A few weeks ago I saw Errol Spence in a video from his training camp for Saturday’s showdown with Danny Garcia, Spence’s first fight in over fourteen months. Apparently he had just been cleared by the doctors and given the full go-ahead to step into the ring on December 5th. The relief was palpable. In the video he looks into the camera and excitedly announces: “My body has been cleared for the fight and my brain has been cleared by the doctors … I had all kinds of scans on my brain! My brain is okay!”
My brain is okay!
Errol Spence happens to be a fighter I like a lot, both as an athlete with great talent and a big heart, and as a person. He’s generally soft-spoken, understated, while so many of his generation are brash and self-aggrandizing, with just way too much mouth, for example, like “The Takeover,” Teofimo Lopez. “The Truth” is more quietly confident. As I say, I like him, so here’s one Errol Spence Jr. fan who surely hopes this young man safely backs up his prediction that he will defeat Garcia, that he will perform just like the Errol Spence who stopped Kell Brook, and dominated Mikey Garcia, and went twelve hard rounds with Shawn Porter. For Errol’s sake and for the sake of boxing.
What do you mean by that, you ask. Well, let’s go back to the early morning hours of Thursday, October 10, 2019, the night when Errol Spence Jr. came damn close to losing his life, the night when he literally destroyed his expensive Ferrari and nearly destroyed himself. At some point, while his Ferrari was cartwheeling through the air at a horrifying speed, Spence was ejected from the vehicle, some say through the windshield. When I first watched the security camera video of the accident, all I could think was that nobody should survive a crash like that. Needless to say, Errol Spence Jr. is damn lucky to be alive.
Watch the video if you haven’t seen it. Just run an internet search, “Spence car crash” and it’ll show up. It scares me every time. The damage to the car shows the sheer kinetic energy that flung Spence to the pavement with his head undoubtedly sustaining some serious trauma along the way. Early reports from journalists who reached the scene stated Spence was ejected from the car, found unconscious, and was treated by paramedics at the scene before being airlifted to the nearest hospital. His condition was initially deemed critical.
In the early morning hours of October 10th, Spence’s promoter, Premier Boxing Champions issued a terse statement that said little about the nature and extent of their fighter’s injuries. The statement focused on the positive news that Errol’s condition had been upgraded from critical to stable, and that he’d miraculously emerged from the accident with no broken bones, that he was expected to make a full recovery. Tim Smith, a Premier Boxing Champions spokesman, stated that his “injuries are not life-threatening. His parents are with him at the hospital.”
Errol Spence Jr. stayed in the hospital for almost two weeks. He was in the intensive care unit for six days.
There is photo of Spence being wheeled into the hospital, seemingly unconscious, his face and chest area very swollen and lacerated. The facial injuries strongly suggest to me that he may have gone through the windshield. That Spence would say at his training camp that “my head was cleared” for the fight clearly suggests some serious concern on his part about his head, about his brain. Head injuries and concussions are notoriously slow to heal. Ask any college level or pro football player.
When you look at the horrific video of the crash, you just know that at some point Spence experienced some serious trauma to his skull. The laws of physics make that a certainty. Either his head smashed through a window or collided with some other part of the car or, in addition, slammed against the pavement after his body stopped flying through the air. We’re talking quite possibly more than one violent impact, his skull hitting the frame of the vehicle, a window, the pavement, a cement curb. And I don’t care how many tests or scans they’ve done: no one knows for certain, from a neurological standpoint, what degree of risk Spence is taking on as he prepares to absorb who knows how many flush shots to the face and head from Danny Garcia on Saturday night.
Spence’s stablemate, one-time opponent and longtime friend, Shawn Porter, certainly has concerns. In an interview with Boxing News 24.com not long after Spence’s release from hospital, Porter said he was worried about Errol’s well-being. He said he believed Spence had been ejected through the windshield, face-first. And while Shawn took some comfort from Spence posting on social media that he hadn’t broken any bones during the accident, Porter was still worried.
“The fact [he isn’t] showing himself to the public [makes it] a cause for concern,” he stated. “I’m still worried. I haven’t seen him, I haven’t seen his family. At the end of the day … we’re going to speculate [and] we’re going to question the physics and the science of it … You can shoot a windshield [with a gun] and it won’t completely shatter. A head going through a windshield to me is really bizarre. [I’m] very, very worried about him.”
I keep thinking back to that video: “My body has been cleared for the fight and my brain has been cleared by the doctors … I had all kinds of scans on my brain! My brain is okay!”
My brain is okay!
To state the obvious, boxers at Spence’s level are big money generators. They can afford to buy six-figure expensive Ferrari race cars, but the people in charge of their careers can’t find their way to giving them a mentor or handler to keep them out of trouble? Nor buy them a life insurance policy for when they do get into trouble? There’s something wrong with that picture. As I said, I like Errol Spence. I don’t want to see him winding up, at the end of his career, like my childhood idol and hero, Muhammad Ali.
We all watched him deteriorate. I had hoped he’d hang up the gloves after his amazing victory over George Foreman. Ali took a hell of a beating from George, big shots to the kidneys and head from one of the hardest-punching heavyweights ever, as he did the “Rope-a-Dope,” a funny name for something not so funny to watch. But he didn’t retire and I watched my idol fight on and on, maybe to recoup the millions that he lost in the years when he had been wrongfully stripped of his title. Eventually he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Syndrome, a condition manifested by visible tremors and slurred speech. He died sooner than he should have. We all know why.
Needless to say, I don’t want to see anything like that happen to Errol Spence. I hope for his sake he’s totally recovered, in top shape, and truly ready to rumble. Like Porter said, “I want to see him take a few shots. Only then [can I know if he’s] really ready for this fight.” So we have to wait and see. But even if he takes those shots and seems okay, we can’t know for certain what’s happening inside that skull and inside that delicate organ, the same organ that endured some serious trauma on October 10th, 2019. We cannot know for certain if Errol’s “brain is okay.” — Ralph M. Semien