Boxers routinely cultivate personal brands that integrate religious, ethnic, and national identities says Professor Arlene Sanchez Walsh in this conversation with David McConeghy about the relationship between sport and self. To what degree are boxer’s religious affiliations only as skin deep as their tattoos? What are the goals for boxers looking to integrate their personal narratives of religious conversion as elements of their professional identity? What are the different stakes for audiences or communities with longstanding support for the sport? In this moment of social distancing, please enjoy this moment of reflection on the intersections of sport and religion. No matter what sport you may find yourself a fan of, we hope that you can soon return to playing and watching it soon.
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For this interview with Lynn Davidman, we focus on the concepts of conversion and deconversion, illustrations of these processes in various contexts, what each term means and how each is experienced in someone's life, the histories of these terms and their use in scholarship, and issues that arise from their conceptualization or use.
In this interview, Dr. Jasmin Zine talks about Muslim schools in Canada and their impact on their students’ identity development and integration in the society. Having served for decades as a tool to preserve a particular religious identity, Islamic schooling also plays a crucial role in empowering female students. In some cases, Muslim schools have become a safe haven, especially for women, “a place where their identity is not in question, where they can feel safe and comfortable”.
Podcast with Arlene Sánchez Walsh (19 April 2020).
Interviewed by David McConeghy.
Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.
Audio and transcript available at:
David McConeghy (DMcC): My name is David McConeghy, and today I’m joined by Dr Arlene Sánchez Walsh, Professor of Religious Studies and the author of the award winning book, Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self and Society. She’s the author of more than a dozen articles and book chapters on the subject of Latino Pentecostalism, and has served as a media expert for outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, On Being, and PBS’s God in America. Her current writing projects include a textbook on Pentecostalism in America – that’s out now, is it not – and a monograph on Latinos and the prosperity gospel. Today, she’s joining us to talk about boxing and its relationship to religion. Arlene, thank you so much for joining us today. Welcome!
Arlene Sánchez Walsh (ASW): Thanks a lot.
DMcC: So, your interest in boxing is personal? You’re a huge fan of boxing. For those of our Listeners that may not be boxing fans, let’s bring them in the through the means of culture. Can you tell me a movie that, maybe, is one of the real standards for you, where it really expresses some of what you feel the sport really has to offer to people, and why it’s interesting to you?
ASW: Well, one of my favourite movies is Million Dollar Baby, the acclaimed movie from a few years ago. And not so much because it’s Clint Eastwood, but probably because of Hilary Swank’s performance which I thought was great. So, one of the things I got from that movie, I guess, is kind-of how stereotypical it is, but how it demonstrates how boxing is all-encompassing for those who decide to become part of the sport. It is life or death, right? And for those of your Listeners who haven’t watched the movie, I won’t get into it, aside from that. But it really is . . . it becomes a person’s identity. This is what they do now. They box, right? And very few people leave the sport who are totally committed to it, or who view it as the way out of whatever trap they may find themselves in. And boxing really is a sport of the underclass, right? It didn’t start that way. I know it didn’t. Its roots are in England, gentleman’s clubs, things like that. And kind-of like a noble sport to demonstrate your virility, and your manhood, and all things like that. The Million Dollar Baby, because it focusses on the female – a poor white woman from some part of the US where there was no other ladder up – it’s really quite an amazing movie for that portrayal.
DMcC: I love the way that you describe boxing in a way that makes it sound, even from the outset here, like religion: that it’s all-consuming, that it becomes the central component of your identity. Why do you think boxing, as a sport, is like that? Do we say the same things about basketball? Do we say the same thing about baseball or about football, that they are as consuming as this? Something that’s to be said about all sport? Or is there some special thing we might point to about boxing that really separates it?
