CI: Requiem for a Lightweight

November 28, 2012 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Requiem for a Lightweight
by nancy a heitzeg

“Hector Camacho, a boxer known for his lightning-quick hands and flamboyant personality who emerged from a delinquent childhood in New York’s Spanish Harlem to become a world champion in three weight classes, died Saturday in San Juan, P.R., four days after after being shot while sitting in a parked car. He was 50. ” 

~ Bruce Weber, NY Times

The death of Hector “Macho” Camacho late last week brought back some memories. In the days when i watched boxing  – on network TV no less, Wide World of Sports, “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat” — Macho was beyond compare. He fought the stars of his era — Roberto Durán, Julio César Chávez, Edwin Rosario, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini ( who had previously killed Duk Koo Kim in the ring right there on live television) and Sugar Ray Leonard. He beat them all before losing his last title fight to Oscar De La Hoya in 1997. At the height of his career, he held Major Titles in 3 weight divisions and eventually won 4 more minor titles at additional weights, the first boxer to become a septuple champion.

Whatever his many skills as a boxer, he was always the winner on style. “What Time is It? It’s Macho Time!” never failed to reveal a dazzling array of both speed and ring wear — leopard skin trunks, tasseled boots, mink capes, gladiator gear, head dresses and more. (see Slide Show).

One of a kind.

But his death raised the troubling old questions as well — questions about our collective love of blood sport and the fine line between “entertainment” and “crime”. Questions about our expectations of athletes on the field/in the ring versus off/out. Questions of course about race and class and the many cultural contradictions “sports” expose.

Like his heavyweight peer, Mike Tyson, Hector Camacho was “discovered” by handlers who could market their street fighting skills as sport. Moved seamlessly from juvenile detention centers to the ring. What could easily be deemed aggravated assault, attempted murder (i.e serious violent felonious behavior)  in any other context was highly valued in the context of the “sport” of boxing.  Mama Said Knock You Out no longer meant prison time but Pay Day. Fame, Adulation, Titles. And from the perspective of capitalist systems, perhaps the difference doesn’t matter; as Patricia Hill Collins notes,

“Athletes and criminals alike are profitable, not for the vast majority of African American men, but for people who own the teams, control the media, provide food, clothing and telephone services, and who consume seemingly endless images of pimps, hustlers, rapists, and felons.”