"On Freddie Roach" screening report, part II

After the first two episodes of “On Freddie Roach” were screened at HBO headquarters on Wednesday night, a panel of Roach, director-producer Peter Berg and producer Jim Lampley fielded questions.

Perhaps my favorite part of that came when Lampley responded to a query about the existence of the sport, about whether or not it should exist with all we know about head trauma these days.

Lampley responded that it is a pipe dream to not consider that men and women give up their health and well being, and put their bodies on the line every day, to provide for themselves and their families. In the coal mines, for example, guys compromise their health without the attendant possibility of great earnings, adulation and acclaim that can come with making it in the fight game. He’d rather his son take up boxing than football or hockey, as a matter of fact, Lampley said.

Roach pointed out that “there are more deaths every year in horseback riding” than in boxing, and that he reveres the freedom that exists in our society, which allows man to assume such a risk if he chooses to. Headgear, he said, isn’t the answer, because that allows for more sustained punishment. In fact, he’d be for smaller gloves, so KOs come more rapidly.

I asked the panel if they knew all facets of Roach’s personality which were on display, especially that dark intensity and remoteness which is seen when he interacts with his ex Marie and while his brother has a health scare. Lampley said he didn’t really know the breadth of Freddie’s personality, but Berg had a pretty solid idea of his varying traits. Back a ways, he was acting in a film with Roach’s buddy Mickey Rourke. They were all in a bar, and a loudmouth was flapping his lips. Berg boiled, but held himself together and looked away. Next thing he knew, the yapper was out on the floor. Roach had dropped him, out cold, with a single shot and gone back to his glass.

Roach flushed slightly when I mentioned his intensity, especially in connection to Marie. He pointed out that those closest to us often bear the brunt of our ire when our emotions are off keel. He told all that he apologized to Marie for being a bear at times. I left the theater with a few lingering questions, one of them being that I wanted to know how and why Freddie and Marie split and why she sticks around and if she’s all good with the status of the relationship.

The ex fighter said he wants viewers to come away with the belief that they can work through anything. Funny, on Friday I was walking my almost five year old daughter to school. We live in Brooklyn. Her school is seven blocks away so the walk takes about fifteen minutes. Five minutes in, she saw a dead pigeon on the sidewalk, and started riffing about death.

“Daddy, if mommy dies, you’ll be with me, right?” she asked. “Yes, I will,” I told her.

I then explained that we can help ourselves feel better when we worry about bad things happening by reminding ourselves that we have the capacity to deal with anything. Anything that happens to us, we can make it through. I may not have responded in the manner I did, strong, and positive, if I hadn’t seen this screener.

During the panel session, Roach mentioned about four times that he didn’t realize how much he shook. That struck me. I have a theory that the world would actually be a better place, or the US would be anyway, if everyone had a reality show. Because then we’d all see ourselves in our full glory, on a screen, and we’d be made aware of some of our bad habits. Roach’s shaking is no habit that he can control, though; it is his Parkinson’s acting up, and he doesn’t know if the symptoms will worsen, or will stay contained as they are with meds. I was left feeling for the man. You watch the show and realize how much boxing is his life, how much his identity stems from being in boxing, and from holding the pads that Manny and Amir and all of them batter. If he isn’t able to hold the pads the way he thinks he should, it will be a sad development.

The panel session yielded more fruit. Lampley said that the Parkinson’s angle is most meaningful to him. He has Parkinson’s in his family, and saw it up close as a young person, when he caddied for a lady who had Parkinson’s. Her mouth didn’t close, and her tongue hung out. Caddies shunned her, but Lampley didn’t. “She was one of the most courageous people I’d met,” he said, choking up noticeably.

Next up, I’ll share what Freddie told me after the event. We talked about his temper, and of course, about Mayweather-Pacquiao. Will it happen? What about The Cut? Check back…