For the past seven years or so, representatives of the federal government, most notably Senator John McCain of Arizona, have sold people on the fact that they are concerned enough about the sport of professional boxing to investigate its ills and enact legislation that is designed to “clean up” the sport.
Some positives, I suppose, have resulted from this – the Professional Boxer Safety Act of 1996 set up certain Federal guidelines by which promoters, commissions, sanctioning organizations, etc. must comply with.
Then the Ali Act, spearheaded by McCain, served to amend the existing Federal law and add more guidelines, including those that relate to “coercive” (i.e., option) contracts.
A wonderful start for legislation aimed at bringing some order to a sport that is fundamentally chaotic, right?
Well, as the people at Hertz are famous for saying – not exactly.
That's because even if a law had been put together that “covered all the bases”, it is useless because it is not enforced, certainly not by most of the regulators across the country who have the responsibility to “police” boxing in their individual jurisdictions. There is no effective direction given to them by the national trade organization (the Association of Boxing Commissions), and of course, there is really no apparatus of enforcement set forth by any of the politicians involved with constructing the Ali Act, who must have been too busy posing for pictures and issuing press releases to consider the most important point about ANY bill that is passed into law – IT'S NOT THE QUALITY OF THE LAW THAT MATTERS, IT'S THE QUALITY OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE CHARGED TO ENFORCE IT.
This coming week, the United States government's sideshow continues. On Wednesday, May 22, the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation's subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce, and Tourism will once again bring forward several more boxing-related people to offer five-minute statements about all the horrible ills of the sport – statements that will be benign for the most part – and once again, they're likely to miss the mark entirely (with the possible exception of one panelist, which we'll discuss later).
And once again, we'll have legislation that, as a result, misses the mark as well.
The most fundamental thing you must understand about all of this, right from the outset, is that, quite simply, THE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T REALLY CARE.
Don't get me wrong – I'm sure the people in Congress would love for things to fall perfectly into place for them, so they can record their “slam dunk”, take the credit, and send everybody home. Boxing reform, however, is a complex issue that going to take a lot more work than has been done, and I'm not quite sure anyone in Washington is inclined to put forth that effort.
When push comes to shove, they don't really care about the welfare of boxers, or that of the industry. I mean, when you look at the big picture, why would they, when this very committee, chaired by Senator Byron Dorgan, has bigger items on its plate, like investigating the massive scandal at Enron?
Reforming boxing, by any measure, certainly takes a back seat to accounting reform, in terms of the public interest.
Let me tell you what the government DOES care about, vis-a-vis the boxing issue:
* A photo opportunity with someone like Muhammad Ali, who is being brought in just for that purpose.
* The opportunity for a few senators to tell people they were amateur boxers.
* An opportunity to score cheap points against an “opponent” that is defenseless. Unlike virtually any other issue Congress could possibly debate, whether it be health care reform, foreign policy, school vouchers, even campaign finance reform, there really isn't another side to the boxing issue. Oh sure, you could have the “state vs. Federal” argument, but essentially, there's no convincing argument AGAINST regulation, is there? I mean, how could the “institution” of boxing actually stand up, with a straight face, and contend that it is better NOT to be regulated? In that way, boxing reform and regulation is a SAFE issue for the politicians to hitch their wagon to.
* An opportunity to pander to McCain, with very little political cost. Let's put things squarely in perspective here. Boxing flies too low to show up on the national radar. To the VAST majority of people, it doesn't mean anything at all. It follows that it doesn't mean that much to most legislators. Therefore, there's no loss in political ground, regardless of party affiliation, to make any and all concessions to McCain with regard to what is generally considered to be one of his “pet” issues. Then, when someone else's pet issue arises down the line, McCain and those he can influence might constitute the difference in a committee or floor vote. It's nothing more than a “quid pro quo”. Politics as usual.
Use your head for a moment. If the government really cared…………
– You'd have heard some truth by now, not the endless parade of misinformation or non-information spewed by guest panelists that have been brought before the committee for little more than their “name value”.
– You'd have already seen legislation that would have addressed the needs of the rank-and-file fighter, not just that which concerns the high-visibility star, and in turn, creates the most publicity for a politician's special interest.
