In 2002, Charles Jay created quite a bit of confusion in the boxing industry with his Lewis-Tyson hoax, and literally caused one major newspaper to stop the presses. Even though you can now see him coming, you still had better be on the lookout.
Posted April 1, 2005
(NOTE: Parts of this story include material that was previously published at TotalAction.com)
Sometimes the plans that appear to be the most elaborate are instead the result of thoughts and actions with a much more spontaneous origin.
Take my infamous April Fool’s joke, for instance.
Ever since I began writing about boxing I had it in mind to do something special for April Fool’s Day. But the ideas, which I tossed around somewhat casually, always fell short in the way of creativity. Stories that are too ridiculous or fanciful to be believed are good for a chuckle or two, but that’s about all.
I wasn’t exactly planning on doing anything for the year 2002, but on Saturday, March 30, a story written by Dean Juipe of the Las Vegas Sun had caught my attention, and set the wheels in motion.
Juipe’s piece addressed the troubled matchup between heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, which had been disallowed in Nevada in the aftermath of the celebrated press conference altercation, and had all kinds of difficulty finding a home before settling in Memphis. According to the story, Tyson had been advanced plenty of money by Showtime over the years and found himself with a tab to pay – a figure ranging from $8 million-$12 million. Showtime figured the best way to collect the debt was to step up with some of the financing to make the fight happen. But it was no slam dunk that Tyson wasn’t going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into such an arrangement.
The question on some people’s minds was whether the fight might fall through in light of this new set of circumstances.
And so I had my target.
What I would do was write a story declaring that my website – TotalAction.com – had it on exclusive authority that the fight was off, and used the Juipe story as base material to provide the rationale for such a cancellation. I would structure the hoax so that it was sent as close to the stroke of midnight as possible, and would supply comic relief for as long as reporters might not be able to contact some of the “players” during the holiday weekend.
I needed to create the suspension of disbelief, so the story had to be written in a very straightforward manner, able to deceive all but the most sophisticated viewers. It had to be utterly without point of view. It had to look like the work of a beat reporter; something you might read on the wire services.
Of course, this was no ordinary story. It was a published report, on a highly-respected website, that the most anticipated heavyweight title fight in recent memory, one that had generated millions and millions of dollars in free publicity and was expected to generate more pay-per-view revenue than any other, was simply not happening.
Because I felt I might be dealing with something sensitive and potentially explosive, I decided to spend nearly my entire Easter Sunday thinking about whether I really wanted to carry this thing out.
I went to a party and thought about it. I drove people home and though about it. I sat in front of my computer and thought about it. It seemed I contemplated it for hours and hours and hours, just as Jackson Pollack did before painting his famous “Mural.” Then, like Pollack, I made the decision to put my nose to the grindstone and polished off the entire job in one furious session.
The story that Lewis-Tyson had been cancelled was to be sent first to my large e-mail newsletter list, and then posted on the website. I figured I would go to sleep, exhausted, shortly thereafter, and wait to see if the piece got any reaction from “key” people.
Naturally, there was the moment before I clicked the “Send” button when I asked myself if I should just forget about the whole thing; whether it was worth ticking a few people off to provide amusement for the masses (assuming there were going to be masses).
And then I heard a little voice telling me, “Send it! Send it!”
Actually it was my niece, who was three years old at the time.
But what the hell; it gave me my excuse.
So send it I did.
This is what came out on the other end:
LEWIS-TYSON FIGHT IS OFF – MAYBE FOR GOOD
This time, it's not a politician, not a commission, not a cop – Mike's done it to himself
By CHARLES JAY, Editor/Publisher, TotalAction.con
As of Sunday evening, the on-again, off-again June 8th Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis heavyweight title fight, which has been sidetracked by a brawl at the New York press conference, the refusal of Tyson's licensure in several states, protests from politicians and women's groups across the country, and the struggle to find a venue – is off again. This time, however, it appears Tyson himself is the one who has put the brakes on.
Persons close to the promotion indicated that the matter of Tyson's debts to Showtime – a result of previous advances that were made to him for fights – has become a very contentious point. Tyson, according to published reports, owes the network anywhere from $8-$12 million (our information is that the figure is $10.5 million). The prospect of collecting this debt apparently served as a motivational factor in Showtime stepping in and guaranteeing $8.5 million of the required $12.5 million site fee to Main Events, the lead promoter of the fight. This happened as Prize Fight Boxing, a group of Tennessee businessmen that included Nashville promoter Brian Young, had been able to secure only $4 million in a letter of credit by last Monday's deadline. Young's group, which has secured the Pyramid Arena in Memphis for the fight, was able to pull together the balance on Friday, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Reportedly, Tyson also owes $900,000 to Mat Tinley of America Presents, an issue which has taken on added importance over the last ten days, in light of the major financial trouble the Denver-based promoter is having. Tinley has indicated that collecting from Tyson is critical to his company; that's something that likely won't happen if Tyson doesn't fight Lewis.
