The 61st Round

(NOTE: The “Q & A” passages in these reports, as well as the direct quotes, are a product of a deposition taken from Nancy Black, dated October 14, 2002)

One of the things about boxing regulation that can make it so problematic is that, in each individual jurisdiction, it is done by a state entity – either an agency which more or less acts independently of other agencies, or a sub-division of some larger agency.

What brings about the problem is that quite often this produces an individual overseeing such regulation who is not necessarily qualified for the job. This is particuarly the case in states which do not have professional cards on a consistent basis.

The bureaucrat who does not know what he/she is doing will most likely lack an awareness of those critical elements that go into the proper regulation of the sport, whether it be the kind of quality control over sanctioned matches that protects the public, the assurance that fighters and others associated with boxing promotions will get paid as promised, or the compliance with what may be considered reasonable safety standards, whether it be something required by law or not.

Negative outcomes are invariably going to happen when the people in charge of enforcing such standards are lacking in experience, or derelict in their duties.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this in recent years is the former administrative head of the Kentucky Athletic Commission – a woman named Nancy Black. Hers should surely be an instructive tale – an example of what can and will go wrong when the head of an agency – indeed, someone who is generally considered to be responsible by his/her superiors – is asleep at the wheel, showing not only an indifference to any and all duties associated with an office, but such an arrogant defiance about this indifference, to the point where it gravitated to a kind of “naked” disregard for them.

Don't know.

Don't care.

Don't talk to me about it.

There are many people who were contributory to the near-death of Greg Page in a Kentucky ring on March 9, 2001, but Nancy Black might very well be considered the person who truly enabled this incident to occur, because she should have known better but consciously chose not to.

I wonder how feasible it would be for someone like David Stern to function as commissioner of the National Basketball Association without ever attending a basketball game. Or for Donald Rumsfeld to be named the Secretary of Defense without ever having been on a military base. Or for someone to be named head of a major movie studio without ever having been on, or near, a movie set.

Surely those are laughable concepts.

In 1998, Nancy Black was named as the executive director (i.e., the day-to-day administrative head) of the Kentucky Athletic Commission, not to mention one of its sitting commissioners. Yet, as of the fateful night in Erlanger, when Greg Page was knocked out by Dale Crowe and slipped into a coma, without the benefit of oxygen, an ambulance, or a licensed physician at ringside, SHE HAD NEVER BEEN TO A BOXING MATCH IN HER ENTIRE LIFE.

How could something like that possibly happen?

Well, perhaps a quick look back at the history of Ms. Black is in order.

Nancy Black would seem to fit the textbook definition of “political creature”.

A native of Owensboro, Kentucky, Black graduated from Georgia State University in 1969 with a degree in political science and shortly thereafter went to work at the Council of State Governments, a group involved in suggesting model legislation to, and writing it for, various state legislatures. In 1974 she went to work for the state of Kentucky's Department of Local Government, and later went on to the Justice Cabinet for the Kentuck Crime Commission.

Black worked in the campaigns of several candidates for state and county offices, some of which won and some of which lost their elections. Essentially, when they won, she had a job in the bureaucracy. For example, after campigning for Martha Lane Collins, who won the gubernatorial election in 1982, she became the governor's director of scheduling, a post she held until 1986. In 1998, she was appointed by Gov. Paul Patton as director of the Division of Occupations and Professions, the position she currently holds.

As part of Black's duties, she supervises twenty different boards, only one of which is the Kentucky Athletic Commission. She is executive director of each of the boards, but the KAC is only board of which she is a member.

According to Black's October 14, 2002 deposition, “My responsibilities are to provide staff, technical support, handle fiscal and budgetary matters, and ensure that the athlete – the members of the Kentucky Athletic Commission activities remain within the laws and regulations governing state agencies and payment of per diem and travel and any other state directives under the executive branch of government.”

