Intellectuals in ivy-covered towers and columnists with a penchant for pontification frequently target boxing as a sport ripe for abolition, as a throwback to a savage era, a callous exercise in depravity which should be shut down for transgressions against humanity.
Now you won't catch me portraying the sport as a model of perfection, in the way it is structured, but I always caution these righteous opiners who weigh in with takedowns on the sweet science that they should know they aren't aware of the full scope about the sport, the sort of people who take part in it, the way the sport serves them and society.
I had a chat with a fellow just the other night, in fact, an Ivy Leaguer who works in the news business who admitted to me that he thinks boxing should be banned. I told him that every week, I talk to one or more fighters who tell me that the sport saved their life, or gives them a reason for being, and that they cherish the opportunities boxing has given them.
I mentioned that I just spoke to a fighter the other day, Shawn "Killa" Cameron from Canarsie, Brooklyn, who told me that he very much appreciates boxing, the outlet it gives him to compete in a most challenging and stimulating arena. Cameron, in fact, gloves up and looks to drive his record to 7-0 on Thursday night, when he fights on a card promoted by Dmitriy Salita, the fighter/promoter who also resides in Brooklyn.
Cameron, who has a day job with the Transit Authority, is yet another example of someone who didn't fit into the neat theoretical niche so many smartie-pants types assume everyone does. He was on a path to a bad end growing up in East Flatbush, he told me, and ended up in the military to get a needed change of scenery.
"I don't want to say I was troubled, but I was in my fair share of situations," he said. "I ended up in the Army. My dad took me to a recruiting office on Church Ave. in 1999."
He worked in Korea, and then Kuwait, and then got into dicier deals in Iraq. In Kabul, he had to be on the lookout for IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
"I saw a lot of stuff happen," Cameron said. "My best friend was killed, in 2003. He was ready to get out, and did one more tour for the money, because the pay is tax-free."
Cameron met that man, Staff Sgt. Morgan Kennon, from Memphis, when they trained at Fort Hood. "But by the grace of God, nothing happened to me," he said, after which he explained that many guys extend their service so they can save money.
Cameron got out in 2006, and sees the upside to his stint overall. On Thursday night he will be fighting to bring attention to the Wounded Warriors Project, an organization which lobbies for vets, for decent treatment of those who have sacrificed for a cause so many of us purport to believe in.
"They do fundraisers, visits and such," he said of the Warriors, "and I want to shed light on the organization and the guys, because I can relate one hundred percent."
"The Wounded Warriors, the veterans, are super heroes walking amongst us," Salita told me. "They literally put their lives on the line to protect us and our way of life. Shawn is a great example of that and an honor to the sport. I am happy that through the sport we can highlight such an important organization as Wounded Warrior. And am honored that Wounded Warriors will be there to support Shawn and he will represent them with pride. We will all get inspired by their presence."
The 31-year-old Cameron told me he started boxing in the Army, in informal smokers, and realized he was good at it when he was knocking people out. He started training at the famed Gleason's in 2007, got to the semis in the Golden Gloves, and won the Gloves the following year. He turned pro in 2012.
His nickname, "Killa," is provocative, with his military history. He was kind enough to field my quite direct query about that nickname, as I wondered whether folks come up to him and ask him if he's killed people on the battlefield. "That nickname, I really didn't contemplate it, it was basically given to me prior to boxing, but it applies now," said the fighter who told me he has a style somewhere in between savage pressure brawler James Kirkland and ring general extraordinaire Erislandy Lara. "And do people ask if I killed anyone? Back in the day when I was fresh out."
And is he a future star, one we should all have on radar screens, someone whom all fight fans should rush to see in action on the Salita card topped by 10-0 cruiserweight Stivens Bujaj, set to unfold at the Millennium Theater in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, on Thursday?
"I think I'm a star right now," Cameron said, "solely based on personality, and talent. I work hard and have that personality people tend to gravitate. And boxing helps me mentally, physically and financially."
And he's a guy, like all of us, who's seeking to find his way in a complex world, but differs in that he enlisted into a cause which left a complicated wake, and then left him adrift upon his return. My words, not his. Cameron never complained to me one iota.
The abolitionists can get back to me when a kid from a rough neighborhood, where people assume that pop-pop-pop sound isn't firecrackers but is gunplay, isn't just told to pull himself up by his bootstraps, but is offered substantive support. I will then be quite willing to change my tune; but until then, nobody should be telling a man like Shawn Cameron, who relishes the opportunity to push himself in an environment that looks extreme to us but is completely natural to him, that the sport that gives him a reason for being should be removed as a vocational option.