Instead of paying Showtime, Tinley, and others, Tyson is insisting on turning over only $2 million to the network, and making the difference up over a period of several subsequent fights (including a Lewis rematch), according to TOTAL ACTION's sources who are close to the situation. It is not clear whether Tyson plans to settle with Tinley or not. “This is going to be the biggest fight in history,” one member of Tyson's camp told us, “and Mike is the attraction. He simply isn't going to fight for next to nothing. And him and the network are far apart in figuring out this thing. He's told me it's not happening.” Showtime executives, who wanted a substantially larger payment, have indicated that the kind of arrangement Tyson wants is, in their words, “absolutely unacceptable”, hence the impasse that would appear to have brought pre-fight preparations to a halt. Tyson and Lewis were slated to earn at least $17.5 million apiece for their efforts, plus a “back end” percentage of the pay-per-view revenues.
Lewis, who was fully prepared to exercise other options during the period Shelly Finkel (Tyson's advisor) and Main Events were feverishly searching for a site, is apoplectic. “I'm sick and tired of this. I'm telling you, this man just doesn't want to get in the ring with me,” Lewis reportedly told a UK radio program. “He knew what his obligations were, and he just made up an excuse not to fight. I'm going to do whatever I have to do to move forward with my career.”
For the last two months, Young and his Prize Fight Boxing group have worked hard to raise money and lobby Finkel to bring the fight to Tennessee. They're not about to give up now, though things don't look promising. “We haven't heard anything about a cancellation or a postponement. We're just going to go ahead and do the things we have to do,” said Alan Smithee, one of Young's associates and part of the group that defied all odds in bringing the fight to Memphis. Other members of Young's group, however, were a lot more despondent. Former University of Memphis basketball coach Larry Finch, who along with his brother Sidney and three ex-Memphis players are investors in the group, said, “You have to be really careful listening to people like this. You can't believe everything you hear, everything you read. We just didn't pay close enough attention. It's like they write things in code. Things have been moving at 168 miles an hour, but does anybody even know what day it is?”
Optimism certainly was not in abundance at City Hall. Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who had been quoted previously as saying he went “way out on a limb” in helping recruit the event to the area, was enjoying an Easter dinner with family members and friends when he received a call informing him of the bad news. Understandably, he did not take it well. “The mayor was led to believe that any and all details guaranteeing this fight had been put in place,” Irving Clifford, one of Herenton's press aides, said. “We had already set the wheels in motion with our own office, the Chamber of Commerce, the convention and visitors bureau, and local law enforcement, not to mention all the area hotels. A lot of businesses made commitments in anticipation of this event. What does everybody do now?”
Only two days after announcing ticket prices for the fight (which were $400, $750, $1200, and $2000), officials at TicketMaster and the Pyramid Arena have now been informed that there won't be any tickets to sell after all. “It's better this happened now, rather than two weeks out from the fight, when we might have had 20,000 refunds to execute,” said Rosie Ruiz, a spokesperson for the Pyramid. One hotel manager, however, says this cancellation creates an unwanted logistical problem. “We already had our entire allotment of rooms blocked,” says Sol Nazerman, who runs some Comfort Inns in the area. “Now with the situation the way it is, we are effectively in a state of limbo. I mean, we could release the reservations, but what if Mike Tyson wakes up some day next week and decides he wants to fight?”
Lewis-Tyson was expected to be perhaps the highest-grossing pay-per-view fight in history; some put the revenue estimates in the $100-$125 million range. And the avalanche of pre-fight publicity might have pushed the figure well beyond that. But Tyson's explosive, unpredictable behavior, which has long been a part of his general appeal, has evidently worked to his detriment. The champion says he will most likely comply with the International Boxing Federation if it asks him to commit to a fight with #1 heavyweight challenger Chris Byrd. “Maybe Mike Tyson isn't a fighter, or doesn't want to be,” Lewis told the radio audience. “That's going to be his problem, not mine. I'm still a fighter. And a fighter has to fight. Do I have to spell that out for everyone?”
Some April Fool’s jokes work; some don’t.
This one worked.
The next day, it appears that at least a part of the boxing world was thrown into a state of chaos.
I mean, I figured there was going to be at least a LITTLE reaction. But what actually happened went way beyond my expectations.
What gave the story so much resonance is the fact that it WAS so believable; not only was it a scenario that COULD conceivably had happened, it's what a lot of people apparently thought might just happen. And as I’ve mentioned, it was written specifically with that in mind.
The hate mail, the unfriendly posts on the newsgroups – which accounted for about 2% of overall reaction – spoke of “journalistic credibility.” The ironic part of it is that precisely because I probably demonstrate more credibility in one story than most people in this business do in their entire lives, some people fell for the prank hook, line and sinker.
