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Retired boxer Hasim Rahman: Boxing saved my life and could give other young men an option other than crime | COMMENTARY

Former heavyweight boxing champion Hasim Rahman's weigh-in for his March 2004 fight against Al Cole at Michael's Eighth Avenue. in Glen Burnie
Former heavyweight boxing champion Hasim Rahman's weigh-in for his March 2004 fight against Al Cole at Michael's Eighth Avenue. in Glen Burnie (Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)

For as long as I can remember, I have been a fighter. Like many young men of Baltimore, I rarely, if ever witnessed hope for material success outside of a criminal lifestyle. And, like many young men of my city, I wanted a “successful” life and embraced the sort of lifestyle that was destined for one of two places — the penitentiary or the cemetery.

I was shot, I was arrested, I lived by a different set of rules until, at the relatively late age of 20, I was introduced to boxing.

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Boxing was a different kind of teacher. It taught me a different form of discipline. It taught me that a punch without order is just violence. I learned that I could earn millions of dollars boxing, and if I didn’t make dollars it didn’t make sense. Most of all, boxing taught me to dream beyond my surroundings for a better future.

Before I entered Mr. Mack’s Gym, I never imagined a future with two world championship titles under my belt. I never imagined a day when I would be paraded down the streets of Baltimore after landing that crushing over-hand right that knocked out Lennox Lewis in South Africa.

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When that happened, everything changed. I saw a golden opportunity — an opportunity to expand. I now had the opportunity to present my life in a way that could serve as a positive force for my community and the entire world. Having been shot five times, I didn’t want to wait around to find out if there was another bullet out there with my name on it.

Unfortunately the bullets continue to fly and take the lives of way too many of our youth; last year, Baltimore saw the second highest murder rate in the history of the city with 348 people killed on our streets. For over five consecutive years we have had over 300 murders in our beloved city.

Endless violence is not just a symptom of frustration at socio-economic conditions for Americans in our district and across the country, it’s a symptom of politicians who have forgotten the very people they were supposed to serve. It’s a symptom of the collapse of the American Dream, where those living in the cross-hairs of poverty, unemployment, substance abuse and crime, are tumbling down a rabbit hole of despair. Politics has become lip-service, and it’s the people, from Baltimore to L.A., who are paying the price with their lives.

I know that frustration, anger and rage well. I fueled my career with it. Every punch I threw, every pivot, every match I won was an attempt to forge a path of my own away from a life you might say I was destined not to escape. Indeed, the key to this challenge was more than just a will of steel. It required a proactive approach. I couldn’t afford to wait for someone to save me, otherwise I would have become just another poor black guy from Baltimore, with a life unlived, dreams unrealized, lying cold and rigid in the morgue. And so I had no choice but to take my fate in my own hands, literally.

Boxing in Baltimore was here before the Ravens, the Orioles, and even before the Colts. However, other youth sports need to be promoted more effectively. We must strive to get youth involved in their communities and these sports at a young age. Young men like to prove themselves, they like to compete, and yes they like to fight.

I only had 10 fights as an amateur before I became a professional boxer. Yet, I still became a two-time heavyweight champion of the world. Imagine what I could have accomplished had I been in organized sport at a young age. More importantly, imagine what could result if we invest more in our youth. The problem is many of the political class in our city don’t think about issues from the community oriented perspective. Sure they pay lip service to the role of religious organization and civil society, but they aren’t involved — except around election season.

With people dying on our streets, this is too important of an issue to be left to the government alone. I have long believed the best solution is a holistic community effort. Since hanging up my gloves for the final time I have been involved in a number of initiatives from low-incoming housing to drug rehabilitation to help more provide opportunities.

Sports, like boxing, also provides the opportunities to get kids off he street and help make their lives better — one round at a time.

Hasim Rahman is a retired heavyweight champion boxer who grew up in Baltimore and lived firsthand the city’s violent culture.

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