Mental health important to Boxers

By Andrew Matyila

Pertaining to health and mental issues, boosting a low self-esteem, increasing resilience, modifying risk exposures, getting great support and good health advices are some of the key features required in preventing and avoiding a human being negatively affected. This in particular if a person is involved in contact sports such as wrestling, kick boxing, rugby and boxing to mention just a few.

The latter has produced many casualties, mainly due to poor management and sometimes unforeseen circumstances. Boxers suffer a lot under these circumstances, with these issues occasionally undressed and unheard of symptoms related are usually hidden or not easily noticed, and you would only hear about a boxer having been suffering from depression when the damage has already been done.

Former South African featherweight boxing king, Zweli Ngcongolo, suffered a mental disturbance that caused him to leave boxing. He was later seen to be around those braaing facilities, asking for small change and sometimes being given left-over meats by those who know him or feel sorry for him.

While former South African junior Flyweight champion, Thamsanqa Sogcwe, went on a ten year lay-off to sort out his family issues, and came back to become a SA mini flyweight champion. One cannot fight having disturbing issues affecting one emotionally. 

However, former bantam weight Mdantsane prospect, Bonisile Xhatasi, who lost twelve of his sixteen bouts in professional boxing, unfortunately became mentally challenged and had to stop boxing. Alot of punches to the head are suspected to be the cause.

Some boxers who are mainly from poor backgrounds, sometimes would engage in unplanned, “take it or live it” kind of fights, just to have a means of putting bread on the table, or for maintaining a living. This is more often worse to those who are also under pressure of having to support their dependents, and thus causing their social well-being and emotions to be somehow not in good order.

Under these conditions, boxers would go to a fight not fully prepared or organised, psychologically, physically, emotionally and mentally, thus putting themselves at great risk, because, as it has been proven that, punches hit on the head to a not fully focused and expecting person, causes a lot of damage to the head and eventually to the brain.

Some would attend to a fight whilst being disturbed by very bad or sad circumstances that happened to their families or relatives and surroundings, just because one do not want to miss that opportunity of having a paid fight, and missing out on a salary. A title, or money or both, being the main reason for not postponing or cancelling a particular event.

Some would be depressed or stressed prior, but continue with the fight arrangements. These cause a boxer to be psychologically and emotionally unstable.

We have lot of former South African boxing champions who have very low self-esteems. Some were very talkative athletes, but now they can hardly talk, and would sometimes hide themselves from the public. The low morale is as a result of having nothing to show off, after having been in boxing for a long time, and being a champion also. Some from the decisions they took, and which were not favoured by the supporters, and ending up being hated by most.

Some boxers went on a lay-off due to stressful issues surrounding them, and some went on permanent retirement. Surprisingly, most of those who came back fought well and became champions. This is as a result of being physiologically and emotionally sound, having no stressful issues to worry about.

Heavyweight boxing champion, Tyson Fury, had earlier succumbed to depression and divulged that he nearly killed himself, as a result. He went through that ordeal and returned to boxing to become a world champion.

Former heavyweight boxing champion, George Forman’s daughter and former boxer, Freeda, committed suicide last year in 2019, and is believed to be due to trauma that goes unrecognised. Some have speculation that the boxer may have suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE),a degenerative brain disease that has been found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

The greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali,was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a disease that sometimes results from head trauma from violent physical activities.

In the former Border region, many boxers would be affected by smoking dagga (Ntsangu) before their fights, and their reason being to chase away shyness, particularly from the crowds, boosting morale, some with the notion of not to feel the hard punches thrown at them, while some being merely addicted to drugs.

This takes us also to not being well educated, as poor and unplanned decisions would lead people to doing uncalled-for and wrong things, sometimes from poorly advised plans coming from people who know little or less about coaching or managing a sport person.

Some would prepare for a fight without a correct, good or proper diet. Some would engage themselves in training that would result in them being dehydrated, and stepping in the boxing ring whilst being in a very bad condition, resulting to being beaten very badly or knocked out.

These affect one’s mental health very badly. The cause being from being uneducated, hunger, greed, poor background, unpleasant environment, to poor management and negligence.

In boxing, doctors are there to avoid some of these situations, with checkups and examinations done everytime before a boxer fights. Not all of these mental health issues can be easily prevented though.

Boxers though would be accidentally involved in ring accident, resulting in mental health disorder, even though having prepared very well for the fight, and being in very good condition. These happen due to concussions, heavy head falls and/or too many blows hit on one’s head. Boxing, being a contact sport, one can also be hit heavily in parts of the head that are very much sensitive.

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