Fighting the good fight
Sen. McCain is leading charge to create a federal boxing commission
Posted: Tuesday December 7, 2004 4:36PM; Updated: Tuesday December 7, 2004 4:36PM
Arizona Republican Senator John McCain isn't shy about seeing his name in the sports pages. And that's a good thing. The International Olympic Committee grand pooh-bahs and the heads-in-the-sand folks responsible for the steroid mess in baseball deserve to be taken down from time to time.
In case you've missed the headlines, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is threatening to introduce legislation to clean up baseball if the sport doesn't act quickly to fix the problem. But lost in the media rage over steroids is a bill already introduced by McCain to create a federal boxing commission.
Friends describe McCain as "extremely resolute'' about the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2004, which could be acted upon as early as this week. The senator, who ruffled some political feathers along the way, cleverly attached the bill to a copyright proposal that enjoys bipartisan support. But the feeling is if his boxing legislation fails to gain approval before Congress heads home for the holidays, it will almost certainly fail next year.
The bill would, among other things:
Establish the United States Boxing Commission, consisting of an executive director and three commissioners appointed by the President (with no more than two from the same political party or from either side of the Mississippi River), to make and oversee uniform safety standards, including the requirement that emergency medical personnel and an ambulance be present at ringside at all times.
Grant the commission authority to conduct investigations and provide it with subpoena power.
Maintain confidential medical records and medical suspension information on every licensed boxer.
License all boxers, promoters, referees and judges.
Require promoters to submit contracts with boxers to ensure payment of purse monies to the athletes.
These are all good ideas. Lord knows baseball let its steroid issue slide, though it pales in comparison to all that ails the sweet science. The guess is baseball can handle things without dialing up the Feds. Boxing, on the other hand, needs all the help it can get.
The argument against the bill is it's a duplication of some services in states that are already doing the right thing. If so, that's too bad. The problem is too few states are properly policing the sport. A handful of states don't even have boxing commissions.
So you end up with risky fights in states that have weak commissions or no commission at all. You watch guys who probably shouldn't be in the ring, like ex-champ Riddick Bowe, shop for a state until he finds one that will allow him to fight. Or, you watch a punch-drunk Meldrick Taylor stumble around a ring two years ago in Alabama -- a state (not surprisingly) without a commission.
McCain has played in this arena before. His first effort, the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996, created an identification card system and mandated that state athletic commissions honor the individual commission medical suspensions. Four years later, he co-authored the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which attempted to limit the control of fighters by promoters and sanctioning bodies.
Misconduct continues to beset the fight game. As McCain wrote in a recent Stanford Law Review article on the subject, "Without the adoption and implementation of uniform federal standards, I fear that the sport of boxing will continue its downward spiral toward irrelevance.''
Can it possibly sink any lower? And does anyone care?
Take the story of manager/matchmaker Robert Mitchell and journeyman heavyweight Thomas "Top Dog" Williams, who were convicted recently of conspiring to fix a fight in Las Vegas four years ago. It wasn't big news in the mainstream media, presumably because the lead characters weren't sexy names in the fight business. There was never a cry for the Nevada State Athletic Commission to hold hearings, even though the fix was a black eye for what is thought to be one of the more professional commissions.
Yet if people believe this was the only fight fixed in Nevada or anywhere else they're crazy. It is obviously not every card, but it's happening. There are mismatches and overmatches. Not fixed fights necessarily, but under-card matches set up so the local fighter or a fighter tied to the promoter can pad his record. All too often commissions knuckle under the influence of promoters, managers and sanctioning bodies.
No one is saying McCain's bill is packed with all of the answers. Or that Washington politicians sticking their noses in sports is a good thing. That said, boxing isn't in position to turn away a caring hand.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.