By Thomas Hauser
The call came on Wednesday, January 29th from Ken Nahigian (a member of the majority staff for the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation). He wanted to know if I'd accept were I to be invited to testify regarding proposed legislation to combat corruption in professional boxing.
It reminded me of the letters that are sent out when a British citizen is under consideration for knighthood. As Sir Henry Cooper once told me, "The Queen doesn't like to be rejected; so first they make sure you'll accept and then they extend the honor."
Anyway, I said I'd accept, and the invitation came the following afternoon by fax:
Dear Mr. Hauser,
On Wednesday, February 5, 2003, at 2:30 p.m. in SR-253, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and transportation will hold a Full Committee oversight hearing on professional boxing. As Chairman of the Committee, I invite you to testify. At this hearing, the Committee will hear testimony on the current issues and problems surrounding professional boxing. The committee asks that you focus your testimony on the problems facing the sport; the success of federal regulations in solving those problems, and the recent legislative proposals to create a federal regulatory entity to oversee the sport, along with any other related issues you wish to bring to the attention of the Committee. [Etcetera, etcetera, and so forth.]
I formally accepted. Then Nahigian called again to say that the hearing had been rescheduled for 9:30 a.m. That meant getting up at five o'clock in the morning to travel to Washington D.C. from New York.
Still, I've always been interested in politics. I've interviewed Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and met Bill Clinton twice (once in the Oval Office). The thought of being part of the political process appealed to me. Thus it was that I awoke at 5:00 a.m. on February 5 and was on the 7:30 a.m. Delta Shuttle to Washington (after being required by airport security to remove my shoes for inspection and go through the equivalent of a full-body MRI).
The hearing was held in Room 253 of the Russell Senate Office Building. Initially, John McCain was the only Senator present; although Byron Dorgan of North Dakota joined him at the halfway mark. My mother would have preferred that I address a joint session of Congress. But the truth is, I enjoyed the proximity to McCain. I'm a liberal Democrat, and he's a fairly conservative Republican. But he has the aura of a thoroughly decent man who is troubled by the corruption of the once-honorable profession of politics, and I wish there were more people like him in positions of power.
The other invited guests were Bernard Hopkins (who testified that fighters are exploited); Ross Greenberg (who testified that HBO is not a promoter); some guy with a hat and cigar (who kept interrupting the other witnesses); and Patrick Panella of the Maryland State Athletic Commission (who said that the federal government should not enact legislation that preempts the state commissions).
My testimony was as follows:
I'd like to thank the committee for the honor of being invited here today and get very quickly to the issues at hand.
We're far past the point where we can blame the world sanctioning organizations and a handful of promoters for all of the corruption in professional boxing. The entire system is corrupt, and some of the worst enablers are in positions of power at state athletic commissions.
For eight years, the New York State Athletic Commission has been shamelessly run as a slush fund for a political party. Data made available by the New York Department of State indicates that, prior to recent budget cuts, it cost $87,000 per fight card to regulate boxing in New York. By contrast, last year it cost Nevada only $5,400 per card to regulate professional boxing.
When Evander Holyfield fought Lennox Lewis at Madison Square Garden, the New York State Athletic Commission assigned 25 inspectors and demanded for 67 ringside credentials. By contrast, Nevada employs only 16 inspectors statewide and assigns no more than six inspectors to any given fight card.
On the night of the Holyfield-Lewis fight at Madison Square Garden, Robert Duffy (who was the New York State Athletic Commission director of boxing) assigned two inspectors to each fighter's corner. Then he was overruled, and four different inspectors with strong political ties were given the
assignment. One of those inspectors had never worked a fight before in his life. You don't start your career as a ring inspector in the corner at a unification fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. Duffy complained and was told -- and this is a direct quote -- "Hey, Duffy; you don't understand. We won the election."
Duffy was subsequently forced out of his job. The man who made that comment to him now runs the New York State Athletic Commission on a daily basis.
Until recently, the Nevada State Athletic Commission was considered the best-run athletic commission in the country. A number of dedicated competent public servants like executive director Marc Ratner still work there. But the Nevada State Athletic Commission is now a textbook example of conflicts of interest run amok.
Tony Alamo is a senior vice president at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and the man primarily responsible for overseeing boxing at Mandalay Bay. Tony Alamo, Jr. sits on the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which is charged with regulating his father's boxing promotions. The situation was further exacerbated on January 13 of this year, when Edwin "Flip" Homansky (a nationally respected administrator) was removed as vice chairman of the Nevada Commission and replaced by Tony Alamo, Jr.
It might be that Tony Alamo, Jr. is totally independent of his father. But everyone in boxing who I've talked with doubts it. And his presence on the Nevada State Athletic Commission sends a powerful message regarding government-sanctioned conflicts of interest.
Also, nationwide, many state athletic commissions are afraid to enforce the laws that Congress has passed because they know that, if they do, big fights will simply go elsewhere.
I'll give you an example.
Section 11(d)(1) of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act requires all sanctioning organizations to submit a complete description of their ratings criteria to the Federal Trade Commission and the Association of Boxing Commissions. Each of the major sanctioning organizations purports to have filed this information. The problem is, most of their filings are fraudulent.
The World Boxing Organization had a dead man ranked in the top 10 of its super-middleweight division for four months. During that same four-month period, the dead man rose in the rankings from number seven to number five.
This past autumn, the World Boxing Association released rankings that were so outrageous and, in the heavyweight division, so tied to the interests of one promoter that Senator McCain of this Committee wrote a letter of protest.
Section 6 of the Ali Act provides that the chief law enforcement officer of any state may bring a civil action to enjoin the holding within its borders of any professional boxing match related to a false filing. No such civil action has ever been brought.
Section 6 of the Ali Act also provides that a world sanctioning organization that files incomplete or false information shall not be entitled to receive any compensation, directly or indirectly, in connection with a boxing match including sanctioning fees. That provision is not being enforced by any state.
And Section 6 of the Ali Act provides that violation of the disclosure requirements is a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. The Criminal Division of the Justice Department is responsible for these prosecutions, but no such indictment has ever been brought.
Why have laws if no one is going to enforce them?
Boxing needs strong federal regulation by knowledgeable personnel who assume their positions of power without conflicts of interest. And while we're waiting for legislation to create this regulation, I respectfully suggest that it's imperative for the federal government to act now through criminal prosecutions as well as civil lawsuits brought by the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to enforce the laws as they're currently written.
This Committee cannot rely on state athletic commissions to clean up boxing. And the Association of Boxing Commissions is nothing but a collective of the same officials who have failed to enforce the law on the state level.
Will any good come of it?
I don't know, but things went better than I thought they would. I doubt that my testimony (or anybody else's) will affect the proposed legislation. But it might impact upon enforcement of the laws that have already been passed.
The hearing lasted slightly less than two hours. McCain asked a number of questions that were right on point. And in his closing remarks, he declared, "We should light a fire under the Justice Department because there have been some egregious violations of the law."
If boxing is lucky, Congress will do just that.
Thomas Hauser can be contacted at thauserthauserrcn.com