Yeah, those people were angry, especially the ones who flooded the Main Events and Showtime offices with phone calls that Monday morning and would never admit to it. But you have to expect that on April Fool’s Day, people might be looking for a hoax here or there. The difference is that if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right. How many April Fool’s stories have been such dead giveaways right from the first line that they don’t even serve their purpose? Heck, THAT’S no fun.
And I’m even less apologetic when you consider that I left enough clues around to tip off anyone who was even remotely wordly.
In fact, if you'll indulge me for a second, allow me to introduce you to my cast of characters:
ALAN SMITHEE (member of the Memphis group) — “Alan Smithee” is such a well-known “inside joke” in Hollywood that it's almost in the public domain. It's the name a director would use in the credits if, for whatever reason (usually a creative conflict or disgust with the final result), he flat-out did not want his name associated with a film. Through the years the name has been used so many times that the Director's Guild won't even allow anyone to do it anymore. Pop the name into any search engine and see for yourself.
IRVING CLIFFORD (press aide to Memphis mayor Willie Herenton) — Actually, this should read “Irving, Clifford” – as in Clifford Irving, who served jail time for authoring a phony “authorized biography” of Howard Hughes about 30 years ago. If you recall (and you may not), the hoax had reached such controversial proportions that a bizarre press gathering was arranged, where Hughes, whose office had denounced the book as a phony, came in over a special phone hookup and spoke in public for the first time in years, so that a number of journalists could validate whether it was his real voice or not.
SOL NAZERMAN (Memphis hotel manager) — This was the name of the character Rod Steiger played so masterfully in the classic film “The Pawnbroker”. But it's also the name of a fictitious heavyweight who became the focal point of one of the bigger boxing hoaxes ever. Many years ago, Flash Gordon, the notorious tabloid writer, wanted to demonstrate how easy it would be for phony fights and records to show up in the Ring Record Book. So he began to submit bogus results for a non-existent New York heavyweight named Sol “Bagel Boy” Nazerman, and sure enough, Nazerman's fights showed up in the magazine, and to the best of my knowledge, the record book as well.
LARRY FINCH (Memphis basketball coach and investor in the promotion) — Actually, this is a real person. It was ironic that the story appeared on the day of the NCAA title game, because Finch also played on the Memphis State team that went to the finals of the NCAA tournament in 1973 (scoring 29 points in a loss to Bill Walton and UCLA). I couldn't resist the temptation to use someone with the name “Finch” who had Memphis ties, because I brought his fictional brother “Sidney” into the equation. “Sidd Finch”, you may recall, was the subject of a splendid April Fool's Day joke by Sports Illustrated in 1985; the story of a New York Mets pitcher, “schooled in a monastery in Tibet”, who could throw a baseball 168 miles an hour but mysteriously left training camp a week before the season. But don't take my word for it – just go to Page 25 of that week's Sports Illustrated.
Ah yes, and finally, ROSIE RUIZ.
You know, by far the most hilarious image I took from this whole thing was the very idea of an editor for a site called “Fight News” picking up the phone, spending money on a long-distance call to the Pyramid Arena in Memphis (site of the Lewis-Tyson fight), and demanding to speak to someone named “Rosie Ruiz”. Based on his subsequent report that “Officials categorically deny the existence of 'Rosie Ruiz' as an employee in any capacity,” I can just imagine how that conversation went:
PYRAMID: “Good afternoon, The Pyramid.”
IGNORANT EDITOR: “Yes, can I speak to Rosie Ruiz?”
PYRAMID: “Can you hold please?”
IGNORANT EDITOR: “Sure.”
(Then, under his breath) “Okay, I'll finally get this MFer.”
PYRAMID: “I'm sorry sir. There is no Rosie Ruiz in this office.”
IGNORANT EDITOR: “Yes there is. Let me talk to her.”
PYRAMID: “Sir, there IS no Rosie Ruiz working here.”
IGNORANT EDITOR: “Yes there is, dammit! Look in the mail room. The parking lot. The concession stands. The rest rooms. Sh**, maybe she's driving the goddamned Zamboni!”
PYRAMID: “Sir, I have a list of everyone who works here – and she doesn't work here”.
IGNORANT EDITOR: “Well, maybe it's a HE. I remember some guy called himself Rosie Grier once.”
PYRAMID: “Please sir, I'm trying to tell you……”
IGNORANT EDITOR: “I don't think you understand. This is Fightnews calling, ma'am.”
PYRAMID: “Excuse me?”
IGNORANT EDITOR: “Goddammit! Put her on the phone. I know she's there. Look it up!”
PYRAMID: “Sir, I'm sorry….”
