The Real Million Dollar Baby

Courage and the Sanctity of Life


The story is, by now, a familiar one: A female boxer from Missouri takes a terrible beating in the ring and winds up brain-damaged. She's initially suicidal, but with the help of family and friends, she rallies, takes up painting, and speaks out about her life and the value of all life.

Wait a minute, you say: That's not how Million Dollar Baby ends. In the Academy Award-winning film, the injured boxer begs her coach to kill her because she can't face life as a quadriplegic, and he complies. But a real-life boxer, whose life story likely inspired the film, says the ending is bunk.

Like the boxer in Million Dollar Baby, Katie Dallam was a Missouri girl who grew up in poverty. In 1996, Katie began boxing. After just two months of training, her trainer urged her into a professional match and Katie stepped into the ring with a far more experienced boxer. By the end of four two-minute rounds, the referee stopped the fight, but it was too late. Katie had received 150 blows to the head and was comatose by the time she reached a hospital. Doctors told Katie's sister that she "probably wouldn't make it, and, if she did, would most likely be a vegetable."

But Katie survived. She had to relearn how to walk and read. And her injuries affected her vision and memory. Deeply depressed, she attempted suicide. But instead of helping her sister kill herself, her sister, Stephanie, moved Katie into her home.

Unable to go back to her counseling job, Katie took up an earlier interest and began painting again.

Seeing Million Dollar Baby gave Katie nightmares. But it also led to her decision to talk with others about life after a devastating brain injury. As Katie told the New York Times, the fictional coach in Million Dollar Baby "took the easy way out by killing [the boxer] rather than having to deal with what her life would have been like."

Katie's sister, Stephanie, is convinced the film writer, F. X. Toole, now deceased, based the film on Katie. Too many similarities, she says. So Katie wants to set the record straight. People, you see, can live on after terrible injuries and live rich, productive lives -- people like Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic who suffered a spinal-cord injury, who also paints and has a wonderful ministry.

As Joni and Friends journalist Sanda Allyson writes, "In the face of devastating injury, many people feel they want to die. But they move from depression and feeling that there is nothing for them" into a new hope and even joy.

"We can have peace and happiness," she writes, "in the midst of situations that might have previously been thought of as unendurable. That is just one reason why virtually all disability advocacy groups . . . are so vehemently opposed to this idea of 'helping' someone die, which may sound warm and fuzzy, but in the searing light of truth, is just murder."

So tell your neighbors that the real-life story behind Million Dollar Baby that exposes the Hollywood fiction and its values for what they are: propaganda. We can live life to the fullest, even with great disabilities, if we don't fall for the secular siren song that says that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived.

The film Million Dollar Baby may have won Academy Awards, but the true-life story wins a much greater award for courage and human dignity.


For further reading and information:

Today's BreakPoint offer: See BreakPoint's Recommended Films List, including Chuck Colson's List of 50 Insightful Films.

Rick Lyman, "Far from Hollywood, a Boxer Whose Dreams Died in the Ring," New York Times, 9 March 2005. (When archived, article costs $2.95 to retrieve.)

David Usborne, "Katie Dallam: Million Dollar Woman," The Independent (London), 10 March 2005.

Meredith Gould and Ruth Harrigan, "Judging Million Dollar Baby," Godspy, 25 February 2005.

Sanda Allyson, "'Million Dollar Baby' Cost Too High," Joni and Friends, 4 February 2005.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 050301, "And the Winner Is: Death, Depravity, and Dullness."

BreakPoint Commentary No. 050211, "Fighting for What's Important: Million Dollar Baby and House."

Learn about Joni and Friends, a ministry and advocacy group for individuals with disabilities.

Peter J. Colosi, "What's Love Got to Do with It?: The Ethical Contradictions of Peter Singer," Godspy, 25 February 2005.

Roberto Rivera, "Lean on Me: Dignity and Dependency," BreakPoint Online, 28 January 2004.