ASW: Well, what I think is quite amazing from it, is that it’s a singular sport. One person does it. One person takes their life into their hands, every time they go into the ring. Some of the sports you describe there are team sports. So, unless you’re a star and you really, really stand out, you’re just part of a squad in football. A very large squad, right, where there are multiple orders of players. And some players who may never get to play, but just be on the lines for years on end. Baseball – the same thing. It’s something that you decide. You don’t take training for it, really. I mean, I guess you can still box in the military. You can box in some colleges. But I think, by and large, it’s just something you take on, usually as a young person, and you train with one person usually. And you make a decision that this is going to be something that will get you out of a particular circumstance. That’s, I think, what’s unique about it. And it’s all-consuming. Because you need to brand yourself in order to become successful. You need to become something to follow. That’s how you develop boxing. That’s how you market yourself, if you will. So that’s how you’re going to sell tickets. That’s how you’re going market yourself. That’s how you’re going to brand boxing gloves, things like that. You become part of the fabric of the boxing world. Mike Tyson did not wear the fancy stuff. He came in with like a black kind-of cape and that’s all he wore (5:00). And he took it off. There’s was no flash. But he was, for his day, the most incredible boxer, the most incredible power. But he also fit in that mould of boxing as a way out, boxing as a way up.
DMcC: I’m curious about whether, in today’s era, we’ve seen the rise of UFC and mixed martial arts, MMA, globally, whether now boxing has so many more avenues for its athletes to brand themselves, that it really creates what was endemic before, right? That, perhaps, in the past that was something that was important to have, but there was all these other kind-of promoters, and facilities, and big organisations. And now there are all these media channels to really come through and self-brand. Is that something that you perceive as well? That when you follow the sport today, you’re following social media profiles and that element of entertainment, as well as what happens in the ring? Because what happens in the ring may only last ten minutes – half an hour, right?
ASW: Yes. The branding has gone the way of social media. Also these conglomerates where successful boxers now manage kind-of a stable of boxers. They also make contracts with cable stations, or streaming services – some of them stream their own boxing. They’ve kind-of got their own boxing groups. And so, if you sign with a particular manager the exclusive rights go to another particular . . . it used to be HBO, now it’s all over the place. There’s several places you can watch boxing. And the people who I follow on Twitter, for example, who are real boxing fans – who know much, much more about the history and follow every single rank, in terms of the weight ranks, which I don’t – but they’re always kind-of gleefully saying, “Well this is the year boxing is going to die.” Because boxing is always on its deathbed: it is brutal; many people will say it’s the racial component that’s deeply troubling to people; the fact that many of these men and women come from particular social classes – which is, essentially, why you would view this as the only way out, a sport that could kill you; the perceived corruption of it, and historically corrupt boxing, with fixed fights, and terrible referees, and terrible scoring, and things like that. So it’s interesting that the sport hasn’t died. And I don’t know why, even with UFC, even with MMA, even with . . . . Just yesterday, somebody who I follow on Twitter who won a bronze medal at the last Olympics had decided to go bare-knuckles– which . . . . Yeah. So I don’t know if he’s . . . again, boxing is not a good avenue for him. Maybe his weight class is not something that is particularly competitive, maybe he can’t find a manager. Not sure. But he’s decided to go this route because it’s probably better for him. Better money deal, it’s a better deal for him, maybe, health wise. So you never know. But boxing is interesting, in that it’s durable. And I’m not quite sure why. But it’s a very durable sport.
DMcC: One of the things that struck me in the drafts of the work that you shared with me about boxing was the way in which the racial identities and the ethnic communities that support individual boxers are so much a part of their self-brand. I wonder if there’s a connection there, between the durability of the communities that support this activity. And as we pivot to talking more about the way that religion gets into it, I think you are actually answering your own question, in a way that I hope to share with our Listeners in a moment. So can you talk a little bit about the way boxing has been racialised, has been an element in communities of colour and ethnic communities? Can you talk about that?
