Hang up your gloves, social media – it’s time to understand grief and loss

My mother called me on Sunday to tell me that 23-year-old boxer Braydon Smith had been airlifted to a Brisbane hospital and was on life support after collapsing following his fight against John Moralde on Saturday night in Toowoomba.

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She called because my family has known the Smiths and their extended family for over twenty years, when my family moved so that my two older brothers would be closer to the gym where they had begun amateur boxing, coached by Braydon’s father Brendon. They then went on to have professional boxing careers under Brendon. My brother now runs a boxing and fitness gym of his own in Toowoomba.

I have always had mixed feelings about boxing, and would probably never have watched it had my brothers not been in the ring. Even then, I would watch every single one of my brothers’ fights with my fingers over my eyes. But then I have also seen the love that they have for the sport, and all that it has brought into their lives, and I am grateful for it. Boxers train incredibly hard, incredibly long, and are generally incredible athletes.  Unlike a sport like tennis, for example, you probably aren’t making a great deal of money from it unless you are in the upper echelons of the boxing ranks. Even if you don’t understand it, you should know that so many boxers do it for the pure love of the sport: that is undeniable.

And it was no different for Braydon, who tragically passed away on Monday, surrounded by his family and close friends. He was born into a family that was immersed in boxing. I have memories of him as a little blonde boy trotting around in oversized boxing shorts and headgear, and shoes far too big. The last time I saw him was a few years ago, when he and my brother both had bouts on an undercard at the Gold Coast. Then he had suddenly become a grown-up blonde man, in the right-sized boxing shorts and shoes. He came over to catch up with me at one point, and I saw the excitement and thrill in his eyes. He didn’thave to box; he was a smart, popular, and just a plain lovely 23-year-old about to finish his law degree. He had the world at his feet. But he wanted to box. He wanted to have a positive impact on how people thought of his beloved sport. Because it brought him joy, it was in his blood, and he loved doing it.

I know it can be hard to understand why some people have the desire to participate in this kind of sport, or even sports like Rugby League or NFL, where concussions are rife. But you support your loved ones in doing what they love to do, and you hope that this kind of (quite rare) nightmare scenario never eventuates. And mostly, it doesn’t. But this time it did.

Heaven gained a champion boxer and champion bloke. Gone too soon #PrayForBrayd pic.twitter深圳桑拿,/godNMoK4TN

— Kieran Wagstaff (@KieranWagstaff) March 16, 2015

The day Braydon died, I spent a couple of hours reading through all of the newspaper stories and social media posts about his death. They covered the heartbreak of those who knew him personally; as well as people who only knew his name or boxing career, and those who were neither. I also saw quite a lot of comments from strangers who thought it pertinent, on posts informing the public that this young man had died just hours before, to harshly declare (without expressing sympathy) that he knew the risks of boxing, he knew what he was getting into, that boxing is bad (and other similar sentiments). No matter what your stance is on the sport, I found it breathtakingly insensitive. Totally lacking compassion, without even a moment’s good grace.

Who is that kind of comment, on that kind of post, meant to serve? A 23-year-old man had just died. Would it help his family or friends who might be reading? I am positive there will be a discussion around the safety of boxing after this, as there was around helmets when Phil Hughes passed away, and that is understandable. But does anyone really need your largely uneducated opinion right at that moment, when people are hearing about and mourning a death that has literally just happened? It is a totally unnecessary sentiment that just comes across as some sick kind of told-you-so. And I would feel this way regardless of who it was.

If I saw a notification on social media that someone had died in a parachuting accident, or someone had died from lung cancer after smoking, my first instinct would be to feel sympathy for them, and especially their loved ones. I would tread carefully. My first thought wouldn’t be to rush to the announcement and espouse that I know what they had done wrong in order to die, or implying that they should have expected, or somehow deserved it. Take a pause in moments like that and really think about what impact your words will have, and why you are saying it.

Have some sensitivity, even if you didn’t know the person who has died, even if you don’t have memories of him as a little blonde boy stomping around in boots too big for him.

Rebecca Shaw is a Brisbane-based writer and host of the fortnightly comedy podcast Bring a Plate.