By Teddy Atlas
The following is my testimony that would have been delivered at the May 22nd, 2002 Hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee. Please understand any confusion regarding my appearance was not related to any lack of desire to assist in the difficult task before you. Instead it apparently originated out of misinterpretation of my reason in wanting to attend in the first place. I have obligations as a Commentator for ESPN and a commitment to my fighters. In no way do these commitments overshadow my desire to help the sport of boxing, which has been a major part of my life for over 25 years. I have not only been an advocate of the formation of a Federal Commission, but have also challenged politicians to stand up and help.
I have openly supported boxing reform as evidenced by my calling upon Senator McCain several times during our weekly Friday Night Fight broadcasts. The last time originated out of another poor exhibition of rule interpretations from another weak boxing commission. I can see that Senator McCain has not only heard the outcry, but has responded. I, too, will respond. The following is what my testimony would have been in regards to the responsibilities of a Federal Boxing Commission.
Allow me to acknowledge that one of the other guests scheduled to attend your Hearing is the great Muhammad Ali. If there had been a Federal Commission in place when Mr. Ali was fighting, he would not have been allowed to fight and endure a horrific beating by Larry Holmes. If this had not taken place, then perhaps Mr. Ali would have been able to readily read his statement himself in it’s entirety.
I am very thankful that this Hearing has been called to evaluate the formation of a Federal Boxing Commission. When this country was young (as in the case of an up and coming preliminary fighter), it had areas that were strong and some that were weak. Nevertheless, it recognized the weaknesses needed strengthening for all to succeed. Some of those areas were in the West, the Wild West, and the strength required was lawful regulation. Eventually, Billy the Kid and the like (WBC/WBA/IBF) were removed. Today we do not have to do this in the same way as the Wyatt Earps and others took control. As sheriffs began to pop up in other towns, laws spread. However, every once in a while one of the smaller towns, beyond the prairies (like Tennessee), would fall a little short of the law! As the country continued to develop, the government understood the need to reach out and “blanket” states with more efficient rule.
To further extrapolate to the sport of boxing, we not only need more efficient law, but we also need to know what the laws should be and have confidence that they will be enforced everywhere. We need to eliminate the “Dodge Cities” of boxing and chase out the “gun slingers” and create a town that can grow and flourish. We need a Boxing Czar appointed by the President, but only after a great search.
We need the right person, not a political hack, but a man with care and understanding of the conventional and practical needs of boxing. This must be a man without ties to managers, promoters, but still a man familiar with the sport. It must be a man unafraid to make enemies, and a man sensitive to the realities of boxing. The sport needs an individual who can administrate; who is proactive with a vision and intellect for reform. I believe his term should be limited to help protect against familiarity and corruption, so often connected with the sport today.
Committees and subcommittees should be formed to oversee the various departments requiring close monitoring. These areas include, but are not limited to the following:
I suggest developing a panel to oversee and regulate officiating. This would include monitoring judges’ performances and even suspension of judges who have shown a predisposition or a pattern of either incompetence or corruption. Furthermore, there should be proper training/certification of these officials including clear criteria on scoring and refereeing. Other sports regulate and oversee the performances of their officials. Separate and eliminate the contact between officials and promoters/managers. It remains a common practice to see a manager, promoter, or world body entertaining officials at fancy restaurants and conventions before a fight. When is the last time anyone heard of George Steinbrenner taking the Umpires out for dinner prior to a baseball game with the Yankees?
There must exist conformity as to what medical requirements are necessary for fighters. These minimum standards must be upheld from state to state. I suggest the right medical people come up with these answers such as Dr. Flip Homansky and Dr. Margaret Goodman from the State of Nevada. They are both experienced and have proven themselves to not only be competent, but also reform minded with a practical idea of application.
Hopefully with the formation of such a commission, the power of the corrupt organizations will have been completely eliminated (such as what took place with the IBF being found guilty of selling ratings). A panel then needs to be formed to actually rate the fighters. This has to be done by merit and not by relationships. I recommend regional boxing writers who routinely cover fights supplemented with some strong independent commissioners or former commissioners (such as Marc Ratner and Greg Sirb). This could be done through an advisory panel.
Trainers and managers should be tested more thoroughly before being allowed the responsibility of guiding a young fighter. There should be periodic drug testing of trainers and managers. Perhaps this would even eliminate some of the poor choices made in matchmaking and training. We also need monitors in the gyms to ensure fighters and trainers on suspension are not working. I suggest a hotline number for gym owners to confidentially report if a fighter/trainer is working while under suspension. I would even support a $10,000 fine for gym owners that do not report such infractions. This will help a tremendous amount in preventing potentially injured fighters from training too soon after a serious loss/ knockout. Fighters AND their trainers with 6 straight losses, or trainers (and their fighters) having three knockouts in a row be placed under a 2-year suspension.
The right people should be selected by the Federal Boxing Commission Czar to run the state commissions in accordance and in alliance with the Federal Commission. All politically appointed patronage jobs must be eliminated. A prime example is what has taken place over the last few years in the State of New York. We need people of merit with background in the sport. Stop insulting us with the status quo of individuals filling many of these positions throughout the country. We don’t allow this in legal firms and hospitals, as it would be unethical or dangerous. The same applies here. Let these people find “easy” jobs where they can’t hurt anyone.
Fighters require delegates or liaisons to assist in negotiations. Too often promoters or agents deal directly with television, and fighters are unaware of the “full” deal. Incorporated along with this would be legal counsel available to act as a monitor, arbitrator to fighters in regards to management and promotional deals.
In conclusion, I would like to mention financing a Federal Boxing Commission. I do not expect the Federal Government to absorb the bill. Although I must say the lives that boxing influences and saves outnumber most of the political programs that fall short of the jobs they were intended to do when it comes to rehabilitation and saving our youth. The financing for this commission can come from the same monies that are now given to the Ratings Organizations for “Sanctioning Fees.” This contribution, as well as a 2% tax from large successful promotions, such as De La Joya-Vargas, or even Tyson-Lewis could assist in subsidizing the costs of running a commission.
If these areas can be policed by the proper government support, as in the example set by other sports, then boxing can do what it does best when given the right opportunity. It can bring out the best in people; help them find themselves; and develop confidence and dignity through the tool of discipline and a structured road. Not all will become champions, but many will become better people. I would hate to think that the other more corporately amenable sports would be the only ones where there is enough care to structure and secure the athletes. That would mean that those participants are more worthy than the ones in boxing. I hope not.
Teddy Atlas is currently the “Color” Commentator for ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. He has been training fighters since 1976. Champions with whom he has worked include: Michael Moorer, Michael Grant, Tracy Patterson, Joey Gamache, Simon Brown, and Barry McGuigan. He recently received the Boxing Writers’ Association Award for Best Television Commentator.