ASW: For sure. Well, historically, briefly, the fight would come through immigrant communities. So Jewish boxers, Irish boxers, Italian boxers – all of those were big, big hits in the turn of the century the twenties, thirties. And it’s really interesting how that is filtered down through more racialised groups today, where you had large communities of followers who would follow, let’s just say, Joe Louis and then would follow Sugar Ray Robinson (10:00). So in the African American communities, boxers were heroes. And to bring it through to today the myriad of boxing is rooted in all kinds of Latino/Latina identities: Columbian, Puerto Rican, Mexican, huge, huge in the boxing community. So those type of identities are important, because it’s something to hold onto I guess. I mean, when you’re kind-of forced, if you will, to undergo various processes of Americanisation, of assimilation, boxing’s durability in terms of ethnicity is because those people proudly wear flags. They add to themselves. They mark themselves as coming not just from a particular nationality, but from a particular place. You know, from Michoacán, from Sinaloa, from Chicago, from Imperial Valley California. They mark themselves as coming from that place. And it’s a mark of pride – where you don’t really get to fly the flag too much, particularly in this era. You don’t really get to promote yourself as proudly Mexican American, proudly Puerto Rican. It’s become kind-of a dangerous thing to get out there and say that you are something other than a white American.
DMcC: And so this is a very public stage, then, for the performance of racial identity, for the acceptance of a community, and for the projection of that brand to a community that’s actively watching. It’s no surprise to me that boxing would retain its power in that way. What does religion have to do with it, then, if these communities are self-branding in racial ways? How do we then talk about the way in which they’re also bringing their religious identities?
ASW: Well, they mark themselves with it. I can’t think of a boxer who dons tattoos, for example, that doesn’t have some kind-of praying hands, large tattoo of La Virgen de Guadeloupe, large crosses, rosaries. And in African American boxing communities, for example, you might get something like Scripture phrases, Scriptural passages that are tattooed. That’s very common, not only in boxing but among many other African American sports figures who choose to tattoo themselves with Scriptures. Which I think would obviously hearken back to the idea that most black athletes have some familiarity with Protestantism. So that their interest in Scripture would make sense. For Latino boxers who predominantly have some kind-of Catholic background, the idea of tattooing yourself with this material culture, with the rosary, with Virgin Mary, with things of that nature, that doesn’t surprise me at all. And the other boxers that I’ve followed for the piece that you’re mentioning, the conversion narrative plays a huge part in this. It’s that, what saved you – either through boxing, after boxing or while you’re boxing – is some kind-of religious component. Something about religion . . . you became something else, you started to follow it much more fervently. Or, in the case of the female boxer who I mention in the piece, you kind-of self-actualise, if you will. You become kind-of an advocate of this transpersonal psychology, you know, self-help, things of that nature, which is quite different. But what I argue in my piece is, it’s very much part of the same kind-of religious identity. Only she marked herself differently. She’d never mark herself as a Catholic, even though she was raised Catholic. She really wants to mark herself as, if you will, a much more self-actualised, modern Latino woman, who is kind-of moving away from the traditional bounds of religion, of Catholicism, of Protestantism. So I guess . . . I don’t know what we would call it, to go back to the old book. I don’t remember, Sheilaism, right? I believe in Sheilaism. So she believed in herself, in her ability through all of these self-help processes to make herself better, to come out of something. Boxing is a part of that, but it’s not the sole part of her work (15:00).
DMcC: Right. The boxer you’re speaking about it Mia St. John? Correct? And she won her third championship in 2012. And one of the things that struck me about the way that you spoke about her is that she ended up posing for an adult magazine, and she really took control of the sexualisation of her own skin. We’ve just been talking about how the men mark themselves in a kind-of muscular Christian attitude by tattooing themselves. And then her claim, in contrast you say, citing Jennifer Hargreaves that she was a potential surrogate for those things. And then by investing the power in her own creation of those images, it really asserted her self-brand as having control over the potential sexualisation that was being reflected on her, by the boxing community. Is this typical? This sounds like boxing has such a visible, such a latent surface for the reflection of the symbols that we’re seeing that it condenses everything down to a synecdoche: that each person becomes representative of their race, of their gender, of their sexuality, of their religion. And it makes a tableaux that is on stage, surrounded by the ropes, just two people for those ten minutes. How can you not create those stories from it, that drama that’s being created?
