Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Illustration for article titled Tough Guys Dont Dance

"To me," Lenny Bruce once said, "a tough guy is a guy who wears a wool suit with no underwear." In his latest profile for the Times Magazine, Pat Jordan writes about Peter Berg and Hollywood tough:

Peter Berg wanted me to box with him. “Come on, you’re a tough guy,” he said. I tried to disabuse him of that notion. I told him I’d been in only one fight in my adult life, and I lost that one.

We went to Team Tapia Boxing Academy in Albuquerque, where Berg was scouting locations for the film he had written and was directing, “Lone Survivor,” based on a book with the same title about a Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan that went terribly wrong in 2005. Berg fell in love with boxing when he was a 14-year-old freshman at the Taft School in Connecticut. “I was on fire,” he said, “a seething ball of energy moving at a speed I couldn’t explain.” He was angry and disruptive “and diagnosed as a troublemaker,” he said. “Today it’d be A.D.H.D., and I’d be Ritalined up.” Instead a dean took him after class to his basement, where Berg and other disruptive students learned “to dissipate all our energy” by fighting. Boxing calmed him. “You can’t box angry,” he said. “You have to be disciplined. Before boxing, I was this angry kid ready to fight if someone said, ‘Hello.’ ”

Through boxing, Berg became fascinated with what he referred to as “the psychology of violence,” which has informed most of the things he has directed or acted in. Sports violence (“Friday Night Lights,” “The Great White Hype”); criminal violence (“Very Bad Things,” “The Last Seduction”); and military violence (“A Midnight Clear,” “The Kingdom,” “Battleship,” “Lone Survivor”). But violence on the screen is never as viscerally satisfying as it is in the ring. “There’s a truth to the violence of boxing,” Berg said. “You have a very real threat, an opponent.” Movie violence is make believe.

At Tapia, the manager taped up my hands while Berg shadowboxed in the ring, waiting for me. Berg is 51, hyperactive and lean, his long arms rippled with muscles and veins. Once my gloves were on, I pounded them together and stood up.

Later that night I called my wife. She asked how the boxing went. I said, “I broke Peter’s jaw.” She said, “I hope he can still talk.” I told her I was kidding. It was make-believe. I got a lesson on the heavy bag instead.

[Photo Credit: Peter Bohler for The New York Times]

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