IGNORANT EDITOR: “(Bleep), don't you know who I am? This is FIGHTNEWS. Sixty million (bleeping) hits a day! More people read us than the goddamned New York Times, the USA Today, the Readers Digest, and the Ladies Home Journal combined!! I can have you fired just by making a phone call! But if you don't let me speak to Rosie Ruiz right this second I'm gonna tie you to a goddamned tree and…………”
PYRAMID: (click, followed by dial tone)
IGNORANT EDITOR: (incensed) “I'll get to the bottom of this sh**!”
You know, It’s now been three years and I’m STILL not altogether sure whether he gets it or not.
Rosie Ruiz, as many of you who read the story accurately recalled, was the woman who essentially popped out of the crowd, about a half-mile from the tape, to win the women's division of the Boston Marathon in record time in 1980. Of course, fame turned very quickly into infamy when it was discovered what Ruiz had done – indeed, it was revealed that Ruiz hadn't been seen by anyone on the course before crossing the finish line.
This was only after she had previously taken a subway from Queens nearly all the way to the Central Park finish line during the New York marathon, managing to remain undetected while she ended the race with a very respectable 23rd-place time.
Most people with a little background in sports couldn't possibly forget the shameful Ruiz incident, which has endured to a great degree throughout the years. In fact, Juipe wrote a story that addressed it in January of 2000. And another of our own writers here at The Sweet Science – George Kimball of the Boston Herald, is the guy who actually “outed” Ruiz in the first place, right after the race happened.
I left other clues as well:
– Apparently very few readers noticed that I identified myself from “TotalAction.CON”?
– When I used the quotes from Larry Finch, that should have been enough to give it all away right there – “You have to be really careful listening to people like this. You can't believe everything you hear, everything you read. We just didn't pay close enough attention. It's like they write things in code. Things have been moving at 168 miles an hour (an obvious reference to Sidd Finch), but does anybody even know what day it is?”
– Those that paid enough attention could go right down the page, reading the first letter of every paragraph, which was large and bold. The letters spelled out A-P-R-I-L-F-O-O-L. And like Lewis said (or really didn't) at the end of the story, “Do I have to spell that out for everyone?”
Now let's get back to that Fight News report, which contained this quote from a “source”:
“This is a malicious attempt by a non-credible internet site to perpetrate a April Fool's prank,” stated a source within the Tyson camp. “Boxing is a serious business. Mike's fight with Lewis is not a joking matter. We have enough controversy without an ill-mannered joke. This is damaging to the promotion, especially with tickets on sale in the next few days. We are looking into legal action.”
Okay. “Boxing is a serious business. Mike's fight with Lewis is not a joking matter.” Well, it wasn't so serious that the New York press conference wasn't scripted, was it? Tyson admitted as much after the events took place. When you script an altercation at a press conference, who is pulling the prank on who?
“This is damaging to the promotion.” Well, if I could sit there and have enough influence to damage a promotion to the degree the quote implies, not only would I, by definition, have to be credible, but it would logically follow that I also carry enough influence to HELP the promotion, doesn't it? I guess I should have been expecting the people from SET, HBO, Main Events, and every other entity involved in to be beating down my door to advertise, right? That’s not quite the way it happened. I didn't buy the comment then and I don’t buy it now. If such a thing were ever said, it would be strictly for the purpose of convenience.
“We are looking into legal action.” Well, it's one thing to use an “unnamed source” to perpetuate a hoax; but when has an anonymous “source” ever served up a credible rebuttal or denial? Has anyone ever TRIED to? Can an example of that be found? Isn't part of the idea of denying something that someone CREDIBLE and UP-FRONT has to issue that denial? Was this editor pulling an April Fool's joke on himself without knowing it? Or was someone else pulling it on HIM?
And speaking of legal action, here's an e-mail I got that Monday (April 1st), from Patrick English, the attorney for Main Events, which functioned as lead promoter for Lewis-Tyson:
As you undoubtedly know, this office represents New Jersey Sports Productions, Inc. D/B/A Main Events.
Perhaps your journalistic zeal for a scoop has clouded your journalistic cannon of ethics.
Rather than publish inaccurate articles, I strongly recommend that you check your sources. Had you telephoned either Showtime of Shelly Finkel, I'm sure that they would have informed you that the unnamed member of Tyson's camp is wrong.
I have no idea how such a story could be published without a checking of the facts. You may have earned Kudos from the gullible Patrick Kehoe of “Seconds Out” as being a “dogged” journalist, but that does not excuse you from checking the facts.
Lennox Lewis intends to fight and defeat Mike Tyson on June 8. It does not help the promotion that it is inaccurately announced that it has been canceled.
Following review of your article, we checked with Rosie Perez (sic), the representative of the Pyramid, and Irving Clifford, of the Memphis mayor's office. Both denied the quotes attributed to them in your article.
