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The supreme court of the United States, in a decision read from the Bench by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled Monday by a 6-2 vote that boxing, unlike baseball, is in interstate commerce and so is subject to the federal antitrust laws. The Department of Justice now can proceed with prosecution of its complaint against the International Boxing Club ( James D. Norris, president) to the effect that the IBC and affiliates have monopolized the sport to the detriment of other promoters, boxers and such side beneficiaries as TV, broadcasting and the public.
In the complaint, first filed in March, 1952, the Justice Department asked that IBC and its fellow defendants be compelled "to restore free and open competition" to boxing.
On this point, Chief Justice Warren reviewed the government case that Norris and his companions had sewed up TV (which, with a lesser take from radio and movies, represents 25% or more of the promoter's return in present-day boxing) and had used Joe Louis, then heavyweight champion, to sew up the leading contenders for the title he resigned (see box).
While the court's two dissenters, Felix Frankfurter and Sherman Minton, held respectively that earlier baseball decisions applied to boxing and that sport in general is outside the antitrust laws, Chief Justice Warren referred to a prior court decision which made clear that the baseball example could not be used to exempt any segment of the entertainment business from antitrust regulation.
The Supreme Court decision does not mean that the boxing millennium is here. Its ruling has nothing to do directly with control of boxing by hoodlums and murderers. There is, however, an indirect effect. The ruling does permit the Justice Department to prosecute boxing's control by the hoodlums' good friend, Jim Norris. And this is close indeed to the heart of the matter, for as Norris openly tied up the best sports arenas and TV contracts, so the mobsters have taken surreptitious control of the best and most promising boxers. The Syndicate could not prosper, by Syndicate standards, under circumstances of "free and open competition." It needs monopoly.
If the Justice Department succeeds in establishing that the Norris-IBC monopoly is illegal (the Supreme Court ruled that it was entitled to resume prosecution on this basis) then other promoters will have a chance.
As to the other side of the coin—undercover control of leading boxers by mobsters—some of the states have begun to act. Their specific aim: elimination of the hoodlum element. They are, moreover, two of the states which are most important to boxing. The first is New York, where Julius Helfand, racket-busting prosecutor, has begun to function under Governor Averell Harriman's order that he clean up boxing. The second is Pennsylvania, where Governor George M. Leader and Attorney General Herbert B. Cohen last week pledged themselves to a boxing cleanup aimed directly at the racketeers who have long made Philadelphia boxing notorious. A legislative investigation has been proposed.
This is a good start and, if both states carry out their announced intentions, may be almost enough. For a state-by-state cleanup of boxing is neither likely nor necessary. Very few of the 48 states contain major boxing centers. An adequate decontamination program need only strike at the main centers of boxing, where the big fights are held and where the major portion of the racketeers' investment lies.
Now, in addition to state action, the sword of the FBI dangles over the hoodlums' heads, thanks to the Supreme Court decision. For if boxing is in interstate commerce within the meaning of the antitrust laws, then the FBI becomes the investigative body to probe boxing for the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. In the past, state investigations of boxing have begun well and have ultimately fizzled because of state politics. But the FBI is as removed from local political pressures as a government agency can be.