This morning I was up early and was, not surprisingly, tired. However what I saw on the telly this morning proved worth waking up for. I walked into the front room with my dad, and there was news coverage on This Morning with Frank Bruno remembering the late Muhammed Ali. (If you haven’t seen the video of Ali dodging twenty one punches in ten seconds, watch it). I’m a fan of boxing so my ears perked up. I boxed at an amateur level some years ago now, and have no bitterness about it. If it’s one thing its damn good exercise.
Do you know who that is, my dad asked me, referring to Frank Bruno. I said no. My dad explained that Bruno had been something of a mental health champion and that at one point he was the heavyweight champion. I was interested, and the guy seemed like someone I could bump into on the high street, there was no bravado or machismo to be had here.
I got back to university and started researching. As it turns out, watching footage of Bruno’s fights, the man was, and is, good as a fighter. Fucking brilliant. I was equally impressed when I read about how open he’d been about having bipolar disorder, for which he was sectioned in 2003. Following this, a newspaper ran the headline, “Bonkers Bruno locked up!” which is about as repugnant a headline as you can get.
As someone who has been sectioned, I know how much stigma surrounds mental health in general. People are often shunned for their communities and friends leave you as though you’re a leper. It’s a sad situation that can only be repaired through a lot of talking and effort.
Mental illness imbues itself in every profession, and boxing is no exception. Doing some more research, I found that mental health issues were relatively common in boxing. Everyone from Bruno himself, to Ricky Hatton, Sugar Ray Leonard and even Mike Tyson have been irrevocably touched by ill mental health, in a myriad of ways for each of them respectively.
I admired Bruno’s efforts at being an advocate for mental health especially though because boxing is a sport that is saturated to the nines with machismo, bravado and hyper masculinity. Traditional gender roles state that a man should not be vulnerable or weak/emotional in any way. Obviously, this view is absurd but it is nonetheless a stubborn one. So, for someone to flout this trend, in a sport where it is evident in droves, is an unbelievably courageous thing to do. He’s now a government ambassador for mental health and wants to sit down with the PM to talk about overhauling mental health services.
Go for it Frank!