Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

‘I fell into a little depression’: Charles Conwell on his fatal bout with Patrick Day

Posted on 11 July 2020 by Jake Jones

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The world was left shocked and grieving on 16th October, 2019, when 27-year-old boxing prospect, Patrick Day, died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

On the 12th of October, 2019, at the WinTrust Arena in Chicago, Day sustained a brain injury in his fight against fellow American, Charles Conwell, who was 21-years-old at the time.

Day suffered a 10th round knockout that left him comatose. He was subsequently transported to the nearest hospital and succumbed to his injuries four days later.

Day’s manager and promoter, Lou DiBella, released this statement on social media after Day’s passing.

‘He was surrounded by his family, close friends and members of his boxing team, including his mentor, friend and trainer Joe Higgins.’ DiBella said.

‘On behalf of Patrick’s family, team, and those closest to him, we are grateful for the prayers, expressions of support and outpouring of love for Pat that have been so obvious since his injury.

‘He chose to box, knowing the inherent risks that every fighter faces when he or she walks into a boxing ring. Boxing is what Pat loved to do. It’s how he inspired people and it was something that made him feel alive.’

When the news broke that we had lost such a talented and dedicated athlete, the sporting world was left saddened and grieving.

On the 14th of October, two-days before his opponents passing, Conwell released a personal letter to Day on social media.

“I never meant for this to happen to you. All I ever wanted to do was win. If I could take it all back I would. No one deserves for this to happen to them. I replay the fight over and over in my head thinking what if this never happened and why did it happen to you.’ Conwell wrote.

‘I can’t stop thinking about it myself. I prayed for you so many times and shedded so many tears because I couldn’t even imagine how my family and friends would feel. I see you everywhere I go and all I hear is wonderful things about you.

‘I thought about quitting boxing but I know that’s not what you would want. I know that you were a fighter at heart so I decided not to but to fight and win a world title because that’s what you wanted and that’s what I want so I’ll use you as motivation every day and make sure I always leave it all in the ring every time. #ChampPatrickDay. With Compassion, Charles Conwell.’

The tragic passing of Day is something that Conwell will never be able to forget, the incident made many people question what can be done to avoid this in the future.

Studies from the anti-boxing activist Manuel Velasquez in his Boxing Fatality Collection, found that between 1890 and 2007, there was 923 recorded deaths in professional boxing alone, this does not consider unsanctioned fights, or MMA bouts.

If amateur fights, training sessions and tough-man bouts are taken into consideration, this figure was reported to be up to 1465 fatalities.

1,230 of the deaths, which is just over 90%, are reported to have occurred as the direct result of in ring injuries.

This is significantly higher than that of other contact sports such as MMA, Rugby, Australian Rules and American Football.

A bar chart of fatalities in combat sports.

The unofficial number of deaths in mixed martial arts bout has been reported to be around 16 deaths, six of those which occurred in sanctioned MMA bouts.

However, in a report carried out by Andrew McIntosh in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Their research found that there were 98 deaths in team ball sports, such as Australian Rules, Rugby Union and Rugby League, with 29% of these deaths caused by blunt force trauma.

Additionally, a report carried out by Scott Anderson in the Journal of Athletic Training, found that there have been a total of 33 National Collegiate Athletic Association football players who have died in the sport; 27 of these were classed as nontraumatic deaths and the remaining six as traumatic deaths.

It appears clear that there is a direct correlation between injuries sustained in the boxing ring and fatalities in the sport.

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Initially, Conwell took a break from social media to cope with the situation and refocus himself to get back into the sport.

Just short of four months after the tragic bout with Day, a 22-year-old Conwell returned to the ring to face Mexico’s Ramses Agaton, a fight that Conwell won via fourth round retirement.

I was able to speak to him in May and see how things were holding up for the IBF-USBA junior middleweight champion.

Conwell opened up about his struggled to get back into the ring and what it took to overcome the events that shadowed him.

‘It was real hard man, it took me a while, I feel like I fell into a little depression’ Conwell said.

