you” — he or she will grow up to become a model citizen, whether or not that child has ever laced up the gloves.

Hopefully, Xavier Mariscal’s parents didn’t read the Jan. 26 boxing club feature and believe I portrayed the 6-year-old as a violent person. He is a smart, polite young man with a unique spice for life, and I thought it would be fun if he helped me tell the story. If nothing else, his words might make people chuckle.

Like any good kid, Xavier understands right from wrong. He knows that you can’t just walk up to someone and punch them in the eye. And, like any aspiring prize fighter, he waits to throw a punch until he steps into the ring — gloves, head gear and all.

Boxing doesn’t teach violence, it teaches discipline. It teaches self-confidence and self-defense. It teaches one to go beyond his or her physical limitations and strive to be the best.

It’s true that if a boxer hopes to become the best, he or she must possess a “killer instinct.” But the same can be said about any sport, including football, basketball and wrestling, and non-contact sports such as tennis, golf and billiards.

When you whittle away all the perceptions, the reality is that boxing is just another sport enjoyed by men, women, boys and girls throughout the world. It’s no more barbaric than football, lacrosse or rugby, and when proper safety precautions are exercised, it may even be a safer alternative.

Everywhere you look, misperceptions such as this abound in the world of sports.

On a more personal note, the sport of soccer is viewed by many as a “sissy sport” that people play when they’re not tough enough for football. But the reality is that soccer requires the same physical conditioning, desire to win, and tolerance for pain. I have a seven-inch scar on my right ankle to prove it.

Or, take skateboarding as an example. The perception is that skaters are bands of misbehaved, unsupervised miscreants who disrupt the order of society by taking over parks and city streets with their “lunatic” activities.

The reality is that many skaters are parents, professionals, school teachers and shop owners who enjoy exercising outdoors while testing the law of gravity. Snowboarding on dry land.

Which brings up another common misconception. In many circles, snowboarders (as opposed to skiers) are viewed as unemployed, uneducated stoners who cruise around the mountain all day bucking authority and endangering the safety of others on the hill and on the road.

The reality is that thousands of snowboarders in this county alone are mothers, fathers and young kids who enjoy spending time outdoors with one another while staying within regulatory and ski-area boundaries.

Similarly, some perceive windsurfing in Hood River as nothing more than a seasonal infestation of trust-funders with plenty of money and ‘tude. The reality is that more than a few of these windsurfers live on your street year-round, have full-time jobs and go to the same PTA meetings.

Perception doesn’t always translate into reality in the world of sports. In the case of two Canadian figure skaters, the perception is that they earned a silver medal last Monday night.

The reality is that they were robbed of gold.

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