self-assured man on the opposite page seems to be eying a limitless and rosy
future. Yet he is a man who can at the moment see little farther than the ashes
on the big cigar he seems to puff so confidently. His name is Lou Radzienda and
he is the important member of the Illinois State Athletic Commission, better
known as the Illinois boxing commission. And yet Commissioner Radzienda is not
the important anything, for his term of office expired two months ago. If he is
thinking of anything at all, he is wondering if Governor William Stratton will
In the opinion
of a number of people, in and out of boxing, Radzienda has good reason to
wonder. His activities have excited a good deal of puzzlement and some concern
ever since last September, when he accepted the highest honor of his career—the
presidency of the National Boxing Association, the influential national body
composed of representatives from every boxing commission in the U.S. except New
York, whose members are prevented by state law from joining. Radzienda had been
well known to his fellow commissioners in the NBA for his outspoken criticism
of criminals in boxing. In 1954, for example, he told them that if local
authorities couldn't deal with the criminals, "the government should
perhaps abolish professional boxing for a year or two."
But in his
inaugural address Radzienda made a seemingly curious and incredible switch.
"Let us expose the liars, character assassinators, headline seekers,
fiction writers and boxing haters!" he cried. "Most of the attacks on
boxing and its officials...have become unjustified." Radzienda rounded out
his thoughts with a plea for charity for ex-convicts in boxing.
right-turnabout by Radzienda all but shattered NBA nerves. It need not have.
Had members scrutinized Radzienda's record and associations of the preceding
few years, they might have concluded earlier that his term in office would
prove to be something less than distinguished.
To look at him,
the 40-year-old Radzienda is like any other dumpy, cigar-smoking Chicago
politician. He was born back of the Union Stock Yards. His father ran a saloon
for a while and later a grocery store. A generous man, Radzienda senior
frequently "fed the street" during the Depression. Some of his
neighbors became politicians—among them, ex-mayor Martin H. Kennelly, present
Mayor Richard J. Daley and the late Secretary of Labor under President
Eisenhower, Martin Durkin. Others, like Big Joe Saltis and Spike O'Donnell,
became criminals. Radzienda junior got a good start. He boxed as a teenager,
went to business school for a while and then went to work as an errand boy for
the Catholic Youth Organization, where his knowledge of boxing and his real
ability and ambition quickly carried him to the position of boxing coach and,
eventually, athletic director.
In a word, his
references were still excellent at the precise moment in 1949 when Adlai
Stevenson, newly elected governor of Illinois, was faced with a vacancy on the
athletic commission. Ignorant of boxing, Stevenson asked his Libertyville
neighbor Lloyd Lewis, playwright, Civil War historian and distinguished drama
critic and sports editor of the Chicago Daily News, to recommend somebody.
Lewis turned to Bishop Bernard Sheil, the director of the CYO, and the Bishop
nominated his athletic director.
applied himself to his new job with characteristic energy. From the start he
put in a full day's work at the commission offices on the 17th floor of the
State of Illinois Building in the Loop. He has never become chairman of the
commission in name, but he is chairman in fact. Livingston Osborne, now 70, who
has had the title during Radzienda's entire tenure to date, has a law practice
to which he devotes part of his time. Johnny Behr, the third member, is able to
devote even less time than Osborne.
it was a natural step to the NBA. Formed in 1920 for "the furtherance of
clean sport," the NBA has no official moorings, but it seeks to govern
boxing nationally and member commissions follow its rulings more often than
not. It is boxing's largest body. There are prestige and perhaps good political
contacts in being its head. The president has the authority to approve or
disapprove championship matches. He also has the somewhat dictatorial power
(delegates could overrule him later) to suspend boxers and managers and
however, no money to be made directly from the NBA, a fact Radzienda is quick
to point out. In the seven years he has been a member of the Illinois
commission, his style of living has hardly changed. He earns only $340 a month
from the commission, and his home, located behind his wife's dry-cleaning store
due south of the Swift and Armour slaughterhouses, is humble and mortgaged.
youthful face and knowing manner, Radzienda rapidly established himself as a
man to watch in the NBA. He so impressed his fellow commissioners at the 1949
convention that they elected him to a vice-presidency, virtually assuring that
he would one day be president. In 1952 he attached himself to George Barton,
the dedicated sports columnist of the Minneapolis Tribune. President of the NBA
that year, Barton was outspoken in his opposition to criminals in boxing. So
was Radzienda. "All other sports are cleaned up," said Barton.
"They've even got the thieves out of horse racing." Radzienda warned
the NBA of "a phantom boxing commission ridiculing each one of us."
Barton said, "Boxing needs a commissioner of the stature of J. Edgar
Hoover." Radzienda added that a few managers were "getting filthy
rich.... The same faces work most of the corners." The NBA commissioners
cheered. In 1954, they elected Radzienda to the first vice-presidency.
Radzienda told the NBA, "The United States government should go after the
hoodlum element in this country when local authorities are unable to cope with