Strange juxtaposition of grace and violence

Strange juxtaposition of grace and violence Katie Taylor

I have mixed feelings about boxing as a sport – it can teach self-discipline, focus the energies of the young, enhance physical fitness, but there can be a brutality about it that is unnerving.

Katie (RTÉ1, Tuesday) was an impressive documentary from Ross Whitaker that followed the career of Irish boxer Katie Taylor. It was full of emotion and tension, as much as any fictional drama, and had at its centre a unique, driven, trailblazing, dignified, very human and very likeable sportswoman.

Katie’s ambition was to win Olympic gold in her sport when that sport wasn’t even an Olympic sport at all. She was described a being “born to box”, “obsessed with winning” and wondered herself in a reflective moment if she wasn’t “too single-minded”.

I couldn’t remember the results of many of her fights so I appreciated the skilful creation of tension as we awaited the verdicts of various bouts.

The emotion largely came from the joy of winning, but also from the sadness of the rift with her father and trainer Pete. He had been at the centre of her personal and boxing life, and the break was hugely hurtful and seems to have led to the loss of direction that sank her hopes of a second Olympic gold medal, though at the end there were the beginnings of reconciliation.

Katie’s well-known commitment to her religious faith did figure in the film but not to a great degree. We saw her praying with mother, and going to church in Vernon, US, when she was training. On the back of one of her sweatshirts was the text of psalm 18: “He trains my hands for battle.” The psalmist may not have had women’s boxing in mind! The mother’s prayer for “supernatural strength”and “accurate punches” was unusual to say the least.

We could have done without the frequent swearing from some in her team, especially when lots of young people will be drawn to this story, but I was made more uneasy by the boxing violence. This was especially the case with the pro fights where was no headgear and too much blood for my liking.


Also on RTÉ (Radio 1), last Friday, on The Leap of Faith Michael Comyn had a timely item about religious persecution – Comyn referenced studies which showed that there were high levels of persecution of Christians in 73 countries of the 150 surveyed.

The focus was on increased repression of religious expression in China, even though by 2030 China will have more Christians than any other country. David Turner of Church in Chains outlined how new regulations were being enforced harshly, with Church closures, arrest of pastors, re-writing of the Bible, Christian churches being asked to have pictures of Mao beside the cross and church choirs asked to sing patriotic songs.

Dr Tim Grose of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, US highlighted the parallel persecution of Muslims in China, with normal Muslim worship being classed as extremism and the introduction of ‘re-education’ centres, with almost all avenues of Muslim religious expression being closed off.

Meanwhile the annual March for Life in Washington received comprehensive live coverage on EWTN for most of last Friday. The introduction highlighted the instructive slogan for this year – ‘Unique from Day One – Pro-Life is Pro-Science’. There were so many impressive interviews, and the presence of so many young people and women defied mainstream media stereotypes.

The attitude of these media to the event was also instructive.

I had to do quite a bit of searching to find anything on CNN on Saturday. I couldn’t find it at all on BBC’s World News coverage but they did give prominence to a story headlined ‘World’s Cutest Dog Dies of Heartbreak’. I couldn’t find a trace of any coverage from RTÉ News, but then it all changed when by Sunday a controversy arose that appeared to show the March in a bad light.

A viral video was broadcast that seemed to show a young marcher from a Catholic high school being disrespectful to a Native American. Liberals went into outrage mode, conservatives rushed to apologise, but then fuller video versions of the event surfaced on social media that threw a rather different light on what happened.

CNN and BBC made some effort to rebalance by Monday morning last, but I couldn’t find any trace of RTÉ doing the same.


Pick of the week
World Youth Day – Pope Francis In Panama
RTÉ1, Sunday, January 27, 11 am

Highlights of the Pope’s encounter this week with young people from all over the world, in Panama City.

Songs of Praise
BBC1, Sunday, January 27, 1.15 pm

Homeless Sunday. The Rev. Kate Bottley and JJ Chalmers join a mass charity sleep-out in Edinburgh city centre.

Catholic Lives
EWTN, Wednesday, January 30, 5.30 pm

David Kerr discusses faith and moral issues in modern Ireland with journalist and social commentator John Waters.