Jack Kerns, the ill-fated former chairman of the Kentucky Athletic Commission, was in place already prior to Black's arrival in her current position with Occupations and Professions.

But even Kerns could offer no real guidance to Black as she grew into her responsibility with a sport whose commissions were administered almost exclusively by men.

In terms of learning what she could about boxing, there was no formal method of training or orientation available through the devices of her state, so whatever she knows is taken from ABC “seminars” at the national convention. Needless to say, what she knows isn't much:

“Q: All right. Are there any training sessions that – or is there any training available for the members of the Kentucky Athletic Commission to tell them how to go about doing their job?”

A: Yes.

Q: All right. Tell me about that.

A: The training is offered through the Association of State Boxing Commissions.

Q: And how often is that training?

A: They have an annual meeting and then a regional meeting annually in which they conduct training seminars.

Q: Do you have – do you maintain at the Kentucky Athletic Commission any of the training materials that are used in those training sessions?

A: No.”

And a few minutes later…………….

“Q: Did any of that training have to do with assessing a participant with regard to injury or brain injury or level of consciousness?

A: Not that I recall.

Q: Have you ever had training in those areas, in assessing the condition of a participant, boxer, wrestler, in terms of his neurologic condition, his level of consciousness or degree of injury?

A: No.

Q: To your knowledge, has any member of the commissioner had that – or excuse me – has any member of the Kentucky Athletic Commission had that typw of training?

A: I don't know.

Q: Has the Kentucky Athletic Commission maintained any materials on how to go about assessing a participant's neurologic condition or level of consciousness or degree of injury?

A: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Are there any – and I can't remember if I've asked you this before or not. I have. I asked you about qualifications. You don't know of any particular qualifications for being a member of the commission – the Kentucky Athletic Commission?

A: No.”

Black went on to explain that experience with any phase of professional boxing was not a requirement for someone to serve on the commission, and that she was not at all familiar with any specific qualifications Kerns had for being involved with the regulatory structure.

In fact, Black never really considered actually attending professional boxing events to be an important component of her job as the state's chief boxing administrator:

“Q: Do you ever attend any boxing matches as a representative of the Kentucky Athletic Commission?

A: Normally, no.

Q: Have you ever?

A: Yes

Q: Which matches have you attended as a representative of the athletic commission?

A: I attended a match in Owensboro, Ketucky.

Q: And who was that?

A: That was an ESPN-sponsored………

Q: Do you remember who the participants were?

A: No sir.

Q: Do you remember when it was?

A: It was in 2000.”

That was, of course, a misrepresentation of the dates. Before Page was injured, Black had never gone to a pro fight in her three years on the commission. And the fight she refers to in 2000 was in fact on March 23, 2001 – two weeks after the Greg Page-Dale Crowe fight, when she was seemingly scared to death NOT to go to the fight. Bones Adams was in the main event, and the show became noteworthy because ESPN's “Outside the Lines” crew, which had come down to interview her and cover the story of Page's near-fatal accident, brought a hidden camera into the venue to watch her “do her job”. In this case, her “job” consisted of inspecting the ring before the card – an interesting proposition, considering she had never seen a ring before.

So she lied. What else is new? In my one and only conversation with her, Nancy Black lied almost right off the bat when she told me she was an attorney, explaining that it was how she was so familiar with the federal legislation concerning boxing. Of course, in her deposition, she admits the opposite, ultimately about her level of education and her familiarity with safety standards mandated by federal law, although it took some teeth-pulling to get it out of her.

Of course, with all of those state boards to oversee, it may indeed be understandable if something like boxing kind of got lost in the shuffle, especially for a common bureaucrat who may in truth hold her position for reasons other than those dictated by sheer qualification.

But what ISN'T understandable; what is in fact inexcusable, is to be so willingly ignorant of state and federal regulations that affect the governance of your agency.

Given enough rope to hang herself, Black couldn't have illustrated this more boldly.

That comes next.

Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.