The Father, Son, and Holy Sport

By Johnathan Lee Iverson on June 15, 2014
The Father, Son, and Holy Sport
The father, who births and nurtures the boy, breaks him and rebuilds a man of war.

Contrary to all we’ve been told, manhood, like the maturation of a champion, requires the utmost care…

“You created this monster,” former welterweight champion Timothy Bradley Jr. reminded his father, the stoic Timothy Bradley Sr., following his near calamitous encounter with the formidable Ruslan Provodnikov. The fight, although entertaining for HBO and fight fans, was panned as reckless by Bradley’s corner, not least of all the man who reared him for this most taxing of professions, his father. By his own admission, Bradley entered the ring versus Provodnikov with war on his mind. Despite possessing the capability to box the powerful Russian, which he proved during the course of the match, Bradley believed he needed to make a statement that would silence the legions of insiders and fight fans who viewed his victory over Manny Pacquiao as anything but legitimate; and silence them he did or at least quiet them down. Perhaps, Bradley was on to something as nothing exacts respect as one brought to the brink of destruction only to will oneself back to life.

This was the monster the younger Bradley was referring to when answering the concerns of the father whose truck he had to outrun as a boy, lest he have his “little ass run over.” This was the monster the champion so effortlessly accessed, even to his own peril. This was the monster whose boyish frame and will were transformed through severe means only champions can appreciate, into what Max Kellerman excitingly referred to as “steel,” all under the watchful eye of his father. So it should not have come as a surprise to Sr. that his charge who he meticulously groomed for this life of pain was merely “about his father’s business.”

The world of sport is littered with tales of manipulative patriarchs living vicariously through their spawn, building them up not to stand firmly on their own, but to be gifted puppets for father’s bidding. However, there are those successful examples of fathers who though just as demanding have clearly made men, not just champions. Prizefighting the most exacting and unforgiving of all sports arguably yields the most intriguing study of this partnership between father and son. The father, who births and nurtures the boy, breaks him and rebuilds a man of war. It’s a spiritual and psychological high wire act that puts the entire relationship at risk. One or few false moves by the father can cripple the vulnerable boy whose sole dependence is upon him even into manhood, making even those well honed gifts and earned successes burdensome, leaving a wounded man-child who torments himself seeking to break free of the man who is nothing more than a Svengali, yet, pining away for the blessing, the approval, the validation all desire from their fathers.

Such is the trepidation of fatherhood. Thus spake the fictional Don Vito Corleone, “women and children can afford to be careless, but not men.” Can you observe the state of our homes and our society as a whole and disagree? Contrary to all we’ve been told, manhood, like the maturation of a champion, requires the utmost care. Thus, the intent of every would-be builder of champions must be of the purest stuff. Not a father frozen in the bygone days of his own failures or unfulfilled hopes attempting to redeem himself via his child, but a man who seeks to erect one greater than himself, the true end of fatherhood.

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Full Fight: Bradley vs. Provodnikov 2013 (HBO Boxing)

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