In making the disclosures about boxing on the preceding pages, SI takes not even a dour satisfaction. For one thing, it is not pleasant to report fresh evidence of corruption in a well-loved sport. For another, virtually all the most important assertions, save the central one which involves James D. Norris Jr., president of the International Boxing Club, were published 15 years ago by the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune is sponsor of the Golden Gloves Amateur tournament, which it originated, and is by no means an enemy of boxing. Neither is SI.
Across the years there have been other campaigns to clean up boxing's dirty business, and most of them have ended in failure. This magazine refuses to conclude from such evidence that the effort is hopeless. Furthermore, it believes that because of the truly nationwide following boxing has attracted in the 1950s, a renovation was never more in order. In 1939, when Harry Thomas made his first revelations about the fixed fights he had engaged in, the integrity of boxing chiefly affected the relatively small number of Americans who go to fights. Today, week after week, television brings prize fighting into the U.S. family living room. (Concurrently, the bread-and-butter economics of boxing has shifted fundamentally: a promoter today depends not so much on the gate as on his TV take.) Today the probity or lack of probity of the men who run boxing becomes the concern of anyone who can twist a dial.
It is usually a mighty hard thing to prove that a fight has been fixed. There can be thunderous boos from the audience, but boos have seldom cost a hoodlum a dollar?not even when a state boxing commission, stirred into paper-shuffling investigation by the fury of a cheated crowd, has performed with delicacy and decorum the job of making all look well with the world of boxing again. Or not even when a state boxing commission of integrity has tried honestly and failed because no one will talk.
Many Americans have concluded that nothing much can really be done?and go so far as to say, "Why not close professional boxing down?" SI does not accept that counsel.
Boxing was once a mostly illegal sport in the United States, with bouts either billed as "exhibitions" as professional wrestling is now, or presented unlawfully in clubs which were the equivalent of speak-easies. Today boxing is legal in 48 states, watched over by state or local commissions with licensing powers. Able to issue and revoke licenses, the commissions control the livelihood of promoters, managers and boxers. They possess a truly extraordinary power.
Few, however, have cared to use this power against James D. Norris. But it is worth pointing out that the International Boxing Club has now drawn the attention of the Federal government. Before the Supreme Court of the United States, the Department of Justice is seeking to establish that the IBC is a business in interstate commerce and a violator of the antitrust laws. If the government wins its point, boxing may come under a battery of existing Federal statutes and be policed as other interstate business is.
There are still other sources of control. For instance, a great share of boxing's legitimate revenue comes from television. The entire television industry, which must certainly have appraised its own self-interest by this time, is vitally concerned.
But perhaps the most pertinent question at this moment is not who is going to control boxing or who should control it. The question to be answered first is simply this: IS BOXING GOING TO BE A LEGITIMATE SPORT OR A DIRTY BUSINESS?