SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
January 14, 1980
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January 14, 1980


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In the wake of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, President Carter warned last week that "continued aggressive actions" by the U.S.S.R. could force the U.S. to withdraw from the Summer Olympics in Moscow. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said it was pulling out of the Summer Games, and calls for a boycott were heard in Britain and West Germany. Alarmed by all this, Olympic officials and would-be participants argued, predictably, that the Olympics were "above politics" and that "the athletes come first."

These outright objections to a boycott seem lame. As long as Olympians compete as members of national teams, attended by flags, anthems and other nationalistic trappings, the Olympics will never be above politics. Unmistakably political, too, are the Soviet Union's efforts to turn the '80 Games into a showcase for its system. And lamentable though a boycott would be for the athletes, the fact remains that world strife invariably causes hardships, often of a far more onerous nature. Nor should anybody discount the possibility that in combination with other actions, a boycott could have considerable impact on the Kremlin. Although the Olympics might well go on even in the face of a large-scale walkout, the Soviets would scarcely relish seeing their long-envisioned moment in the sun thereby clouded over.

Still, it is not being maudlin to suggest that the Olympics, politicized (and commercialized) though they may be, are special. They produce stirring, even elevating, human achievements that, unlike even the most enduring sonnet, are enjoyed en masse, transforming their vast audience into something akin to a world community. Far from being a single, isolated event, they also are the culmination of years of aspiration and effort by athletes everywhere. A cancellation or serious diminution of the Olympics would deprive the world of that at times transcendent culmination. Seen in this light, the Olympics are not "for" the Soviets; they are for everyone.

By stopping short of actually calling for a U.S. withdrawal from the Olympics, the President was, in a sense, acknowledging their value. If it appears that it might be awkward or dangerous for the U.S. to compete in Moscow or that a withdrawal might produce results that make such a step worthwhile, the U.S. will have plenty of time to act as the Games draw near. There is certainly no reason to rush.


Tony Thomas, a 20-year-old boxer, died last week in his native Spartanburg, S.C. of a brain injury similar to the one that caused the death of middleweight Willie Classen (SI, Dec. 10). Thomas, also a middleweight, had lapsed into a coma following a bout on Dec. 22 in Spartanburg against Sammy Home.

Thomas, who earned $50 for his night's work, had taken a standing eight count in the third round and was declared the loser when the referee stopped the fight in the fourth. He left the ring without assistance, but a short time later Home visited Thomas in his dressing room and, as he said later, he thought Thomas "wasn't acting right." According to the promoter, Don White, the three doctors in attendance had left by then. The stricken boxer was taken to Spartanburg General Hospital, where a neurosurgeon operated to remove a blood clot from the brain.

The state of South Carolina has no boxing commission or any laws governing the sport. Spartanburg County, in which the fight was held, does have a commission of sorts, but it doesn't require referees to be licensed or boxers to undergo prefight physicals. Thomas had listed his record as 6-2 before the Horne bout, but local boxing people said this was Thomas' first professional fight; White said he didn't know. White was uncertain about the identity of Thomas' cornermen for the fight, although he said an uncle had signed as Thomas' trainer.

Later White said, "He [Thomas] signed a release, and in his contract it says that he would be in good condition for the fight and did not have any injuries. Even if he had had a physical, I don't think it would have changed anything." Perhaps not, but as Classen's death also demonstrated, public officials should do far more to assure the safety of boxers. Allowing bouts to be conducted without regulation is inexcusable. Promoters are in business for profit and should not be relied upon to protect anyone's interest but their own.

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