As the curtain was set to come down on the month of July, two big heavyweight matches loomed. One was Danny Williams vs. Mike Tyson. You know about the stunning ending to that bout. The other bout matched New Jersey State Boxing Commissioner, Larry Hazzard against New Jersey Gov., James McGreevey. That bout has been cancelled, not due to lack of interest, but because McGreevey is soon to become EX-Gov. McGreevey.
“Wait a second”, you say! “Hazzard and McGreevey aren’t heavyweights.” I beg to differ. They certainly are!
Hazzard, if you’re a newcomer to boxing or have been locked in a closet for almost 20 years (not the same closet McGreevey stepped out of!), is the New Jersey State Boxing Commissioner. He’s been at that position since 1985. Before that, he had two jobs. His fulltime job was that of a high school principal in Newark, New Jersey. In his part time job, he was a boxing referee. I’ll go so far as saying he was the finest third man ever to step into a ring. You read that correctly. That’s E-V-E-R to step into a ring (any time you want to debate me on that statement, I’d be glad to go one-on-one with you!). I’d say those qualifications make Hazzard nothing less than a heavyweight. As for McGreevey, he is a former New Jersey Senator. A few years ago, Jersey voters elected him to be their Governor. I’d say those qualifications make McGreevey nothing less than a heavyweight.
On August 12, McGreevey stunned the political world when he announced that:
- He is gay
- Had an extra-marital affair with a man, and
- Is stepping down as New Jersey Governor on November 15.
That bombshell announcement by McGreevey ended the pre-fight verbal war between himself and Hazzard. It's too bad their bout will no longer take place, as it would have been quite interesting to watch.
The buildup to the Hazzard-McGreevey match started earlier this year because Hazzard did one of the many things that boxing commissioners are supposed to do: He made a ruling on a boxer being licensed. In this case, the boxer was Mike Tyson, and Hazzard approved Tyson’s license application. The problem is, Gov. McGreevey didn’t care for Commissioner Hazzard’s ruling, and let everyone know it. Then he pulled rank and, in effect, reversed Hazzard’s ruling. Sorry, Governor Mac and any other Governor who happens to see this. Wrong move!
Sure, granting or rejecting Tyson for a license in New Jersey is now probably a mute point, as his career is as cloudy as Seattle, Washington, during rainy season. However, McGreevey has shown that Governors can and will step in to overrule their boxing commissioner on a boxing-related issue. The fear from this corner is that McGreevey’s over-involvement in this case will lead, not only his successor, but Governors from around the United States, to do the same thing when the situation (which carries the tremendous potential for photo opportunities and sound-bites!) presents itself. This is no longer about Tyson’s boxing license being approved or denied. It’s about a state governor interfering in a situation he clearly should keep out of.
In most states, the Governor nominates the boxing commissioner, who is then confirmed by the state legislature. The commissioner then serves out his term, working for the people of his/her state and serving “at the pleasure” of the Governor.
I worked for New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (1988-1994). When he was voted out of office in 1994, I was thrown out by the new regime 10 months later. Hey, that’s politics. That’s usually the way it goes. Hazzard has been fortunate. Brought in under N.J. Gov. Thomas Kean in 1985, he has survived four gubernatorial changes (with McGreevey’s announcement, make that five) over that period. Boxing is the winner for Hazzard staying aboard.
Presidents preside over countries. Governors govern their states. Mayors run cities. Boxing commissioners oversee boxing in their state. During my seven years in office, not once did I ever try to play Governor. Oh, I sat in Gov. Cuomo’s Albany and New York City offices, attended functions in the Governor’s mansion in Albany and attended staff meetings in the State Capitol, but I certainly knew my place. I left being Governor to Mario Cuomo.
To his credit, Cuomo knew his place. He had a massive state budget and lots of creepy Senators to deal with, along with tons of weighty issues. Being Governor of New York State was plenty for him. And so, he left being boxing commissioner to me. I made the boxing decisions. He did everything else.
For the first time, I can now, almost 10 years after his gubernatorial defeat to New York’s present governor, George Pataki, thank Gov. Cuomo for his “Hands Off” approach to me and the New York State Athletic Commission. Not once did Gov. Cuomo ever step in and exert his considerable political muscle over the commission he entrusted me with. Not once in seven years!
As I mentioned before, Gov. Cuomo left the regulation and administration of professional boxing to me, despite many headline-grabbing issues. Included among those issues were some pretty big names: Bob Arum, Don King, HBO, Madison Square Garden, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Roy Jones, Sugar Ray Leonard, Buddy McGirt, Howard Davis, and Aaron Pryor were just a handful of the names I dealt with. Are those names big enough? Oh, yes. There was also 22-year-old Mike Tyson. The vintage “Catskill Thunder.” He was then the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, and far wilder and more dangerous than the 38-year-old Mike Tyson who was beaten by Danny Williams on July 30. My commission never once ruled on an issue—Tyson or otherwise—only to wake up the following day and see in the newspapers that Gov. Cuomo had overruled us. Right or wrong, he stuck by us. Right or wrong, he backed us up.
