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The obviously 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 reappoint him.
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.
This 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.
Radzienda 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.
For Radzienda, 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 promoters.
There is, 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.
With his 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 the problem."