A boxer is, by nature, self-reliant. His fists and guts got him where he is, gave him money and glory. What need does he have for a union? And a union with whom? Somebody he's about to knock silly? This chump ain't nothin'! He goin' down in three! Such sentiments make later relationships strained. Secondly, blind obedience to a manager is ingrained from a fighter's earliest days in the gym and few managers would want to relinquish control over their fighters. Rudd says, "The most telling tribute to Ray Arcel I've ever heard was from a guy who said, 'Why, he taught me how to eat!' "
Traditionally, boxers rise from society's less-educated strata. "That hurts them when they go out looking for the good jobs," says Kapilow. "Plus a lot of them are banged around facially, so people don't take them seriously." And, as the overwhelming body of medical evidence has determined, many are brain-damaged from repeated blows.
Kapilow is in his 60s now and, though hale, is no longer the menacing figure he was in 1944, when he was the world's eighth-ranked welterweight. But as president of Teamsters Local 966 in New York, he doesn't need to be. Until two years ago the medical center now named for Arcel serviced only Teamsters and their families. It was Kapilow who decided a few old fighters could be squeezed in, and he persuaded the other officers in his local to agree.
As he describes Kapilow the pugilist, Arcel's soft voice quavers ever so slightly, like that of an Indian elder reciting an oral history. "Danny used to spend 12, 14 hours a day in the gym. He learned his trade. He used his head in the ring—he moved away from punches. Fighters today, they don't learn their trade."
In 1947, Kapilow really used his head. He quit after eight years as a pro, before boxing had a chance to cough him up, dazed and battered. Now he spends hours assisting those who failed to retire in time. "The public would be astounded and shocked at the great fighters of the past who lived and died in poverty and misery," he says. Kapilow sadly recounts the deaths last year of Fritzie Zivic, Lou Brouillard and Steve Belloise, "all real good fighters." Each died of Alzheimer's disease, a brain dysfunction. Hoeing perhaps the meanest row are yesterday's second-and third-rate fighters, who were often cannon fodder for the champions, brawlers who soaked up beatings to earn a day's pay.
But Kapilow can also point to boxers who have prospered, like Charley (The Fighting Milkman) Fusari, now a goodwill ambassador for the liquor industry.
"Sure, some of them are doing O.K.," says Charley Gellman, Ring 8's vice-president. "A lot of them are walking on their heels, too."
Gellman knows. He's another of the unlikely ministering angels responsible for founding the Ray Arcel Medical Center. Patrons of smokers at which Gellman fought illegal bouts in the '30s, in Jersey City, Newark and Scranton, might remember him as Chuck Halper—the boxing alias he assumed to avoid disgracing the family name. "Back then it was either fight or steal," he says. "And who gave a damn whether or not they put them in the record books? People bet a lot of money on those fights."
With money from bootleg bouts Gellman carved a few extra options for himself. He graduated from Columbia University in 1939 with a degree in public health and went on to become a prominent New York hospital administrator. He was in charge of Jewish Memorial in upper Manhattan from 1962 to '83.
A rumpled note bearing Gellman's name was found in Mickey Walker's trousers pocket in 1981 the day the former middleweight champion of the world was found destitute and near death on a Brooklyn curbside. Gellman, who had sparred some with Walker five decades earlier and had become friendly with him, set him up in a private room at a New Jersey nursing home. Afflicted with Parkinson's disease, Walker lived only five more months, but he died, as Gellman says, with dignity. Gellman paid the bills.