- Come Out Swinging: The Changing World of Boxing in Gleason’s Gym by Trimbur, Lucia
The author’s erudite work is an important addition to the growing literature on the history and sociology of boxing. Her well-written ethnographic account of the changing nature of boxing gyms revolves around the iconic Gleason’s Gym in New York and serves as a worthy compliment to the work of Loïc Wacquant. The faltering economy forced Gleason’s to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn in 1984 with a consequent transition in its membership. The DUMBO district of Brooklyn where the gym is situated evolved into an affluent neighborhood, resulting in a distinct change in its clientele. Gleason’s offered membership to wealthy patrons and instruction known as “white collar boxing” and became the first major urban gym to provide membership to females, drastically changing the power and gender relations of the gym.
Trimbur invokes an analysis of neoliberal economics and social policies as well as kinship theory in her thick description and analysis of the gym’s clientele in six short chapters. Its traditional amateur and professional members, composed of underclass and often unemployed and previously incarcerated young male boxers, travel throughout the city to be tutored and mentored by, and even financially supported by, a cadre of trainers who make their sustenance off the exorbitant fees charged to the white collar executives, who compose approximately 65 percent of its 1,000 members. For the young men, boxing provides a means of social control, discipline order, and an identity other than the street life and drug culture that can, and often does, result in further imprisonment. They consider their boxing regimen to be work without wages. The older trainers, many of whom lived through similar experiences, serve as father figures who impart life skills. [End Page 533]
The fitness movement attracted an increasing number of white collar practitioners to boxing gyms in the 1980s, a movement that has become a global phenomenon with similar occurrences in Europe, Asia, and the Mideast. Such pseudo boxers will pay as much as $125 for private lessons and $10,000 for a boxing fantasy camp in the Catskills. Trainers allow them to spar with their regular clientele of amateur and professional fighters in pseudo matches in which the accomplished boxers do not exert themselves against their wealthier opponents. Trimbur asserts that the exercise allows the white executives to claim a compensatory form of masculinity for their sedentary jobs that lack physicality. By paying for their non-white trainer’s time they also establish a customary racial and employer-employee relationship in which they dictate the terms. Gleason’s continues the subterfuge by offering regular white collar boxing programs for the members to publically display their skills in which there is no winner and both opponents get a trophy.
A substantial number of female members (more than 300) are well-educated professionals who seek empowerment as well as fitness. Their enrollment has greatly changed the social dynamics of the gym. As in such places their participation is contested. All members must sign a sexual harassment waiver and respect must be earned. Males categorize women in three classifications: the “diesels,” who are serious, competitive boxers, who spar with men as well as each other and compete professionally or in amateur tournaments; the social butterflies, known as “gym hos,” who are less interested in training; and the hangers on, labeled as “skanky females.” Regardless of their standing, women get less attention from trainers as there is little financial reward for trainers even with professional female boxers who earn smaller purses than their male counterparts. Women therefore form their own support community, but for all members the gym serves as a form of community and camaraderie.