Telling a man when to fight or not to fight can be tricky business. It gets even harder after he passes the required physical and neurological tests administered by a state athletic commission.
But about this I feel certain: Thomas Hearns should not fight. At 46 years old and five years removed from his last bout, I believe he is jeopardizing his future by fighting. I don't need a medical degree to draw that conclusion.
Just as I feel certain about these things: Smoking is bad for your health. Drinking while driving can be fatal. Barry Bonds took steroids. (Oops, that's for another column.)
I feel certain about this: Prolonged exposure to taking punches, particularly past the age of 40, can cause neurological damage.
Yes, yes, I know. There is George Foreman. He remains the exception to the rule.
Hearns, perhaps the greatest offensive fighter of his generation, returns to the ring on July 30 against journeyman John Long. Also on that card, his son Ronald will fight as a middleweight. Ronald is 26 and has a 6-0 record.
Tommy, enjoy your son, enjoy his career. I'm sure he has enjoyed yours. There is plenty of video that captured your greatest hits. He doesn't need to see it live.
It will have been over five years since Hearns last fought. On that night, April 8, 2000, he lost to Uriah Grant when he could no longer continue after a sprained ankle in the second round. The next time I figured I'd see Hearns was at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canastota. Which, by the way, would have been next June.
The elder Hearns has said that he wants to win one more title. Why? It will not enhance his record. He is already a first-ballot hall-of-famer. He is already an all-time great. He has made millions and there have been no reports that he is in financial trouble.
Another world title will not be worth the possible health risk a return to boxing poses. Years ago there were whispers that your speech was slurring. Forget about fight night. What about the blows to the head he will take during sparring as he builds up to each fight?
No good can come of this.
Okay, Tommy, don't listen to me. Read between the lines of what your longtime friend and manager, Emanuel Steward, had to say in the Detroit News.
"Of all the fighters I have worked with, he's still my favorite," Steward was quoted as saying the newspaper. "I'll just wish him good luck. I won't ever underestimate Tommy because he's such a strong-minded guy. Some of my biggest thrills in boxing have come with him. But in this case, I'll just wish him good luck."
Who knows what he had to say to you in private. In public, he was being polite.
I will too. I'll even say please.
Tommy, PLEASE don't fight.