ASW: No, that’s absolutely true. You have such a way of saying these things. (Laughs) I listened to everything you just said and thought, “You know what? That’s exactly what I meant to write.” (Laughs).
DMcC: I’m just riffing off of the great draft of the essay that you sent to me! I’m so excited to have read the early version of it.
ASW: I’m glad you liked it. Obviously, when we get off this interview, I’d love your comments. But Mia St John, she’s fascinating. And she has her own personal drama. You see the conversion kind-of arc, right? Difficult home life; absent father; single mom; living in San Francisco; got involved in drugs, drinking etc.; a lot of psychological problems, mental illness, depression. But never talks about religion, you know, in any of the narratives. She talks about how she’s going to take charge of her sexuality in her book. Even has a couple of exercise tapes in the book about healthy eating. So again that’s another way to say, “Look I can do it, you can do it.” There’s a really deep sense in her that she can help Latinas. So that’s, again, another very, very different part of kind-of the boxing life, right? It’s her stepping out into trying to become a more public figure, a more eating healthy, getting well, meditating, and things like that. And she’s not comfortable talking about it in that way, but to follow her on Twitter, and to kind-of look at her public presentations, that’s clearly what she’s doing. And she’s near fifty now, but . . . and she’ll do matches for charity and things like that. But she’s off the . . . she doesn’t box professionally any more. That will get dangerous after a while. Seriously dangerous to keep boxing at that age. But I think that’s really interesting. And it was just something that I was looking for to kind-of match all of these stories together. This conversion arc is different, but it’s not, right? It’s coming out of something into something else, only she’s doing it on her own. And she’s essentially taking charge of this. Because she didn’t want to be taken advantage of. She knew that she was basically going to become, you know, for the lack of a better word, “meat for the grinder”. And that I found most fascinating. To kind-of look at her, and to see how she managed her own career, and how she managed her own persona. That happened with Johnny Tapia, another person who I wrote about. And it’s really something, how all of these stories kind-of mesh in, that there’s an all-consuming nature to boxing. Because – as I think I quoted someone . . . who does a lot of work on the sociology of boxing and the sociology of sport – you could die, right? I mean there’s not a lot of sports where you can do that. Now, it’s much more common in football, with the whole concussion thing and whatever. But you could literally . . . it can make or break you, one match (20:00). And so that’s not typical in sports. And I think that’s enticing to people. It’s adrenalin, and when you wrap yourself in a brand it might equate with something like . . . .Let’s hope not – we don’t really go to war any more, right? We don’t wrap ourselves in flags, and get on fields, and go fighting. That’s not the way we do it anymore. At least not in the first world. But it’s interesting that that’s how boxing has been equated. That it’s Ireland versus Mexico, it’s Puerto Rico versus this, very . . . it’s substituted for this interesting kind-of nationalism. And I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing . . . .
DMcC: Yeah, it’s a proxy for it.
ASW: Yes, exactly.
DMcC: It’s a proxy for it, right? It’s high stakes for the two people that are participating and low stakes for everybody else. And so you can invest your emotion in the stakes for the person that you’re supporting, right? Like this past weekend, everyone in the state where I live, Massachusetts, was heartbroken when the Patriots lost. And, for all of them, that emotional investment that they had in the team, and they’ve had in the team in the past, the let-down that they have when they lose, is a personal loss. But my wife, who’s a charity fundraiser and for whom football charity events connected to the Super Bowl are important, it actually had a huge impact. They now are predicting revenue loss from . . . . (Laughs). And I think that speaks to the ways in which the perceived emotional drama that we might participate in can actually have some real impacts on these people. Not only personal, health-wise, right? If you take one more fight to cash out, but then you are injured severely – and that’s a movie narrative again and again, that you’ve seen . . . .
