The NYPD Fighting Finest boxing team is out for blood. Literally! On Thursday night, April 14th, the Finest will square off against a joint LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department team at the armory at East 26th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The name of the event has been dubbed “A Fighting Chance, We’re Out for Blood” because in the week leading up the fights NYPD lieutenant Dave Siev, who heads the team and has a long history of altruistic endeavors toward the city he has called home his entire 41 years, has scheduled a series of citywide blood drives. Members of the boxing fraternity, including the police personnel from the West Coast, will join the local citizenry in establishing a greater bone marrow pool in New York’s minority community.
“Throughout the country there is a dangerously short supply of minority bone marrow donors,” said Siev. “When someone needs a transplant, it is very important for the donor to have the same ethnic makeup as the recipient. Any person willing to make a normal blood donation only has to donate an extra vial to be registered in an international bone marrow pool. Someday they might have the privilege of saving a perfect stranger’s life. What could be more rewarding than that?”
While the chances of finding a marrow match outside of a leukemia victim’s immediate family is 60 to 80 percent for Caucasians, it is less than half in the minority community. That, insists Siev, is a problem that must be rectified sooner rather than later.
“All we want to do is give leukemia victims more of a fighting chance to beat the odds,” he said. “We’re using boxing as a vehicle for this endeavor, and I can’t thank NYPD Chief of Personnel Rafael Pineiro, an avid boxing fan and great supporter of the Fighting Finest, or the New York Blood Center enough for their assistance.”
One of the team’s four blood drives occurred on Thursday, April 7th, at the 77 Precinct in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where just over a decade ago riots raged after a Hasidic Jew accidentally ran over two African-American children. Siev was working as a police officer in the area at the time, and remembers wondering if the days of violence would ever end. Having earned a Police Combat Cross, as well as a slew of other medals during his 12 year career, he sparkles at the thought of a local rabbi, Shalom Eisner, hobnobbing with two of Brooklyn’s more notable pugilistic native sons during the marrow drive.
In attendance was Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Mark Breland, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist and former WBA welterweight champion who is of African-American descent, and newly minted WBA welterweight champion Luis Collazo, who is of Puerto Rican ancestry. Also in attendance was undefeated featherweight prospect Gary Stark Jr., who is of Guatemalan, Jewish and Puerto Rican descent.
“Seeing all of those guys together, I realized how lucky I am to live and work in a city that is so representative of the world,” said Siev, who is a Jew of Japanese and Lithuanian ancestry. “Former Mayor [David] Dinkins, who is African-American, used to call New York a gorgeous mosaic. That was very apparent on April 7th.”
Scores of people from the neighborhood, which is composed primarily of African Americans and orthodox Jews, descended on the precinct to meet the boxers and to give blood. The comedic Breland feigned terror at the thought of a needle being inserted in his arm. “A whole pint,” he said. “I don’t think I have a pint to spare.”
Collazo, who grew up and still lives in Williamsburg, had just won the title five days earlier from Jose Antonio Rivera in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was learning firsthand what being a champion is about. “I credit my father and some other people in my community for giving me the discipline to stay off the streets and out of trouble,” he said. “Now that I have a title, it’s only fair that I give something back. I’m glad to be here. It is important to be a champion inside and outside of the ring.”
One donor, Inspector James O’Connell, the commanding officer of the 77 Precinct, gave a pint of blood, and then quickly left the scene to supervise the execution of a search warrant at a nearby drug location.
By the time the blood drives were over, hundreds of donors were added to the national marrow registry. When one considers how much blood might be spilled at Thursday night’s fights, the whole notion of the Fighting Finest’s efforts might appear somewhat ambiguous. Not so, says retired sergeant Pat Russo, who heads the citywide Police Athletic League (PAL) program. So many prospective fighters wanted to take part in this event, he had to turn many of them away.
One fight he didn’t nix was a rematch between retired NYPD police officer John McCann and LAPD SWAT team member George Lopez, another retiree who once represented his native Argentina in the Olympics. Although both are now in their forties—McCann runs a New York limousine service and Lopez runs two Los Angeles restaurants—they are fighting to settle an old score. McCann beat Lopez by decision in a dual police match that occurred 15 years ago.
“They jumped at the opportunity to take part in this event, because they felt so strongly about the cause,” said Russo. “As I’ve always said, the vast majority of guys who get in the ring are extremely non-violent outside of it. They don’t have anything left to prove.”
Russo says he began boxing after graduating from the Police Academy, so he would know how to handle himself in dangerous, non-lethal situations. Nothing, he says, breaks down the barrier between street cops and street kids like the PAL. It worked for him much like it worked for Breland, Collazo, Stark, and thousands of other youngsters over the years.
“The efforts of Dave Siev and Pat Russo have created a legacy that will last a very long time,” said Ed Mullins, the president of the 10,000 member Sergeants Benevolent Association, the nation’s third largest police union and a sponsor of the Fighting Finest. “They have helped more kids find themselves, not just through boxing but through their personal interest and guidance. There are no words to describe what fine cops and what fine human beings they are.”
Thursday night’s bouts begin at 7 p.m. All tickets are $20. For more information call Lt. Siev at 917-882-4275 or visit the Fighting Finest web site at: www.finestboxing.com.