Alleged corruption and unsafe practices in boxing’s billion-dollar fight industry took it on the chin Thursday as experts testifying before a House panel supported the idea of a federal commission to oversee the embattled sport.
The sponsor of legislation to establish an American Boxing Corp.--which would issue only voluntary boxing standards to the state commissions that have authority to regulate the sport--called it perhaps the “last best chance for boxing to survive” and clean up the ring’s tarnished reputation.
“There is one group in this land that can provide the service to save the sport, and that’s the federal government,” declared the House bill’s sponsor, Rep. Pat Williams (D-Mont.). He charged that states have failed to stand up to unscrupulous promoters whose motivation is profit rather than the health and welfare of professional boxers.
Under the bill, the commission would attempt to create “efficient oversight of professional boxing and the establishment of minimum health and safety standards for boxing” by regulating drug use, age limits, waiting periods between fights and issues such as headgear requirements.
State boxing officials, testifying before the House Education and Labor Committee’s labor standards subcommittee, objected to what they see as overzealous federal intervention on the grounds that big boxing states such as California can handle their own problems.
But Williams, a long-time boxing fan, said that the public is not satisfied by the slow pace of boxing reform and criticized boxing officials for not moving quickly to set up their own national commission. Both Williams and Rep. Austin J. Murphy (D-Penn.), the subcommittee chairman, challenged the state officials to prove that they can run the sport.
“The Congress has waited 25 years for the people at the state level,” Williams said. “We’re still waiting. Something has got to happen.”
Amid mounting evidence of the adverse long-term health effects on boxers, the American Medical Assn. last December advocated banning the sport, saying that it seems “extraordinarily incongruous that we have a sport in which two people are literally paid to . . . try to beat one another to death.”
Eleven fighters died of injuries suffered in the ring between January, 1983, and May, 1984, the AMA said, and South Korean boxer Duk Koo Kim died in a highly publicized 1982 televised bout with Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini.
Moreover, a number of articles in major publications have detailed charges of widespread corruption and unsafe practices, and ABC-TV’s Howard Cosell, once boxing’s top broadcaster, has denounced the sport on the professional level.
Jose Torres, a former boxer who is chairman of the New York Athletic Commission, tepidly endorsed the idea of a national commission and noted that New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has advocated the establishment of a national boxing commission that would be run by the states.
All of the witnesses said that a nationwide computer system is needed to keep track of information on boxers and their fights. Under the present system, it is often weeks before a fighter’s record is updated--a practice that allows fighters to get knocked out in one state and travel to another state to fight within days.
Most states have laws establishing one- to two-month waiting periods between bouts, but one boxer recently was found to have been knocked out nine times in four months.
Legislation to establish a national commission introduced in Congress in the past has faltered, but Williams says he believes the time may be right for passage, particularly if prime boxing states such as Nevada and New York support the commission.
Pappy Gault, president of an amateur boxing organization here and a former boxer himself, warned the subcommittee that if the federal government does not take action, the public will become disgusted with inferior bouts and lose interest.