– You wouldn't have a problem in a state like Kentucky, which doesn't require ambulances or portable oxygen equipment to be at ringside.
– Indeed, you'd have seen Kentucky commissioner Jack Kerns dragged before the committee, and made to answer questions as to how he could possibly have allowed for the circumstances that are primarily responsible for former heavyweight champion Greg Page being in a wheelchair today.
– The committee would be quizzing Russell Peltz about just how, in his dual role as ESPN network representative and independent promoter, could he NOT be contributing to the restraint of trade in the boxing industry.
– You would see a public forum in which anyone who had something worthwhile to say about this issue could step up and present a case, instead of restricting free speech to a select group of people through whom they feel they can control the flow of information that is put forward.
– You'd have already seen something substantive in the way of effective, airtight legislation to deal with the nationwide implementation of boxing regulation. I don't think it's too much to ask; after all, the Congress has been at it in one way or another for over 35 years (during this process, we'll actually examine a bill which was deliberated way back in 1965).
Frankly – and I'm not being arrogant about this – if the government really cared about any of this, someone would have contacted ME by now, at least as a cursory measure. After all, no one has devoted more time to the out-of-mainstream issues of boxing reform as TotalAction has, and, truth be told, there has never been a better demonstration for the need for national regulation than our series, “Horse Manure Isn't The Only Thing That Stinks in Kentucky”, which exposed the deplorable and illegal behavior of the Kentucky State Athletic Commission in unnecessarily endangering the life of former heavyweight champion Page.
When I say I figured “someone” would have contacted me, I mean perhaps someone like Kenneth Nahigian, the minority counsel for the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation as it concerns the subject of boxing regulation and regulation. Nahigian, who works with McCain, is supposed to put some legal “teeth” into the Ali Act, so it can actually wind up accomplishing what it purportedly sets out to do.
Instead, in my one and only contact with Nahigian, which I initiated, and in which I offered to put forth any ideas in whichever way I could (including a lot of the stuff you'll see over the course of this special report), the message he communicated to me, in so many words, yet in no uncertain terms, was that not only is he completely uninterested in availing himself and his committee of any constructive, progressive, or imaginative methods of affecting boxing reform, but that he is even less interested in fielding any kind of feedback from interested parties who have not been hand-picked from his limited list of “sources”, which, for all I know, could be manipulated by some outside influence.
I have talked with some boxing commissioners in this country who have met with the same kind of indifference out of his office.
Why would the committee be interested in stonewalling input from “outside” sources? Well, in my case in particular, part of it may be that I don't fall into his hidden “agenda”. I'm not going to get up there and say what HE wants me to say, and I'm not going to be “pushing any buttons” for him.
According to insiders, Nahigian's overriding interest in this process is centered around one principal objective – to, at the behest of McCain, push through Pennsylvania administrator and former ABC president Greg Sirb as the head of a proposed Federal boxing commission; in effect, making Sirb the national boxing “czar”.
We'll measure the pros and cons of that soon enough.
Meanwhile, although Nahigian would prefer not to hear from YOU – at the government e-mail address he utilizes on a taxpayer-subsidized mail system, on taxpayer-subsidized time, while he collects a taxpayer-subsidized salary pushing legislation and agendas that he hopes taxpayers will subsidize as well – that doesn't necessarily mean he wouldn't change his mind, especially if he is confronted with coherent, thoughtful correspondence that demonstrates YOU care about fighter safety, regulatory control, consumer protection, and fair boxing business practices a lot more than HE apparently does.
We pretty much know where Nahigian, and people like him, stand. I would much rather know where YOU stand.
By all means, if you think what we're putting forth has any value at all, feel free to respond intelligently to any of our OPERATION CLEANUP stories, and we'd be absolutely delighted not only to pass along Mr. Nahigian's public e-mail address to you, so you can forward your comments, but to re-post your relevant feedback in a prominent way on THE FIGHT PAGE, just in case Nahigian or his colleagues choose to ignore it.
It's the least we can do.
And believe me, the least we WILL do.
Mark my words – they'll be listening soon enough.
Copyright 2002 Total Action Inc.