Obviously you have behaved in a journalistically irresponsible way.
Our goal here is to protect the public from false information. This irresponsibility must be stopped.
Litigation is being contemplated. Please act accordingly.
Standards must be upheld. We have received numerous calls from journalists seeking comment on the unfounded allegations contained in your article. Henceforth we will refer them to you, and we assume that you will set the record straight.
Dines and English
By: Patrick C. English
Now was that brilliant, or what?
The next day, he sent me this:
“Not mad. Good fun.”
Now THAT was someone with a sense of humor. If HE wasn’t mad, what right did any of these knuckleheads who didn’t have anything at stake have to be angry?
Still, they were. One of those knuckleheads was someone named Joe Hawk, who turned out to be the biggest “April Fool” of them all.
Hawk, a somewhat pedestrian sports columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, had just come off a vacation when he pulled out his laptop computer and punched up his e-mail. In it, he saw a message from TotalAction with the subject line, “Fight Page Update – LEWIS-TYSON IS OFF!”
He opened the message, read our “teaser”, which was basically the first couple of paragraphs of the story, along with a link to the piece in its entirety as it appeared on the website. And then I presume that Hawk (God love him), rather than bother reading the rest of this “blockbuster” story, instead dashed to the phone and called the sports desk at the Review-Journal, telling them, in effect, to hell with the NCAA women's basketball championship game, which had just been played; forget about the NCAA men's title game, which was ABOUT to be played; never mind Opening Day in major league baseball. Las Vegas native Andre Agassi's victory in the Nasdaq-100 tennis tournament? Are you kidding?
Small potatoes all. No – Hawk evidently told his editors to clear room on the front page of the sports section, because he was going to deliver the biggest news story of the day: that the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight – obviously a subject of tremendous controversy in the state of Nevada, since the boxing commission had disallowed the fight from happening in its state, might be off – perhaps permanently.
And in doing so, he touched off a series of events that led his editors, himself, and other members of the Review-Journal staff on a frenzied chase for information; a quest that lasted all the way up to the Sunday deadline for publication, and beyond.
All because he couldn't perform the rudimentary task of clicking on a link and reading a story.
I've got no hard evidence that he would have actually done so, but my sneaking suspicion is that Hawk may have been fully prepared to confirm the story and write it up under his byline, without regard to crediting the online source from where it originated; that kind of misappropriation has long been a problem when dealing with the print media. And as anyone familiar with THE FIGHT PAGE knows, it's happened to us a couple of times before.
Anyway, Hawk attempted a few calls, but was getting nowhere (as a sidelight, he was actually calling people all the way up to the next morning!!!!).
So, whether it was at Hawk's urging or not, the newsroom contacted Kevin Iole, one of the Review-Journal's boxing writers.
Now let me tell you why I have those suspicions about Hawk, and at the same time, illustrate what I see as a major fundamental difference between the Hawk and Iole.
When I send out an e-mail newsletter, it naturally comes with a return address where the recipient can reply if he has any questions. Well, Hawk, in the process of his cursory check for “sources”, never bothered to get in touch with the actual source of the story. That tells me something. Because with a couple of notable exceptions (the ones who have “borrowed” from me), I can't think of too many reporters who have ever followed up on one of my pieces failing to at least attempt to contact me in one way or another at some point.
Iole at least knows his way around this business, and knows how to credit an internet source. When the paper contacted him, he promptly pulled up my e-mail newsletter, then almost immediately sent me an e-mail requesting contact. It's important to mention here that at the time, I knew Hawk and Iole equally well, which is to say not at all. And it's even more important to note that nearly two hours had elapsed between the time Hawk says he got wind of my story and the time Iole sent his e-mail, indicating Hawk may have been doing quite a bit of “research” in the interim.
Unfortunately, between the time Iole sent the message off to me and the time I got back online to retrieve it, a deadline had passed. And the Review-Journal editors wanted something from Iole. I really don't know whether Hawk prodded them or not; all I can tell you is that Hawk had written exactly TWO columns concerning boxing in the previous four months, both of them rather garden-variety condemnations of Mike Tyson, who was going in for his licensing hearing. Consider these gems from the January 29 edition:
“Clearly, Tyson remains more dangerous than safe, more explosive than controlled. If the commission licenses him today, then exactly what actions are not tolerated, how far is precisely too far, is there even a line to be drawn, let alone crossed?”
“Tyson's next fight should be against Thomas Junta, the “hockey dad” convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Massachusetts for pummeling to death another father. Sign it for bare knuckles and in the prison yard.”
Indeed, Joe Hawk hasn't had anything original since Original Sin.
Gee, you think by chance he might have gotten just a little TOO pumped up at the prospect of this fight not happening?
