A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from May 08, 2015
“You can’t play boxing” ("You don’t play boxing")

"You can play baseball, you can play basketball, you can play football, but you can’t/don’t play boxing,” boxers frequently say. The expression implies that boxing is a much more serious sport than those one can merely “play.”

“I’ve learned that you can’t play boxing” was said by boxer Donnell Pitts in 1994. Buster Mathis (1943-1995) had often told his son Buster Mathis Jr. (born 1970), as reported in an Associated Press story in December 1995:

“Son, you can play football and you can play baseball, but just remember, you can’t play boxing.”


Google News Archive
28 August 1994, The Item (Sumter, SC), “Pitts attracted attention with exploits as amateur,” pg. 8B, col. 4:
“I’ve learned that you can’t play boxing. In order to get 100 percent, you have to give 100 percent.”
(Donnell Pitts.—ed.)

Google News Archive
15 December 1995, The Blade (Toledo, OH), “Another Buster for Tyson: Mathis offers ironies, not much else” (AP), pg. 38, col. 6:
In explaining that boxing was a serious endeavor, Mathis’ father said, “Son, you can play football and you can play baseball, but just remember, you can’t play boxing.”

Google Books
Boxer:
An Anthology of Writings on Boxing and Visual Culture

By David Chandler
London: Institute of International Visual Arts; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
1996
Pg. 59:
Joyce Carol Oates has remarked that although you play other sports, you don’t play boxing.

IMDb (The Internet Movie Database)
Poor Boy’s Game (2007)
Quotes

Ossie Paris: Boxing ain’t no game. So you play football, you play tennis. You don’t play boxing.

Google Books
Fight the Good Fight
By Kerry Pharr
Xulon Press (xulonpress.com)
2007
Pg. 185:
Luther mused, “You know, you can play basketball, you can play football, and you can play baseball, but you can’t play boxing.

Boxing Forum
how do u explain to a none boxing fan,that boxers are the best athletes in the world?
ferocity
01-22-2007, 02:14 AM
(...)
Moy said it best......You play soccer, you play football, you play basketball, you don’t play boxing.

Vimeo
You Don’t Play Boxing
from Tom Streithorst February 24, 2010 NOT YET RATED
Boxing promo for HBO. Shot by Tom Streithorst.

Google Books
Recognition
By Charles E. Killeen
Xlibris (Xlibris.com)
2011
Pg. 86:
You know what Buster Mathis told his kid, ‘you can play football and baseball—but you can’t play boxing’.”

Leave-it-in-the-Ring
You play football…you play baseball…you play basketball. You don’t play boxing…you fight.
THE NEWS RUN DOWN | DAVIDRADIO | NOVEMBER 1, 2012 12:04 AM
Many people think that boxing is no more than two people throwing punches at each other within a squared ring; few understand the components that lead up to even stepping foot between the ropes…the blood, sweat and tears exuded by a fighter inside and out of the gym, the discipline to make weight, and the sacrifices required to put 100 percent into all aspects of training.

YouTube
Daniel Jacobs - Amazing Things (30 sec spot)
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
Published on Jan 9, 2015
“They say ‘you play basketball, you play football, you play tennis.’ But you can’t play boxing. You have to fight”

Fight Saga
‘Canelo’ vs. Kirkland in Potential Fight of the Year
Written by Brian Opal at May 09, 2015 - 12:32PM ET in News
(...)
In the fight game, it just doesn’t get any more serious than that mentality and approach. There’s an age-old adage that goes as follows: “you play sports, you don’t play boxing.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CitySports/Games • Friday, May 08, 2015 • Permalink