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Harry Markson, genial managing-director of the International Boxing Club, was telling a friend a few weeks ago about the big change in boxing due to TV. "We can see it by the mail," he said. "In the old days if somebody thought there was something funny with one of our fights, he'd write in and start off, 'You lousy cheating so-and-so crooks.' Nowadays the letters are more likely to start off, 'You reprehensible prevaricators.' "
Perhaps Markson was stretching it a bit, but no doubt there has been a change. Five years ago the audience for the average card at Madison Square Garden was eight or nine thousand boxing buffs, and correspondingly less at smaller arenas in smaller cities. Nor were these people, on the whole, our more substantial citizens. But through TV boxing has become a national spectator sport with an audience of millions, many of whom may not know a right cross from a left jab but take an interest—an instinct common to men of all degree—in watching two good men fight it out to see who is better.
Boxing's new friends—and many of its old ones, for that matter—are disturbed these days, however, and with good reason. Again and again during the past few years, increasingly even during the past few months, the press has carried stories of "fixed" fights, of gangster influence, and of a supposed "combine" that makes it next to impossible for a young fighter to work his way to a title chance on his own merits. These reports of corruption lay behind the recent appointment by Governor Harriman of Julius Helfand, Brooklyn's racket-busting assistant district attorney, as the new chairman of New York's Athletic Commission. And they have interested the U.S. Senate, where Senator Warren Magnuson last week indicated that he would urge an investigation of boxing by the Senate Commerce Committee.
For several months, SI's reporters and correspondents have been gathering material for this series of articles. They have assembled information which should be of interest to Chairman Helfand, to Senator Magnuson, and to anyone who feels that boxing is a great sport which deserves to keep its popularity.
"A CERTAIN ELEMENT"
On the evidence, as we shall see, it can be said at once that the alleged corruption really exists—even more widely and deeply than has been supposed. Can it be cleaned up?
As Harry Markson said not long ago, boxing "attracts a certain element. It doesn't attract the Phi Beta Kappa type, say." That much one can readily grant; and grant also that there have been crooks and gamblers and "angle-guys" on the edge of the sport since the days of John L. Sullivan. As is well remembered, owning a boxer was as de rigueur for a gang-boss in the 1920s as owning a diamond, a mistress, and a bullet-proof vest. Mike Jacobs, whose 20th Century Sporting Club ran most of the major fights of the 1940s, certainly was one of the most versatile scoundrels of his time. If racing, which has the participation and active support of some of the "better elements," still produces its periodic scandals, then how—boxing's apologists ask—can one expect the perfect conduct of boxing?
But that is to beg the question. Without demanding perfection of what may always be a rough, tough sport, one can demand that it be kept as clean as possible. And the overriding scandal about boxing is that, while its popular appeal has been rising, its private morals have been falling. One of New York's own commissioners told SI last week: "Crime and corruption in boxing never have been as bad as they are today."
In looking for the cause of this decay, one is led by every route to elements operating with and within the International Boxing Club. What is this organization? Who runs it? How does it operate? These are basic questions in explaining the sorry condition of U.S. boxing.
The IBC was conceived six years ago this month, and its father, incongruously, was a squat, friendly, inoffensive publicity man named Harry Mendel, an old-time boxing writer and promotion artist who happened to be working for Joe Louis. By 1949 Louis was long past his peak as a fighter, and had the sense to know it. So did Harry Mendel, who had a suggestion for peace with honor and profit.