Well, Iole had received no confirmation of my report, couldn't reach any of the principles involved, and got in touch with Lewis' trainer, Emanuel Steward, who told him he hadn't heard anything about it. So he did the only prudent and responsible thing – he wrote a blurb in which he attributed the story to our website, pointed out that it was unconfirmed by the Review-Journal (not unusual – newspapers often want confirmation even when other newspapers break a story), mentioned that people like Shelly Finkel and Jay Larkin could not be reached for comment, and included Steward's quote. All the while, I think maybe he kept it in the back of his mind that April Fool's Day was coming.
When I finally reached him, Kevin started quizzing me about the story. I, in turn, asked if he had done anything with it. He told me he had, but with reservations. I came completely clean with him, and told him that if he could yank the story out of the paper, by all means he should. Hey, I'm not going to let Kevin Iole get embarrassed if I can help it. And I'm not going to let the Review-Journal get embarrassed either.
So Iole got the newsroom on the phone, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal – the largest daily newspaper in the state of Nevada, and 72nd-largest in the United States, LITERALLY stopped the presses. It was about 12:15 AM Pacific time. Only about 1300 papers had hit the streets with a reference to the story.
So damage control was relatively effective, right? Well, the next day I get a long, scathing e-mail. Not from Kevin Iole, who was probably happy he didn't hit the sack early the night before. Not from a Las Vegas Review-Journal sports editor. But from one Mr. Joe Hawk.
With great irritation, Hawk chastised me on my unethical and childish behavior:
“I like to think of myself as having a good sense of humor, and I certainly love a good prank. However, I was more than a little upset by your “April Fools” prank regarding the “cancellation” of the Tyson-Lewis heavyweight title fight on June 8.”
……Not to mention all the trouble I had caused him:
“Because of your shenanigans, the Agassi story, which had significant importance in Las Vegas, was pushed inside. By the time our staff was able to discern that your story wasn't valid, it was too late to adjust and get the proper story on the sports cover.”
…….And told me exactly how he was going to put me in my place:
“Frankly, I can't believe the lack of professionalism on your part. I have, on occasion, praised your Web site on my local sports radio show, 'For the Record,' for its extensive boxing content. No more, however. In fact, tomorrow (Tuesday), I will condemn you and your Web site for your sophomoric attempt at humor and the poor journalistic standards you obviously stand for.”
The letter was rather lengthy; I'm not sure, but I believe Hawk may have also blamed me for the sinking of the Lusitania.
Of course, this was not before he managed to “crumb the play” for himself, so to speak:
“Your e-mail, touting this exclusive, reached me Sunday night, around 8:30 PST.
READING THE FIRST PARAGRAPH (since that is all I had available on my powerbook), and believing you and your information to be credible, I called my sports desk to alert them to this breaking story……… It wasn't until late — very late — Sunday that it was determined this was a hoax of some form. (NOT UNTIL TODAY, MONDAY, did we get the “A-P-R-I-L-F-O-O-L-S” set-up to your story.)”
Honk! Is there a buzzer around anywhere?
First of all, Hawk had no idea of the interchange between Iole and myself (something he could have found out easily if he had just checked), which resulted in the actions taken to save the newspaper from more considerable embarrassment. He probably still doesn’t know.
Which brings me to the first of a number of different points that I want to make:
And it's one of simple principle – how can I guy write me a letter railing about my “poor journalistic standards” when, within the body of that letter, he can't even report accurately about what went on within his own news organization that evening?
Then there's another journalistic point – this guy is going to tell me, presumably with a straight face (I don't know if this was HIS idea of an April Fool's joke) that he looked over ONE paragraph of a “big” story, never considered a simple act of due diligence, like actually READING the story, took it upon himself to send his colleagues all over God's creation to chase down a ghost, never contacted the original source, and has the nerve to come back and blame ME? Hey, for all this guy knew, there could have been a big fat “APRIL FOOL” at the bottom of the story at the website. But he never found out, did he?
Sure, Hawk says he loves a good prank, but like a lot of other simpletons, he loves it as long as he’s not the victim of it. Then he and his bruised ego are going to scream bloody murder.
Because, you see, it became increasingly evident as I read his letter that Joe Hawk wasn't really mad at me for my “sophomoric attempts at humor and poor journalistic standards”.
Joe Hawk was mad because he got caught with his pants down – urinating down the side of his leg, I suspect.
As today's lecturer, I must say I have no sympathy at all for those dawdling students who refuse to do their homework.
And wouldn't you think this guy had the sense to realize that if he ultimately wound up condemning me on his radio show (I can’t confirm it, because no one was listening), and did so even by way of telling HIS side of the story, it would’ve been more embarrassing for HIM than for ME?
Hawk was by no means the only media person who grumbled.
