Making a single exception to the no-ride rule need not mean cart blanche for everyone. An agreement with Martin would stop his legal challenge and prevent federal scrutiny under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would let golf retain its rule-making power while one brave young man plays golf on diseased legs. Such a move by the Tour would be good legal tactics, terrific p.r. and, most important, the right thing to do.
Eddie Futch has always known when it was time to stop. Last week, at age 86, boxing's greatest living trainer announced his retirement—after 65 years in the game and 22 world champions—and though the sport is surely reduced by his departure, who would second-guess him? This is the man, after all, who told Joe Frazier, there in the corner before the 15th and final round of Smokin' Joe's epic third bout with Muhammad Ali in 1975, that Frazier, his left eye swollen shut, had had enough. "Sit down, son," said Futch to the fighter he had guided through so many wars. "It's over. No one will forget what you did here today."
Nor should anyone in boxing forget what Futch has done. Over four decades this small, quiet man, a onetime waiter, bricklayer and postal clerk with a fondness for Keats and Shakespeare, helped mold the careers of a startling number of boxing's best. The roll call runs from welterweight king Don Jordan in 1958 through Alexis Arguello and Bob Foster and Mike McCallum to WBC bantamweight titlist Wayne McCullough in '95. Along the way Futch trained six heavyweight champs: Frazier, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks, Trevor Berbick and Riddick Bowe. He's the only man to have "beaten" Ali twice, having been in the corner when first Frazier and then Norton turned the trick. Through it all the patient and meticulous Futch always seemed more like a gentle professor than a fight trainer. "I'm in boxing," he's fond of saying, "but I'm not of boxing."
The son of a Mississippi sharecropper, Futch grew up in the Black Bottom section of Detroit. In 1933 he won that city's Golden Gloves lightweight title, fighting out of the famed Brewster Gym, where he would sometimes spar with a young heavyweight named Joe Louis when the bigger man wanted to work on speed. "When I'm sharp enough to hit you," Louis would say, "I know I'm sharp enough to hit anyone." Futch's pro career ended before it began, though, when a physical revealed a heart murmur. The fighter became a trainer.
It was that process of instruction, of helping "young men make something of themselves," as he said in his retirement announcement, that drove Futch. Finally, though, this father of four, grandfather of seven, great-grandfather of 13 and great-great-grandfather of six decided that it was time to slow down, to take time to enjoy his family. Though he admits he will miss his friends in boxing, he says the decision to retire was easy. "These days, with the proliferation of weight classes and titles and the emphasis on money, boxing is getting worse," Futch said from his house in Las Vegas last week. "Quality is disappearing from the sport." Futch's exit is a prime example.
The Right Mat Moves
In a span of 33 days during November and December, three college wrestlers died while trying to sweat off 10 or more pounds in order to make weight for an upcoming match (SI, Dec. 29, 1997). The horrific yet widely accepted and unregulated methods of drastic weight loss that led to those deaths represented the dark side of wrestling. The actions taken since the last of the three victims, Michigan junior Jeff Reese, died on Dec. 9, however, have cast the sport in a bright new light.
On Jan. 13 the NCAA, acting on recommendations from its wrestling and competitive safeguard committees, announced sweeping and immediate rule changes to discourage weight cutting. The NCAA banned the use of saunas, rubber suits and diuretics and moved weigh-in times from 24 hours before matches to no more than two hours before. Giving a wrestler a full day to recover from excessive weight loss only tempts him to enter a dangerously low weight class. The NCAA also established a seven-pound weight allowance for all participants for the rest of the season. Additional restrictions on weight loss may be added at the NCAA's annual wrestling committee meeting, on April 6-10, when investigations into the deaths by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control will be completed.
Reaction from coaches and wrestlers to the rule changes was "overwhelmingly positive," says Bob Bubb, the executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association. "And the changes came down the line a lot faster than I ever thought they would." Before the NCAA was restructured last year, rule changes, even in emergency situations like the one facing wrestling, had to wait until the April meeting. Now, smaller administrative committees can act immediately. Says Mike Moyer, the chair of the wrestling committee, "We knew we had to take emergency measures not to just reduce the risk but to eliminate altogether the chances of another tragic death."