‘I talked to my family and friends, but to the world, I got off social media for a little while and just stayed to myself.

‘I really try to do that a lot, you know, in my training camps I try to keep off social media and that.’

Conwell admitted that he had contemplated walking away from the sport. However, it was actually returning to the gym, that help him get his career back on track.

‘It was really hard you know, because you don’t want something like that to happen again’ Conwell said.

‘So that was like the real big thing that was on my mind

‘That was the real big thing that I had to overcome, not wanting that to happen again and me continuing to be able to box.’

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In response to Conwell’s letter to Day, Day’s coach and close friend, Joe Higgins thanked Conwell for his message and urged him to continue boxing.

In a tweet directed to Conwell, Higgins said:

“As devastated as we are we realize you are equally devastated. We know if it was the other way around we would be just as distraught.’

“Thank you for your kind words. Patrick was born across the street from me so our relationship is special. He would have wanted you to continue.

“I’m am rooting for you to reach your dream, the same one he had. God Bless your Team and we will keep you in our prayers as well. I too am distraught because I feel responsible but do realize there is no fault. Stay strong and please don’t think we blame you,” he added.

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Conwell said that this comment helped him overcome his grief towards this incident and it helped get him back onto the right path.

‘It was like a weight off my shoulders to be honest, you know, I had heard anything from their side.’ Conwell said.

‘Since they reached out it was a real relief for me that they didn’t feel any ill way towards me.’

Conwell did respond to DiBella Entertainment’s statement regarding the known inherent risk that boxers face when entering the ring and offered his thoughts on this.

‘No one goes into the boxing ring thinking that is going to happen to them’ Conwell said.

‘You spar every day, you fight all the time but that’s nothing that ever even crosses your mind, or at least crossed my mind

‘You think, if anything, you are going in there thinking you are going to win the fight, or you are going to get a draw or a loss or something.

‘You think about that before you think about this ever happening to you or to anybody.’

Back in 2019, ahead of his heavyweight bout against Dominic Breazeale, Deontay Wilder was filmed saying:

‘This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time, it’s legal, so why not use my right to do so?’

This was a comment that sparked some controversy regarding if war-like imagery and these types of threats are appropriate and if they should be allowed to be used in promotion for a fight.

As someone who has first-hand experience of this very issue, I posed the question to Conwell if this type of behaviour is disrespectful to the sport and to those who have lost their lives competing.

‘Something like that, he was just saying that for some publicity and what not.’ Conwell said.

‘But to actually be in a situation like that, nobody wants to be in a situation like that, not me, I didn’t want to be in that situation personally so.

‘I wouldn’t wish that on nobody so to say something like that, as you said, I guess that is kind of disrespectful.’

After the bout, a victorious Wilder told his opponent that his comments were purely to promote the fight.

However, in a sport that is surrounded by a stigma regarding the ethical standpoint of the risks of being a fighter, it seems that comments such as Wilder’s are not well received with the boxing world.

When putting forward Manuel Velasquez’s data to Conwell, I posed the question of what could be done to make the sport safer, he said:

‘To be honest, I don’t know what we could do to make it safer, but I know there is always room to improve.’

‘There is always room to improve everything so there is always room to make boxing safer than it already is

‘we could make more precautions for fighters and that, but there is always ways that we could make improvements and make the sport of boxing safer.’

DiBella also furthered this notion in his statement regarding Day’s death, saying:

‘It becomes very difficult to explain away or justify the dangers of boxing at a time like this. This is not a time where edicts or pronouncements are appropriate, or the answers are readily available.’ DiBella wrote.

‘It is, however, a time for a call to action. While we don’t have the answers, we certainly know many of the questions, have the means to answer them, and have the opportunity to respond responsibly and accordingly and make boxing safer for all who participate. This is a way we can honour the legacy of Pat Day.’ He added.

Conwell is currently undefeated at 12-0 in the sport and has his eyes set on getting a title shot in 2021. As for his opponent on that tragic night, Day will be remembered for his accolades in the sport and for the true sportsman that he was.