John Rawling from the BBC wrote to “express my contempt for your behavior.” This guy, one of those phony “legends” in Britain, unquestionably possesses buttocks that are wound up WAY too tight. And there’s nothing particularly original in his repertoire either. He was writing me “as chairman of the British Boxing Writers Club,” something I guess I’m supposed to care about. Anyway, this guy presumably wants to challenge me to a fight or something – “Feel free to introduce yourself when we are in Memphis and you will be able to understand my anger first hand.”
I only do knife fighting, Johnny.
And Fight News was still hurting for days afterward. I pulled up their website and they seemed to be taking a real “editorial stand” on this one. “Our policy is to report the truth every day, including April 1. Fightnews readers expect reliable information and we do our best to deliver it” was the statement from publisher Karl Fleitag. And I was thinking – isn't this the same “news” source which continually has had to pull stories off its website because they are inaccurate? Which has been caught, red-handed, fabricating both questions AND answers in interviews with fighters and fight people?
Boy, they’re snooty.
I must say, though, that a good time was had by most.
One very well-known promoter, who hadn't been told the story was a hoax, said, “He (meaning me) really seems to have all his facts straight. You can't get a word in with anybody at HBO or Showtime these days because they're all obsessed with the Lewis-Tyson fight, and now it's all going to fall apart.” Yikes!
One of the funniest responses came from Lester Bedford, the manager of Jesse James Leija. He wrote me no more than a half hour after my story had originally been posted – “Great job getting the Tyson story out there first. Man, I gotta hand it to you, another scoop over all others. Good work, again, as you always do.” Then, exactly four minutes later, in a message with the subject line, “WAIT A SECOND!,” he wrote, “I just realized it's April's Fool Day on Monday. Could this be an early joke? If so, you got me, as I'm sure you will many others. It's either a great job of reporting or a great April Fool's Day joke. So congratulations either way.”
Steve Kim wrote a story about it for MaxBoxing:
“OK, fess up, who fell for it? Who's heart sank as they read the headline on TotalAction.com this past Sunday night as they saw the headline that read, ‘Lewis-Tyson is off-Maybe for Good.' As you read the story that was penned by Charles Jay (who also runs the site) did you shake your head in disappointment and say to yourself, 'I knew this fight was never going to happen.'
Well, relax, it was all just an elaborate April Fools day joke – and if you fell for it (like I did for about half an hour), you're not alone. It turns out that many of those who are not directly tied to the event were thrown off by this well written hoax.
But upon closer reading we should have known that when Sidney Finch was quoted as saying that, 'things have been moving at a 168 m.p.h.' and when names like Rosie Ruiz and Alan Smithee were mentioned, that the joke was on many of us.”
And George Kimball made it the lead of his Boston Herald column the next Sunday:
“The mischievous Charles Jay, the oddsmaker-turned-Web master whose Total Action.com fight page serves as the pre-eminent clearinghouse for worldwide boxing news links, managed to send the boxing world into a frenzy Monday by publishing an 'exclusive' revealing that the June 8 Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas had been canceled.
Although Jay's account was clearly an April Fool's Day spoof (the first letter of each paragraph, highlighted in bold-face, even spelled 'April Fool,' and among the sources cited were 'Rosie
Ruiz,' 'Irving Clifford,'and 'Alan Smithee,' and there was even an oblique reference to Sidd Finch), a number of people who should have known better got fooled. At least one competing boxing Web site assumed it to be true, while another, trying to knock the story down, even phoned The Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn., demanding to speak to Rosie Ruiz.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal actually ran a 'Fight is Off' story on the front of its sports section for one edition, and was forced to print a retraction the following morning.”
Okay, it’s nice to be noticed.
So nice, in fact, that I decided to do it again two years later.
Lou DiBella, a boxing promoter who was one of my advertisers, had just announced that he signed an option agreement to buy the Class AA Norwich Navigators of the Eastern League, with one year to complete the deal.
Once more, fertile ground.
And once more, straightforward, with a twist:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JAY CHOSEN BY NEW OWNERSHIP TO RUN CLASS AA NAVIGATORS
NORWICH, CT. (April 1, 2004) – CHARLES JAY, well-known boxing writer who has served as editor/publisher of the website TotalAction.com for the past five years, will be switching gears this spring, as he takes over as Executive Vice-President and General Manager of the Norwich Navigators minor league baseball team, it was announced today.
The Navigators, a member of the Class AA Eastern League and an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, have been purchased by a group headed by boxing promoter LOU DIBELLA, who is president of DiBella Entertainment and an advertiser for the past two years on Jay's website.
Though he spent many years in the boxing industry, Jay also has a baseball background, having played at Emory University in Atlanta as well as in the semi-pro ranks with the South Orange Soverels of the Essex County (N.J.) League. He was an assistant coach at Emory and Nova Southeastern (Florida) University, and was head coach at Division III Cadwalader College in Nevada, leading the team to a 24-39 record from 1989-1990, before returning to boxing.
