I have been reflecting with great sadness on the death of the boxer Patrick Day. Last Saturday, October 12, 2019, he lost a boxing match in the 10th round. It was a knockout, losing to Charles Conwell. Day endured brain hemorrhaging. He never woke up. He died in the hospital on Wednesday, just four days later.
There’s an old saying that hindsight is 20/20, but I wonder why the referee didn’t stop the fight. Day was obviously losing. He was knocked down in the fourth round and then again in the eight. Just prior to the final blow in round 10, it was plain to see he was wobbly and wasn’t sharp and alert, barely able to stand. Anybody looking could see that. I have seen many referees stop fights, and rightly so. Of course it’s a judgment call; however, I cannot understand how anybody refereeing that fight would have allowed it to continue.
Does a referee in a boxing match have a legal duty to step in and stop the fight to avoid serious injury or death of the participants? The courts have been pretty clear about this. The Boxing Safety Act of 1996 sets the widely accepted standards of liability for referees in the field of boxing. The act held that, “As a general rule, persons have a duty to use due care to avoid injury to others, and may be held liable if their careless conduct injures another person. In the sports setting, however, the nature of a defendant’s duty depends heavily on the nature of the sport at issue, because conditions or conduct that might normally be viewed as illicit or dangerous are often an integral part of the sport itself.”
So, what does that mean? In essence, there’s an expectation of physical harm in a sport like boxing, much like there is in football, rugby, or other contact sports. Would the referee reasonably foresee a boxer’s serious injury or death? In the majority of instances, I could say unequivocally, the referee likely would not. But in this instance, at least from my vantage point, he had to foresee trouble. If a boxer doesn’t have full control of his senses and is stumbling around, the referee couldn’t help but foresee something bad would happen. When Day was knocked down in the eighth round, the expression on his face looked as if he was thinking, “No, I don’t want to concede, but it would be alright with me Mr. Referee if you stopped this fight.” Yes, I think the ref should have used his full judgment and stopped it. That’s how judgment operates. I have seen many fights in which the ref stopped it, and I thought it was premature, that he shouldn’t have been so hasty. I have seen other fights in which the ref stopped a fight and I thought it was definitely the right thing to do.
This discussion arises from time to time, and I recall a young 23 year old boxer died a few years ago when the dialogue surfaced about banning boxing. One past article, Should Boxing Be Banned? raised a number of interesting perspectives. One point of view from that article questioned whether it is the role of government to save physically and mentally healthy adults from engaging in activities that might harm them. The thing is, government does this all the time. But if government banned boxing, it would set a bad precedent. Most contact sports put people’s lives at risk. You can’t single out boxing without also impacting other sports too.
This kind of dialogue can’t help Patrick Day now, although if I were a member of his family, I would wonder why the ref didn’t step in to stop it. But perhaps having this dialogue can raise greater awareness and motivate the Boxing Commission to tighten the guidelines and maybe referees can be better trained to possibly help future boxers from enduring serious injury or death. A referee has full control in that ring, like the captain of a ship or an airplane pilot. He’s the man. If you want to see what I saw, watch the moments of the fight just prior to the knockout. See if you think Day was fully cogent and sharp. To me, he didn’t look like he was all there. Therein lies the problem with regulating it more. It’s a judgment call, and were it my judgment, I definitely would have stopped the fight.