Miles Before the Bell: Race, Agency, and Sporting Entitlements in Boxing Ring Entrances
A twenty-first century re-emergence of athletic activism and performances of dissent can be seen in the national anthem protests by professional football, soccer, and baseball players like Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, and Bruce Maxwell. In 2016, a month prior to Kaepernick’s anthem protest, members of the Women’s National Basketball Association teams, Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty, collectively protested and demanded justice for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, who were both shot and killed by police officers. These and other athlete-activists repeatedly, courageously stood up against injustice, using their platforms as celebrity sports figures to inform sports fans and the world in the age of “shut up and play.” Absent from the conversation about the renaissance of athletic activism are the perspectives of prizefighters. I argue that boxers – particularly Latinx, immigrant, and Black boxers – are most often the unit of sale, a commodity, and ultimately pawns in a highly commodified, transactional, and unregulated sporting industry.To answer the research question, “How do boxing spaces shift our thinking of political resistance?” Miles Before the Bell: Race and the Performance of Sporting Entitlements in Boxing scrutinizes the most entertaining and spectacular yet understudied performative component of the sport: the ring entrance.
As part of a long history of pre-fight rituals in boxing, ring entrances also bear witness to Black and Brown performances of radical self-expression that take place in relation to sociopolitical and historical moments. I conceptualize the ring entrance as a spectacular site of cultural production where boxers creatively reimagine an alternative world, inform fans on social justice issues, and resist structural and ideological violence. Miles Before the Bell draws on interdisciplinary qualitative methodologies, including four years of ethnographic fieldwork from my attendance of professional boxing matches across the U.S. and visits to over fifteen boxing gyms in the U.S. and Mexico. In that time, I conducted oral histories and in-depth interviews with Black and Brown former and current world champions and collected YouTube media data of their ring entrances. I critically analyze the data, arguing that ring entrances create spectacular sites of cultural production where boxers perform what I call sporting entitlements. Sporting entitlements are the fluid, subtle, yet curated ways boxers deploy expressive culture to resist dominant ideologies of subordination through their oppositional identities. Based on ethnographic research and 20 in-depth interviews and oral histories, my sporting entitlements paradigm builds on comparative ethnic and cultural studies scholarship that focuses on non-traditional forms of resistance enacted and performed by marginalized and subordinated populations. The performance of sporting entitlements in ring entrances utilizes the expressive culture elements of music, fashion, and style, which serve as framing devices for a fighter’s intervention.