ASW: Yes it is.
DMcC: But that’s the risk, right?
ASW: Just looking at Johnny Tapia’s career. Again the conversion arc: terrible, terrible childhood; heavy amounts of violence. I just can’t imagine coming from such a background to put yourself together to do anything. I mean, without lots of therapy and lots of other kinds of things that maybe he doesn’t have access to – or he didn’t have access to, because of a childhood in poverty. And that fell into crime, things of that nature. And then he decides, “I’m going to become a boxer.” Right? And so he becomes a boxer. He becomes completely invested in being in New Mexico. But he’s from Albuquerque. He symbolises that place, right. And there’s a statue of Johnny Tapia. There are things there are centres that are going to be built in his name. And does he deserve that? I guess that’s an interesting question. What happens to you after boxing? After boxing, despite all of the problems that you had – and he had a lot of problems: he was in and out of jail most of his life. The fact that many of these folks are not really great moral heroes doesn’t matter. Because boxing is all that matters. The fact that “You took on our name, you took on the name place of where we’re from, you came out from nothing, from the barrio, from the neighbourhood, and you made something of yourself.” Right? That’s only boxing has that kind-of . . . . Well, I don’t say only boxing, but boxing is one of the few avenues where your previous life is really erased, or made heroic, as something that you overcame.
DMcC: Right. And that’s the foundation of the personal myth that is at the heart of the self-brand. It cuts across economic troubles, it cuts across family home troubles, it cuts across troubles with drugs – because you can mark them as the foundation, as the base. And then: what did we build up through? We built up through hard work. We built up through sport, and we built up – as you argue – through religious conversion. Can you speak a little bit about the ways in which the dynamic of the public expression of religion, and the private expression of religion, work for this? Because you say that for someone like Mia St. John that while she has a variety of public activities, the public expression of her religiousness is very muted (25:00). Whereas, for many of the other figures that we could talk about, their religious expression is much more public, and much more visibly categorised or designated. We can trace it to a particular denomination or to a particular church, even?
ASW: Oh no, no, no. Let me dovetail both of these together. There’s very little evidence, aside from if you talk to the family, that Johnny Tapia, for example, made a conversion statement, or made a conversion story. I looked. I looked and looked. And it was very hard to find. But in some of the literature it was like that he had had a born again experience. They kind-of used that expression. And I looked for it. Because usually folks who become evangelical – let’s just say, they’re not shy about it! They will talk about it. Their families will talk about it. There’ll be something somewhere. Like the tapes that I saw on YouTube about a former boxer attending an evangelical service in Puerto Rico, for example. I could find nothing on John Tapia. Mia St. John, I think why there’s no public expression, the public expression really is in the psychological self-help. Her foundation. The fact that she wants to help Latinas, young girls, with self-esteem. And that’s a part of it. And I guess you could kind-of put it in that whole kind-of – I don’t know I want to say – seventies self-help, self-actualisation mode, where you talk about, “I am a good person, I can be whatever I want to be, I can do whatever I want to do, completely divorced from any kind-of traditional religious denomination that I know of.” It’s just simply you. You can do it, if you want to. You can do it, if you believe in yourself. So you have all of these kind-of pat phrases. And that’s kind-of what she uses. I mean again, I dug, I dug, I dug. I couldn’t find any kind-of deep root to any religious or traditional religious denomination movement. It simply was a belief of hers that she did this on her own. Through, again, hard work, keeping her body, keeping psychology. I think, if anything, her religion is psychology, right? That helped her. That treatment helped her. So I don’t know if you can have a public expression of that, aside from what she does: her charity work, her work with art therapy, her work for kids, her work in trying to help people with mental illness. Because her son . . . it’s a tragic story. He was schizophrenic and he committed suicide, under watch, at a local facility. So that’s one of her causes now, is reform of those type of situations. Because she’s a believer that psychology would have helped him. That this kind-of again, self-actualised personal psychology – not the institutional stuff. Because that, I think, she blames for her son’s death.
