An Act That Packs a Punch
Sorry to be skeptical about all these calls to clean up boxing, but we'd be more encouraged if they sprang from a more meaningful outrage than the recent Lennox Lewis- Evander Holyfield draw. That sort of decision is reformproof. Face it. Politicians, of all people, should know that you can't legislate against incompetence.
We don't need New York governor George Pataki, who has been making the most noise lately, to remind us that boxing is destroying its own credibility. We don't need his grandstanding to point out the corrosive corruption of sanctioning bodies and promoters. Further, the fact that we can all agree that the judges responsible for the Lewis-Holyfield decision were wrong doesn't mean such flimsy reforms as greater financial disclosure on the part of judges will suddenly restore confidence, much less competence.
That said, it is time for some kind of government intervention. The machinations of the sanctioning bodies, whose self-serving rankings decide the course of careers, no longer strikes us as colorful. The profiteering of promoters, who plunder their fighters' purses, isn't something we can wink at. The rivalries of broadcasters, which can block obvious matches for years, isn't part of this rogue sport's charm.
What has encouraged us to think the time has come is the proposed legislation of Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.), (cosponsored by Sen. Richard Bryan, a Democrat from Nevada) whose Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act cuts to boxing's real ills. McCain seems to understand that the real horror of boxing goes mostly unseen. The true shame of Mike Tyson's comeback, for example, was not that it ended with him amok in the ring, biting ears. The true shame was the systematic juggling of rankings that produced the fodder for his comeback. The true shame was that Tyson, fighting for promoter Don King, took home fractions of his full purses for the whole dreadful scam.
McCain's legislation—which, among other things, would limit restrictive option contracts, mandate financial disclosure requirements for promoters and sanctioning organizations, and ensure that disbursement of a fighter's purse be accounted for—passed the Senate last October but was never taken up in the House, and it's a long shot again, even with the endorsement of Ali. But if McCain, a boxer himself during his days at the Naval Academy, can direct attention where it belongs, on the promoters' ridiculous ability to tie up fighters with long-term contracts and create practical monopolies, on the sanctioning bodies' ranking system that "defies all reason," then his bill has our vote.