Late Breaking

Examining the conscience before confessing the scorecard

We begin in a discomfiting place – Catholicism’s examination of conscience – and hope to move to an optimistic one. This column should be a secular spot, one where believers and nonbelievers frolic playfully as one, but as a column priding itself on finding instructions wherever they occur, it goes like this: If there is one Catholic tradition that will survive what its priests did to children for decades, it may be the examination of conscience.

According to this tradition, a believer creates an inventory of sins committed since his last confession. He reviews what thoughts and deeds composed his behavior, privately and best he is able, and takes the list to a confessional, in the hopes of absolution and a not-too-long penance to say. This inventory is by its nature useless if incomplete. Who would the believer fool by being dishonest?

The examination of conscience, as it happens, may also be a way for an aficionado to review his scorecard before he confesses it. (These are metaphors, of course; the stakes are comparatively low even for the most committed of Sweet Science’s flock.)

Nothing but coincidence attends this discussion and Devon Alexander’s Saturday victory over Marcos Maidana. Alexander, who may not actually be very good – or who, conversely, may be the man to prove first Timothy Bradley’s greatness – unmanned Maidana, who, it can be conceded, was never good as Victor Ortiz and Amir Khan made him look. Alexander-Maidana happened to be the televised fight that happened after Tavoris Cloud’s controversial decision victory over Gabriel Campillo in Corpus Christi, Texas, and all the questions about scorekeeping it necessarily raised.

An examination of conscience was in order before the next scorecard got confessed, then. So many well-intentioned folks took such exception with that Cloud-Campillo ringside scorecard that it was right for the scorer to look at himself. Coincidence again interfered, though, and confessing a one-sided scorecard with which all three official judges concurred is not so courageous. Alas.

An honest scorecard admits, after the fact, its biases of vantage point, ethnicity, style and personality. It is self-conscious in the best sense of that term; it qualifies its certainty by considering its limitations and imperfections. To wit:

For seeing Alexander’s jab is wrongly thrown, early in his career, I confirm this each time he fights. I believe Ortiz and Khan are media creations partially exposed by Maidana, and so I’ve not been fully convinced of Maidana’s ferocity or persistence. I believe I favor Latino fighters over African-American fighters – because I lived in Mexico, speak Spanish, and like volume punchers more than boxers – and so I try to offset this perceived bias when scoring (which may have influenced a Cloud-Campillo card that I marked 114-113 for Cloud). I know very little of Maidana’s biography but have felt a fraternal sort of pride about what boxing helped Alexander escape in his native St. Louis. I believed, going in, Alexander’s chin was as underestimated as Maidana’s power was overestimated. I believed that since Alexander-Maidana was only 10 rounds, Steve Smoger was a perfect choice of referee because he would allow Maidana to rough Alexander up, if it came to that. I believe Alexander’s trainer, Kevin Cunningham, is overrated. And finally, Timothy Bradley is one of my favorite fighters, and any victory for Alexander, whom Bradley beat, feels like a win-by-proxy for Bradley.

There. What is above is written in good faith and seems to predict I would score close rounds for Alexander, which I did, marking both rounds 1 and 3 for him and scoring round 2 even, while watching on HBO.

Is a fight better scored from ringside? Yes, otherwise judges would score fights from high-definition monitors in quiet backstage rooms. A ringside scorecard is also, for the most part, free of others’ opinions; nobody lasts long on press row if he talks through each round. Television commentary, on the other hand, is about exactly this. It is very difficult to ignore, because television is about keeping your attention, and why you tune in is fractionally important as keeping you tuned-in is.

Contrary to what sports-talk radio might say, what is important for an aficionado scoring a fight is not that his scorecard be right but that it be honest, which is why no examination of conscience is complete without ethnic considerations. Anyone who says fighters’ ethnicities do not color his scorecard stands somewhere between naïve and cynical.

All of this hopes to improve the ongoing argument that consensus is overrated. Did your friends agree with your scorecard? did your editor? did the guys at the gym? These questions are important to one who doesn’t know his own mind – or conscience, as the case may be. Your biases are secrets held only between you and yourself, though; everyone else sees them pretty clearly. Discovering them openly compromises your infallibility only with people silly enough to believe in infallibility.

Boxing gyms are invaluable in this sense; everyone expects everyone else to favor others who look like he does, and everyone laughs at himself when he finds out it’s true. This makes boxing gyms wonderful spots for examinations of conscience because they are some of the very few places in America where race is discussed openly and properly, and in good humor.

We go back to the scorecards.

Years from now you’ll probably not remember how you scored Cloud-Campillo or whatever next month’s hellish travesty is. But a postfight examination of conscience might lead to a cathartic moment of discovery. And if you can concede such cathartic things happen suddenly and at the oddest moments, why not posit they can happen while scoring a fight, and then pursue them?

Bart Barry can be reached at bart.barrys.email (at) gmail.com