DMcC: I wonder if, in the framing of this . . . and I’m hearing you make a move where we have a space – the space of religious expression, of psychological principles, maybe of, you know, the descendants of self-affirmation, and Norman Vincent Peel, this kind of movement. And I wonder whether part of the advantage that someone like Mia St. John has today, is that those expressions are available to her. Can you . . . let me ask the negative: can you imagine, fifty years ago, that she could have had that particular identity, and that brand, as a boxer? I can see it today, but if I go back in time . . . .
ASW: That’s exactly right. Well that’s why I think I put her at the end. I try to, at least, draw his little arc from the very traditional narrative – which you have heard a hundred times, which would not really interest readers too much; they would kind-of go, “Oh, of course, we’ve seen this” – to her. And then, kind-of trying to make the argument that this is, in many ways, the same thing. But in many ways it’s not. Because it’s her, right? She essentially has divorced herself, and her success, from any particular kind-of conversion narrative. It’s like: “I started here. I had a crisis moment, I had a ‘Come to Jesus’ moment” – quote-unquote – “and now I’m living this different life because of that.” (30:00) And fifty years ago – no. Fifty years ago, she wouldn’t have been boxing and even if she had, no, there would not be . . . .
DMcC: No permission to box, right?
ASW: It would have been kind-of what it is today as a subset, right? As an exhibition, right? I think the exhibitionism is still there. It’s kind-of fascinated by female fighters because of how they look. And, you know, when they get beat up, it just looks horrible. I mean . . . not that men getting beat up is . . . I think you’re used to it. There’s something about being used to seeing bloody bodies for boxers being male. Bloody bodies for women, it’s . . . whatever it is in our psyche, much more distasteful. We don’t think of her that way. If you think of her at all she is fit, she is trim, she looks fantastic for near fifty! And I think it’s part of that whole thing of “I did this myself, with a lot of help, with a lot of therapy, and you can too.” Right? And again, never kind-of digging it into a Catholic background. Nothing like that. It’s really interesting how she’s managed to do that.
DMcC: I wonder if, when we’re talking about the self-brand and the personal myth, whether the affiliation with a specific organisation of religion, a particular church or a particular denomination, whether that’s actually a riskier move for the self-marketing of these boxers today? You know, if you were Catholic, and you were boxing out of a community, you might have to field a lot of the blow-back against Catholics for the sex abuse crisis. If you were a member of prosperity church you could get abuse for not having given back enough to the community or for not having tithed enough. It comes with all of these strings that are attached. And the thing that I think you’ve emphasised is how much these folks are self-made. And if you’re self-made and you tie yourself to these deep-rooted organisations, then maybe you lose out some elements of what could make your brand really yours to own and shape
ASW: I think that’s a good point. Also, the way they tie themselves to religion, you know, you can disagree with me, or not, or amplify it – because you know this much better than I do. The idea that there’s a popular and institutional religion. A popular religion they completely envelope themselves in with the marking of their bodies, and the discussing of certain things. If they are . . . for evangelical boxers, for example, they’ll grant you interviews to talk to people. You can talk to their pastors, etc, etc. and it’s the conversion mythology: “Look at how great they are now!” Something with African American boxers who become Muslim, right – which is a completely different topic, I understand that. But the couple of boxers who are Latino who converted to Islam – very interesting stories they are, too. I didn’t have time to put them in there. There was not a lot of material, sadly. So I had to leave them out. But that’s a subset that’s very much more interesting to me, honestly. Because, how you navigate that – being Latino and being Muslim in the ring. It’s very, very different than being a Muslim and African American in the ring. But again, I think it’s the popular versus the institutional. I don’t know a lot of Catholic boxers who want to have pictures of themselves taking Communion. They want the tattoos, and they cross themselves before they start fighting. That is basically the symbol of their public Catholicism. And not to say that that’s as far as they go, but that often is as far as they go, aside from charity events and giving money to various organisations. There’s just not a lot of deeply embedded institutional follow-through with at least the boxers that I’ve followed. There might be with others. But this is really much more just for a persona. The idea that “This is what is expected of me. It’s expected that I cross myself, that I have some kind of mark of protection,” right? The rosaries and the Virgen, those are protective amulets – you’d want to say that – right? That’s what that’s for. It’s not a symbol of “Look at how Catholic I am, or look at my conversion.” It’s: you put this onto protect yourself in a Latino popular Catholic context. That’s why you carry these items, that’s why you put them on, that’s why you have tattoos (35:00). You do them to protect . . . at least, one of the major reasons that you use that, and you mark your body that way, is for protection.