Gov. McGreevey could have—and should have—learned something from remembering how Cuomo handled boxing issues in New York State. Obviously, he had other things on his mind. Other state governors should learn, as well. If they don’t remember, they can call Cuomo. I’m sure my former boss will take their call and gladly educate them.
Gov. McGreevey and the 49 other state governors have to understand—and it’s apparent McGreevey didn’t—that they should allow their state athletic commission to handle boxing matters big and small. They should merely watch the proceedings from afar. Gov. Jeb Bush lets Florida’s boxing commission run boxing in his state. Gov. Kenny Guinn lets Nevada’s five commissioners—whom he appoints—and Executive Director Marc Ratner run boxing there. The “Governator,” Arnold Schwarzenegger, allows California’s boxing commission to make all of the state’s boxing decisions. Gov. Cuomo, if I needed him, was always at hand, always ready to come to the telephone, always ready to meet with me, always ready to give his advice, always ready to back me up. McGreevey should have done exactly the same with his commission—the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board—and its commissioner, Larry Hazzard. He didn’t like it that Hazzard granted Tyson a license? Gov. McGreevey…deal with it! Hopefully, your successor will deal with boxing issues the way they should be dealt with.
The reason McGreevey wanted Tyson—who hasn’t fought in New Jersey since he KO’d Alex Stewart in the first round in 1990—turned down for a license, according to Micah Rasmussen, a spokesman for the governor, is that “The governor doesn’t think Tyson has the temperament to engage in good sportsmanship.” Sorry, Gov. That’s just not good enough.
As Charles Jay, President of the International Brotherhood of Prizefighters (IBOP) and Chairman of the Boxing Oversight Task Force, wrote in his June 22, 2004, letter to Gov. McGreevey, Tyson “has no outstanding warrants, no outstanding child support obligations, no new convictions and no suspensions from boxing commissions.”
Why, then, aside from outgoing-Gov. McGreevey feeling that Mike Tyson isn’t a very good sport, would he attempt to keep Tyson from obtaining a license and making a living? It is a living which, by the way, would bring enormous tax dollars to McGreevey’s state.
Every now and then, the American Medical Association (AMA) slams the sport of boxing in its medical journal (JAMA), calling for its abolition. Many times, they use an attack on boxing as a diversion from a particular issue, one that puts the AMA in a rather embarrassing public light. Or, they attack boxing because the sport makes for a good whipping boy and is sure to give the AMA the headlines they seek.
McGreevey is a politician, at least until November 15. Every politician loves headlines, especially when they come off looking like a morally-driven “do-gooder.” Denying the trouble-plagued Tyson made McGreevey look like that morally-driven “do-gooder,” especially in the eyes of so many of the women’s rights groups which have risen up and demanded that Tyson be banned in New Jersey. Tyson is not applying for an application to work at a women’s shelter or in a school for women. He is applying for a license to box, to fight, to work at what he has done, for the most part, so incredibly well since the turned professional in 1985.
If McGreevey really wanted to do the morally correct thing and really wanted to be a “do-gooder,” he would have kept his own house clean and backed off his anti-Tyson grandstand. He would have allowed the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board to make the ruling on Tyson’s being licensed or not. If McGreevey didn’t like Hazzard’s ruling, he should have taken over as the boxing commissioner in New Jersey. McGreevey should have started to attend all the fight cards. McGreevey should have presided at all the weigh-ins. McGreevey should have done the licensing. McGreevey should have selected the fight card’s officials. McGreevey should have done all it is that Larry Hazzard has done so well for the past 20 years.
Was it that Gov. McGreevey felt that, by overruling Hazzard and his agency, he was doing what is best for boxing, his state and his country? Absolutely not! It now becomes quite obvious why he did what he did in relation to Hazzard’s ruling over Tyson’s application.
We can only hope that McGreevey’s successor—and every other Governor who has a boxing commission in his/her state—allows the very agency, which was set up under state statutes of which he/she is supposedly so committed to, to follow through on a ruling made by the commission.
All a governor has to do it let the commission do the job that the taxpayers of the state pay them for.
If they don’t, if they go against their commission, the governor is looking at an ugly fight with their own agency. In this case, McGreevey was headed towards a nasty fight with Larry Hazzard.
That’s not something James McGreevey wants. Right now, he’s got his hands full with Mrs. McGreevey!