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After The Final Bell: Boxers And Addiction

English boxing icon Ricky Hatton has become a sad case indeed. After being pushed from boxing’s upper tier by Manny Pacquiao in 2009, courtesy of one of the most brutal knockouts in the sport’s history, Hatton apparently descended into the sad and all too frequently full realm of drug and alcohol addiction.

This past week the Daily Mail reported that Hatton had once again moved out of the lavish home he has shared with longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Dooley. The Mail retold a story that Hatton recently disappeared for a spell after “going out for a drink.” When he finally returned to the mother of his two children, the story goes, he found she was none too happy. As if anyone could blame her.

What’s even sadder about Hatton’s sad state of affairs is that it’s all too common a story, both in and out of the ring. Those who have been, or who know people who have been, addicted to alcohol and/or drugs don’t need to be told how painful the entire experience can be. For others, however, empathy can be hard to come by.

This may be especially true in the case of famous fighters. Noted boxers like Hatton, after all, seem to have it all. Hatton, for instance, has an attractive home and a beautiful family. He’s also earned a ton of money by virtue of his profession. In short, he’s blowing it. Just like fighters from John L Sullivan to Mike Tyson to Oscar De La Hoya have blown it.

Yet these individuals deserve just as much sympathy as the next addict – at least to a point. Adherents of Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, will be quick to state their belief that alcoholism is rarely asked for, and that its consummation with the alcoholic is hardly a matter of free will.

In other words, no addict walks into the world of addiction willfully. This is especially true of alcoholics. In short, addicts have a sickness and should be looked upon as being sick people. On the other hand, adherents of AA will also likely point out that it is ultimately the responsibility of the addict to grow up, dry out, get clean, and become sober.

This applies to boxers just as it does to anyone else. It has to be tough when you’re Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson or Ricky Hatton, though. You’ve probably spent your formative and prime years surrounded by “yes men,” after all – people who constantly remind you of how great you are, people who give you the impression you can do no wrong.

Still, it’s up to Hatton to get (and to keep) away from that which will destroy him. Just like it’s been the case for De La Hoya and Tyson. Yet, it’s important that these men be empathized with. Not excused. Not enabled. Empathized with. For the addict is playing with death, plain and simple. Addiction is, without doubt, tougher than any opponent these men have met in the ring.

Why? Because it doesn’t go away. The addict has to beat it down every day. That’s why those who stop drinking and doing drugs call themselves “recovering” addicts rather than “recovered” ones. The addiction never leaves, even if the craving hopefully (and usually) does at some point.

Joe Calzaghe once opened up about his cocaine use by saying life pretty much wasn’t the same after he stepped out of the spotlight. The same is undoubtedly true for Hatton, De La Hoya and Tyson. We can’t help these guys defeat their demons, but we can appreciate it when addicts try to turn their lives around. Eye rolling and mockery helps no one. Addicts don’t deserve it. Especially recovering addicts who can ultimately end up redefining what it means to be a champ.

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