DMcC: I’m so taken with that idea. That’s such an interesting read of crosses and rosaries on the body. As we wrap up our time here today, I just wanted to talk about the poem that you used that was written by a boxer named Gonzalez. And it’s a very famous poem, Yo Soy Joaquin. And I had to confess that I’d never read that poem before. And I was stunned. It was such a wonderful piece of prose. And you end with the summary here: “I look at myself and see part of me, who rejects my father and my mother, and dissolves into the melting pot, to disappear in shame.” And I just wondered whether . . . we think of boxing as such a physical sport, but in that moment at the end of your piece when you’re creating a kind of evocative moment there, I wonder whether there’s a poetic side to all of this, that is really revealed in the product of a boxer, which is then reflecting on the racial components of their boxing, during their career as they transition out of being a professional boxer.
ASW: Yes sure. Well, Corky Gonzalez is a unique case – as I’m sure you read in the piece. And I’m glad you read it. It’s a very famous poem and I’m glad it’s getting exposure. Corky had some idea of who he was, right? He was an activist, he left boxing fairly early. He didn’t experience the downfall of the boxer which is often, sadly, a lot of physical problems: dementia, later on; Parkinson’s, as Mohammed Ali had; those type of things, because of just the sheer volume of hits you take to the head – which is pretty constant over several years – and it can’t do anything but damage you. So he left early on. So the poetry involved . . . I think you can flesh it out to most boxers, that they kind-of know who they are. There’s the sense about them that they understand who they are, they know that they can be flashes in the pan; that “I’m a hero”, one day; that “I’m going to be in a parade, they’re going to welcome me as a hero. I’m a champion.” And then you lose and you’re nothing. Most of us do not like to live that way. At least we don’t like to think about it that way. Just the idea that “Not only is my physical body melted away, but my identity somehow is melted away. I’m forgotten.” Corky was talking about, in the piece, assimilation. He was talking about the loss of a Chicano identity, which is very specific, as you know, to a time period, to the late sixties – early seventies, in particular. And so it’s marked by those boundaries of being a part of that time. But I think you can, again, expand the view and say, I think, a lot of Latino boxers, particularly, and African American boxers as well, have this idea that they’re only as good as their fight. And who are they beyond that? So I think that’s what Corky was getting at was: “Who am I beyond this? I am nothing. Because everything has been taken away from me.” So, yes, it’s pretty poignant. And you know what? I don’t think boxers would have it any other way. I don’t think anybody is out there saying, “You should join this sport! It’s great!” (Laughs). There’s not a positive spin to boxing.
ASW: It’s something that you take on, really, if you don’t have a lot of options.
DMcC: Well, it’s been so wonderful to speak with you today. I’m so thankful for a chance to think about something that I don’t usually get to think of. And I hope you’ll return to share more thoughts about it in the future. So thank you, again, Dr Sánchez Walsh.
Listeners to the Religious Studies Project, particularly in a European context, might be quite familiar with the sight of a former church building that has now turned derelict, or is being used for a purposes that perhaps it wasn’t intended for, or is being rejuvenated by another ‘religious’ community, another Christian community, or put to some other use. Chris is joined today by Daan Beekers to discuss spatial contestations and conversions, particularly looking at (former) church buildings in the Dutch context.
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