Who killed benny paret

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Norman Cousins

Norman Cousins (1915-1990) was born in Union City, New Jersey, and graduated from Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1933. He began his career in journalism writing for The New York Evening Post and Current History magazine. In 1940 Cousins joined the Saturday Review, where he served as editor from 1942 to 1978. Cousins lectured widely on world affairs, was a social critic and a strong advocate of nuclear controls, and arranged for victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to come to the Untied States for medical treatment. From 1978 until his death, he was an adjunct professor in the department of Psychiatry and biobehavioral science at U.C.L.A Medical School. Cousins published numerous books, including many urging a positive outlook to combat illness: Anatomy of an Illness (1979), about his own struggle with a life- threatening form of arthritis; Human options: An Autobiographical Notebook (1981); Healing and Belief (1982); The Healing Heart: Antidotes to Panic and Helplessness (1983); The Pathology of Power (1987); and his last book, about the effect of the emotions on the body’s resistance to disease, Head First: The Biology of Hope (1989). In his 1962 essay “ Who Killed Benny Paret?” Cousins Investigates the causes of a boxer’s death. In answering the question posed by his essay’s title, Cousins takes a strong stand against violence in sports.
Before reading: Have you ever played a sport (or participated in an activity) where you were injured? What was the injury? How did it happen? What were the effects? How did it affect you long-term? Did it change how you view the sport/activity? Describe.
During reading: highlight all of the ADJECTIVE CLAUSES used to indicate CAUSE/EFFECT (see sheet)
After Reading: Rewrite the story of BENNY PERET from another perspective. Think about the incident, all of the “causes” and “effects” and how someone else might be affected by it emotionally and physically. You can choose Benny, a fight manager, a referee, etc..

Sometime about 1935 or 1936 I had an interview with Mike Jacobs, the prize- fight promoter. I was a fledgling reporter at that time; my beat was education but during the vacation season I found myself on varied assignments, all the way from ship news to sports reporting. In this way I found myself sitting opposite the most powerful figure in the boxing world.

There was nothing spectacular in Mr. Jacobs’ manner or appearance; but when he spoke about prize fights, he was no longer a bland little man but a colossus who sounded the way Napoleon must have sounded when he reviewed a battle. You knew you were listening to Number One. His saying something made it true.

We discussed what to him was the only important element in successful promoting- how to please the crowd. So far as he was concerned, there was no mystery to it. You put killers in the ring and the people filled your arena. You hire boxing artists- men who are adroit at feinting, parrying, weaving, jabbing, and dancing, but who don’t pack dynamite in their fists- and you wind up counting your empty seats. So you searched for the killers and sluggers and maulers- fellows who could hit with the force of a baseball bat.

I asked Mr. Jacobs if he was speaking literally when he said people came out to see the killer.

“They don’t come out to see a tea party,” he said evenly. “They come out to see the knockout. They come out to see a man hurt. If they think anything else, they’re kidding themselves.”

Recently, a young man by the name of Benny Paret was killed in the ring. The killing was seen by millions; it was on television. In the twelfth round, he was hit hard in the head several times, went down, was counted out, and never came out of the coma.

The Paret fight produced a flurry of investigations. Governor Rockefeller was shocked by what happened and appointed a committee to assess the responsibility. The New York State Boxing Commission decided to find out what was wrong. The District Attorney’s office expressed its concern. One question that was solemnly studied in all three probes concerned the action of the referee. Did he act in time to stop the fight? Another question had to do with the role of the examining doctors who certified the physical fitness of the fighters before the bout. Still another question involved Mr. Paret’s manager; did he rush his boy into the fight without adequate time to recuperate from the previous one?

In short, the investigators looked into every possible cause except the real one. Benny Paret was killed because the human fist delivers enough impact, when directed against the head, to produce a massive hemorrhage in the brain. The human brain is the most delicate and complex mechanism in all creation. It has a lacework of millions of highly fragile nerve connections. Nature attempts to protect this exquisitely intricate machinery by encasing it in a hard shell. Fortunately, the shell is thick enough to withstand a great deal of pounding. Nature, however, can protect man against everything except man himself. Not every blow to the head will kill a man- but there is always the risk of concussion and damage to the brain. A prize fighter may be able to survive even repeated brain concussions and go on fighting, but the damage to his brain may be permanent.

In any event, it is futile to investigate the referee’s role and seek to determine whether he should have intervened to stop the fight earlier. That is not where the primary responsibility lies with the people who pay to see a man hurt. The referee who stops a fight too soon from the crowd’s viewpoint can expect to be booed. The crowd wants the knockout; it wants to see a man stretched out on the canvass. This is the supreme moment in boxing. It is nonsense to talk about prize fighting as a test of boxing skills. No crowd was ever brought to its feet screaming and cheering at the sight of two men beautifully dodging and weaving out of each other’s jabs. The time the crowd comes alive is when a man is hit hard over the heart or the head, when his mouthpiece flies out, when the blood squirts out of his nose or eyes, when he wobbles under the attack and his pursuer continues to smash at him with pole- axe impact.

Don’t blame it on the referee. Don’t even blame it on the fight managers. Put the blame where it belongs- on the prevailing mores that regard prize fighting as a perfectly proper enterprise and vehicle of entertainment. No one doubts that many people enjoy prize fighting and will miss it if it should be thrown out. And that is precisely the point.

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