simpler and more candidly larcenous days its inmates were motivated by honest
avarice. But in the last few years the sport has undergone permutations that
somehow have made it socially significant. First there was Patterson vs.
Liston, an allegory of good vs. evil. Then along came Cassius Clay, whose
socially significant contribution was the discovery of a truly unpopular cause.
In the Black Muslims he had a cause so triumphantly unpopular that in an age
sharply aware of racial dvisions, most whites and Negroes could unite in
loathing it—and in paying to see its proponent—hope! hope! hope!—knocked out.
But last week Cassius began to learn a truism of social significance: it is
possible for a man to become so nauseatingly unpopular that he will never get
rich. At least not in Chicago.
problem was the Illinois Athletic Commission, a less than august body suddenly
caught up in swirling crosscurrents of subtleties concerning morality, legality
and political expediency, not to mention 200% old-fashioned patriotism. Before
the week was over the IAC began to look like the Three Stooges.
The troubles of
the Illinois Athletic Commission started on February 8. That was the day the
IAC decided to license the heavyweight championship fight between Clay and
Ernie Terrell after New York had refused to bestow its blessings on the fight
out of a conviction that Terrell's association with Bernard Glickman, longtime
friend of Hoodlum Frankie Carbo, was still very much alive. Flying to the New
York hearing, Terrell was said to have sat next to Glickman on the plane. The
IAC, which thought it knew how to handle such situations, discreetly neglected
to investigate the tie between Terrell and Glickman. It enthusiastically
showered licenses on practically everybody in sight, without asking any
embarrassing questions or, it later developed, taking a look at the state laws.
Very Chicago, very very Chicago.
The fight was set
for March 29 in the International Amphitheatre, and Ben Bentley, one of the two
promoters of the match, happily began taking orders for tickets. (To Hugh
Hefner, the man who publishes a magazine in his pajamas: "You were down for
six. Now you want to make it 10? Make the check for $1,000.") For a while
everything went swimmingly. But then the Selective Service System changed
Clay's status to 1-A and Cassius began talking like a man about to be
"I don't have
no personal quarrel with those Viet Congs," he declared. The sentiment was
received shudderingly wherever men make fights. Clay next turned to the least
acceptable sort of conscientious objection: "I am a member of the Muslims,
and we don't go to no wars unless they are declared by Allah himself."
To the Chicago
Tribune these remarks sounded like treason. The Tribune has been defending the
Constitution against assorted dangers for well over a century now, against such
threats to the Republic as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Adlai
Stevenson, Dwight D. Eisenhower and anybody who failed to salute when the late
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy belched.
February 20, the
began The Treatment—and to those
have observed The Treatment for lo these many years, it was
beautiful—technically, CRIME PROBER DEMANDS STATE BAR CLAY FIGHT, said a Page
One column one headline on Sunday. LEGION HITS BOXER ON HIS DRAFT TIRADE. Then
inside: DRAFT CAN K.O. CLAY'S FIGHT—IF IT HURRIES. And on page 24 the lead
editorial was entitled ARE YOU PROUD OF THIS, GOVERNOR?
Good start. By
Sunday night an influential state legislator who had blocked several bills
outlawing professional boxing in the state shifted his position: he would now
even introduce such bills into the next session of the legislature. By Monday
morning Governor Otto Kerner, a Democrat, was suggesting that the Illinois
Athletic Commission reexamine its position on the fight. By Monday noon the
Three Stooges of the IAC were able to announce triumphantly that they had
received an apology from Clay—by phone.
almost—but not quite—good enough for the
. While its sports page was
throwing every resource into promotion of the Golden Gloves, whose combatants
are not so socially significant as they are merely clumsy, the
the scenes, had applied other pressures. One of its top investigative reporters
got on the phone to Bentley and ordered him to deliver Clay to Chicago for a
Quavering in his
second-floor fight headquarters at the Sheraton- Chicago hotel, Irving
Schoenwald, the other promoter, seized the occasion to go to the hospital.
"With chest congestion brought on by aggravation," explained Bentley.
Bennie himself, a small, dark, intense man with the nervous system of a bronc
with a backache, was devouring tranquilizers. He had already printed 14,000
tickets and invested $5,000 in the training-camp expenses of Terrell and
company. Now he struggled to direct the best light possible toward a prosperous
outcome for the fight: "Lookit, $160,000 in the kick and we ain't even
opened the gate yet." But he spoke glumly of a tea-leaf reader he had heard
about who looked in the bottom of the cup and saw a man leaping off a tall
place. "That must be me," Bentley said, "only from here I wouldn't
get the job done. I need more than two floors."