There has never been a Wagner Act for prizefighters, and in this enlightened age most of them remain patient and obedient vassals of the manager and the promoter; they are considered muscular children and are expected to speak when spoken to, train hard, engage in combat when ordered and accept disappointing' financial arrangements cheerfully. The fighter with temerity enough, or brains enough, to buck the system can expect to go hungry; even so great a champion as Rocky Marciano dumbly submitted to the whims of an Al Weill. But for years, Sugar Ray Robinson, a man of airy and daring selfishness, has beaten the rulers of boxing's nether world at their own slippery games; last week with consummate arrogance he put the squeeze on Jim Norris himself and made him spit dollars.
The middleweight champion's ironic grab at Mr. Big's pocketbook concerned, of course, his upcoming battle at Yankee Stadium with Welterweight Champion Carmen Basilio. It began with a gesture that has made many a promoter's blood run cold before; Sugar quit training and publicly announced that the fight—which is expected to gross a million dollars—was off. Norris, he stated, had not consulted him in contracting for closed-circuit theater television with Theatre Network Television, Inc., despite an "ancilliary" clause in his contract which, he said, gave him the right to participate in the deal. A competing company—Teleprompter Corporation—had offered him a minimum of $250,000 (although it had offered none to Carmen Basilio) and he wouldn't move a muscle until he got it.
Norris seemed genuinely astounded. Most fighters, particularly at the age of 37, do not carp at million-dollar gates. Robinson had already demanded 45% instead of 40% of the television returns, and had refused to sign in the first place until Basilio surrendered five of his 25%. The IBC had agreed to spread payment over three years to ease his tax problems. But Robinson was no less indignant for all that; Norris, he charged, had hurriedly signed with TNT even as he, Sugar, was clamoring for consideration of Teleprompter's offer. "I have telephoned Governor Harriman," he announced loftily. "This now deals with human rights." He added, darkly, that he was "absolutely not" training and later mused that he was being forced to take sleeping pills because of worry and strain.
Dramatically garbed in charcoal slacks and a white sport shirt edged in finest gold thread, he appeared, with Norris and a gesturing gaggle of lawyers, before the New York boxing commission. Chairman Julius Helfand refused to rule on "side agreements" and suggested that Sugar seek redress in the civil courts, but made it plain that Sugar could not duck out on the fight. Robinson instantly restated his position: "I am not refusing to fight. If my health permits [Sugar has been known to sicken before financially unsuitable battles] I will be ready, willing and able to fight. But if, on entering the ring, I see or hear of any television cameras...I'm walking right out of that ring."
When Norris fell ill of food poisoning a little later, however, and was lugged off to a hospital, Robinson reacted uncommonly like a man who sees an unopened money bag in danger of slipping into the ocean. "Don't worry, Jim," he said, soothingly, walking by the stretcher. "Everything will be all right." Doubtless these friendly words had less effect on Norris than painful memories of Robinson's sharp trading in the past—and, it seemed quite likely, some feeling that the IBC's legal position was less than unassailable. At any rate, after interminable conferences, TNT, Norris' chosen instrument, capitulated and offered Robinson a minimum guarantee of $250,000 to be underwritten by the IBC. Robinson (through George Gainford—a manager he keeps as most managers keep fighters) refused to accept it and slyly raised his demand to $300,000. "If this demand is confirmed," sputtered the IBC lawyer Sydney O. Friedman, "the IBC will promptly bring an action...for breach of contract."
Sugar was unimpressed; to his well-trained ears these angry sounds simply meant that the jackpot was almost ready to pay off. On the following afternoon, after a nine-day strike which will doubtless go down in boxing lore with the rape at Shelby, he permitted the IBC to guarantee him a television minimum of $255,000 ( Basilio, who had earlier termed him an "arrogant and greedy" man, automatically became the beneficiary of a $110,000 minimum) or 45% of television returns—whichever is larger. Teleprompter Corporation was allowed to join TNT in televising the fight. Sugar Ray agreed, with princely good humor, to start training once more.
Six men sat on a dais in an auditorium in Washington, D.C. last week, listening to speakers who rose and addressed them from what is normally the audience. The listeners were officials of the Treasury Department, whose Internal Revenue Service, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, makes regulations concerning interstate traffic in firearms and ammunition.
The bureaucrats were holding a public hearing on proposed changes in the regulations, and they heard plenty—from Senators, Congressmen, police officers and private citizens; and also from gun dealers, rifle associations, outdoor groups and dealers in antique guns. The hearing, scheduled to take place in a fairly large room, was moved to an auditorium in order to take care of the crowd.