The key for both Jay and DiBella in making this move was the announcement on Wednesday that the United States Senate had passed a bill that would turn the regulation of boxing over to the federal government. “I think both of us see the writing on the wall,” Jay said. “Once you have the politicians taking control, you know the whole thing's going into the crapper, so to speak.”
DiBella expressed excitement at the possibilities.
“Chuck's got a creative mind, and we intend to make use of it,” he says. “If we can get him up before 10 AM on a regular basis, this whole thing might just work out.”
Part of Jay's deal with DiBella is that he will write about his experiences in the front office. The book will be called “Navigate THIS” and will chronicle the day-to-day operations of a team in the wild world of minor league baseball.
It is Jay's ambition to make that world even wilder. He's already hard at work on a number of creative promotions. One of them will be “Bernard Hopkins Day”, in which any fan who can prove he or she has been sued by the litigious DiBella will be admitted free of charge. Another will be “Sopranos Night”, in which one lucky fan will be chosen to get stuffed in the trunk of a car and left out in the middle of the Connecticut woods by Michael Imperioli, one of the series' stars.
There are challenges facing the new management. The Navigators drew 281,000 fans in 1995, their first season in Norwich. But attendance had dipped to as low as 158,000 last season. Fearing that things may be a bit rocky at the gate, DiBella has already called for a “Baseball Summit” at which he hopes to gather minor league owners from across the country to discuss the anticipated financial problems of his ballclub.
Trouble for DiBella may also come from his own new executive hire. Jay, who wrote the critically-acclaimed “Operation Cleanup” books that in large part examined conflicts of interest in boxing, has already pointed out to selected reporters, Eastern League officials, and HBO's “Real Sports” that, at this time, DiBella now simultaneously owns both the Navigators and a piece of the Altoona Curve, a competing Eastern League team.
“I told Lou he better do something about this, or it might have to be the first chapter of 'Navigate This',” says Jay. “Conducting an investigation of your new employer is hardly the way to start a business relationship. But you've got to let the chips fall where they may.”
The Navs open the season at Binghamton on April 8. The home opener at Dodd Stadium will be April 15 against the New Britain Rock Cats. One of Jay's first orders of business will be to cancel a planned clinic for Little League umpires which was to have been held on Sunday, April 18. “It's bad enough this isn't the major leagues. We don't need a Little League attitude around here,” says Jay. “We need to use that time to get Dodd Stadium ready for the game that day. Too many dogs sneak into the ballpark and run all over the place, and you know what that does to the outfield.”
For more information on Norwich Navigators baseball, visit http://www.gators.com
I did indeed go to Emory University, though they didn’t have a baseball team while I was there. I didn’t coach baseball either.
Cadwalader College doesn’t exist, except on celluloid – it was the fictional school to where Gabe Kaplan, portraying a basketball coach, brought a bunch of ringers in the movie “Fast Break.”
If you can possibly believe this, I received about forty letters – most of which were from people I knew – congratulating me on my new job.
And they weren’t kidding.
As it turns out, DiBella seems to have put the financing in place to complete the deal and has received the approval from Major League Baseball to buy the Navigators.
He promises an aggressive promotional campaign, which will include distributing a nose-and-glasses set to all the fans at one of his home games in an effort to establish a Guinness world record, and having Don King throw out the first ball at another game, with Don King wigs being distributed to the first 1000 customers.
Personally, I think the promotions in my press release parody showed a lot more imagination.
DiBella had better do SOMETHING – the Navigators ranked 27th among the 30 Double A teams in attendance last year. If more spectators don’t go through the turnstiles, I have little doubt that Lou will be calling for that “Baseball Summit.”
As a minor league baseball fan, I’m going to do my part.
A few years ago, as the Anaheim Angels were beating the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, I had suggested to DiBella that the parade of pumped-up sluggers playing a softball-like game, pummeling pitches over the fence, was not how baseball should be played, and that “smallball,” which the Angels employed a lot more, was the purest way to go. I told him I could manage a team and be successful simply on the basis of using speed in my lineup.
At the time DiBella owned a piece of the Altoona Curve, another Eastern League team, and we discussed the idea that I might manage the team for one game and write a book about it. I even had a title – “I Can Handle the Curve.”
Now that DiBella has a team that is completely under his stewardship, we’re going to make it happen. At some point during the 2005 season, I will take the reins of the Norwich Navigators for one game – hopefully a game in the middle of a pennant race, although I won’t delude myself – and we will document it on videotape, as part of a new quasi-reality show I am doing called “Charles Jay At Large.” And yes, there will be a book written about it, and yes, it will be titled “Navigate THIS.”
It will happen.
Honest it will.
Really, really it will.