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31 JULY 2014

 

Hey, Bernard; Go Back To School




By Thomas Hauser
Millions of students will be going back to school this week, and many of them will be asked to write the time-honored essay, "What I Did On My Summer Vacation". Thus, it's worth checking in with one of boxing's finest students -- Bernard Hopkins, who retired from the sweet science this year following a unanimous decision triumph over Antonio Tarver.

"I'm bored as hell," Hopkins told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com earlier this summer. "I'm sitting here in this kitchen, and I am bored as hell. I've been retired three weeks, and I am bored as hell. I can't stand still. I'm either mowing the lawn, washing the car, or picking weeds."

Hey Bernard; I've got a suggestion. You can fight boredom and better yourself in the process. Go back to school.

In the environment you lived in as an adolescent, success wasn't measured in a school setting. You finished eleventh grade, and that was all. If I recall correctly, while your high school classmates were at the senior prom, you were one year into a 56 month stay at Graterford State Penitentiary. You got your graduation equivalency diploma in prison.

Since then, you've grown in many ways but your formal educational has been limited. I've heard you read, and you can learn to do better. Going to college could be the key to your next stage of development. It might not lead to direct financial rewards. But there are ways of gaining fulfillment and satisfaction that aren't calculated by how much money you make and how many people you beat up.

Going back to school would further educate you regarding issues you care about and introduce you to ideas in areas where you might not have a current interest. Anyone can take easy courses and slide by. But if you tackle challenging courses and work hard, you'll learn things that will broaden your understanding of life. College would give you new insights and change the way you do everything from conducting business to raising your daughter.

Latress is seven now. Five years ago, you told me about the day she was born. You were in the operating room when your wife underwent a Caesarian section.

"I was looking through a curtain," you reminisced. "My wife was sedated. Then I saw this bloody head come out, and the nurse asked me, 'Do you want to hold her, Mr. Hopkins?' She gave me the baby all wrapped up. I held my daughter thirty seconds after she was born. And I made a promise to myself right then; I told myself, 'This baby is going to have a father.'"

One of the things a good father does is help his daughter with her homework. That's not hard at the second-grade level. But what happens when Latress's skills outstrip your own? Sooner or later, that happens to most parents. Wouldn't it be nice if your could help Latress with her homework for as long as she needs that guidance?

I know you're 41, but that's not too old to go back to school. You've got half your life ahead of you. You say you want to be a role model. This is one way to do it. Don't damage your brain cells. Use them.

Going to college will be a challenge, but there's one area where it will be easy for you. You've made a gazillion dollars in boxing. And judging from what you've said about shopping at Costco and how you tip in restaurants, you've saved most of it. You won't have the financial pressures that weigh heavily upon most students when they go back to school. If you think college is hard, try it when you're waitressing five nights a week from five till midnight to pay the bills. College for people in that position is like being a professional fighter at the same time you're holding down a nine-to-five job washing floors.

So how about it, Bernard? You're not afraid, are you? Is going to college too tough for you?

You're smart. Take advantage of it.

* * *

Earlier this summer, the Department of Athletic Regulation at Mohegan Sun announced that fraudulent medical records had been submitted on behalf of two boxers who were seeking licenses to fight there. The facts as recounted by Tim Lueckenhoff (president of the Association of Boxing Commissions) are as follows.

David Quijano and Alex DeJesus of Puerto Rico were scheduled to fight different opponents on a card promoted by Top Rank at Mohegan Sun on July 21st. In order to participate in the bouts, the fighters ("either directly or through a representative") submitted medical records including MRI reports by fax to the Mohegan Department of Athletic Regulation. Subsequently, Michael Mazzulli (director of the department) and Dr. Michael Schwartz (its chief ringside physician) determined that both MRI reports were falsified reproductions of an MRI report issued with respect to another boxer in January of this year. The Mohegan Department of Athletic Regulation denied the license requests by Quijano and DeJesus and fined each fighter $5,000.

Well and good. But more has to be done.

I doubt very much that Quijano and DeJesus cooked this scheme up on their own. Phony medicals have become a national problem. Some states are choosing to look the other way on the issue. If Mohegan Sun wants to seriously address the matter of phony medicals, it will make sure that its ongoing investigation transcends a "blame the fighter" mentality and uses every means possible to determine the identity of each person responsible for the phony submissions. That effort, if properly undertaken, might include seeking help from the criminal division of the United States Department of Justice. After all, wire fraud (a federal criminal offense) appears to have been committed here. Properly motivated, the Justice Department might broaden the inquiry to include other instances of phony medicals as well.

* * *

Alan Scott Haft has written a biography of his father, Harry Haft, who was a club fighter in the late 1940s.

According to Boxrec.com, Harry "Herschel" Haft had 20 professional fights, all of them in an 11-month span that ended in July 1949. He won 13, lost 7, and was knocked out in the final bout of his career by a prospect named Rocky Marciano.

Harry Haft (Syracuse University Press) is not primarily a boxing book. It's a son's recounting of the triumphs and horrors experienced by his father.

Hertzka Haft (Harry's original name) was a Holocaust survivor. As his son writes, "He felt his mortality at sixteen, a time when most boys think they will live forever." To survive, Haft became part of the machinery of death at Auschwitz. That's also part of his story.

"After all I've been through," Haft said when he began fighting professionally, "what harm can a man with gloves on his hands do to me?"

There's enough boxing in Harry Haft to satisfy hardcore boxing fans, but there are better reasons to read the book. As John Radzilowski states in an introductory essay, "It is a story of survival, of the strange tricks of fate that leave one person alive and another dead. It is about an encounter with evil in its most extreme form."

It's also about a tortured man who became an abusive father and pursued a lost love from his adolescence over the decades.

Read it. It's a good book.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com



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