Heavyweight contender Joe Mesi is now 32-years-old. With his Nevada State medical suspension declared void, his hope of a return to the ring rekindles itself. Training in New York State, Puerto Rico or all points west, due south or wherever, Mesi waits for a license to complete his return to the ring, his rebirth, to become the test case for rehabilitation in boxing.
The case of Joe Mesi feels like such an American one, individualism triumphing over governmental stricture when the final meaning of regulatory guidelines effectively impinge on what is defined as the freedom to pursue one’s destiny and the aspiration of personal intent. Sure, the legal ruling was to specifically decide on the status of Mesi and thus the foundational element of Mesi’s medical suspension is not applicable given the rules of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, as they applied to Mesi’s standing – being no longer licensed. But aside from the idea of property rights appended to the decision, the crucial issue was the ruling on his current status, the context for which, his medical infirmity – the elephant in the room issue – was supported in his case by medical uncertainty about the predisposition and susceptibility Mesi would face from further head traumas of the kind he endured against Vassiliy Jirov.
Head traumas suffered once do not damn a fighter to future head traumas, nor does it tip the balance of probability. At least that was the expert medical testimony heard in the courtroom in December 2005.
The findings in the Mesi case, did and do have a ripple effect. The extreme fear in boxing circles being that – regardless of Mesi’s legal motive and method or rights upheld – boxers and their legal teams will now be emboldened to fight against the medical suspensions and who knows what other regulatory obligations. Yes, it’s a cliché to invoke the slippery slope argument; however, one of the tenants of human rationalization is that it becomes a self-perpetuating logic always taken to the final degree of maximization. If we applaud the fact that Mesi is now free to box again, having been medically cleared to do so, we must also recognize the effect of his act of professional self-preservation. As a precedent, one can only speculate upon the effects of the Mesi case for boxing as a self-governing sporting environment. And this is where self-interest, ethics, the spirit and letter of the law and moral imperatives become a jumbled equation, a weltering debate of uncertain faith.
Some in boxing are concerned that just when boxing was looking inward and seeking to redefine itself as protectively proactive and bent on holding itself to higher standards of self-actualizing agency and transparency, the Mesi case comes along. That too may be a hard judgment; nevertheless, ‘it’ is out there. Indeed, in the wake of Mesi’s legal team finding grounds to lift what amounted to a ban from boxing, the ultimate powers of boxing commissions to safeguard fighters against problematic self-interest and the expected commercial coercions of promotional/big time boxing are seen as, yet again, thwarted.
The question remains – actually, it comes out redefined and more relevant than ever: Are there any circumstances under which it is the role of a commission to act preventatively, if acting in what the commission believed/defined as good faith, as an activist oversight agency protecting the long-term interest (health, safety) of the fighter, i.e. the integrity of the sport? There are many terms noted above, admittedly not defined, but you get the idea of the general concern that some in boxing are expressing passionately, but mostly informally.
Does the Joe Mesi case mean that state commissions and regulatory bodies have to rewrite their rules for medical status requirements, as well as suspending much of what we might characterize as acting upon moral and ethical considerations? Have they been deemed unfit to be the guardians for the sport? Deeming judgments as moral imperatives or ethical standards are essentially manifested as backgrounding rhetoric to the statutory nature of regulation. Ethics are the talking points, the exigencies, for those entrusted to keep the legal framework of regulation properly enforced. And yet ethics are only talking points, overruled by the cut and thrusting of legality.
Then again, many would caution that once commissions begin to rule based on moral and ethical consternation, you tempt giving credence to the most transparent ruse for rationalizing political expediency. Fair enough! Also, when commissions purport to act upon ‘reservations’ and the tethering of moral based anxieties/apprehensions, it is forcing itself into areas of metaphysics it cannot sustain in the proving ground of free enterprise capitalism, the commercial interests upon which boxing sustains itself and has historically rested. Mesi, the aspiring boxer, acted to protect himself, at all times, seeking legal recourse, against the NSAC’s political reservations, fears of future events, collective experience and expressions of individual concern. If there was a core of ethical and moral fiber to their upholding the original medical suspension, it was trumped and found to be, essentially, irrelevant.
For some that’s the essence of legality, for others that’s the limitation of common agreement. Is there a time when someone or some group has to stand against the law, the guidelines as written, if only to make common report of their ethical beliefs? Did not many on the board of the NASC genuinely fear for the future safety of Joe Mesi even against the medical evidence provided? Politics aside, we might surmise they did indeed. And here we come upon even the limits of medical findings, scientific knowledge. Here is where experience and the force of anecdotal ‘evidence’ collide with the expert, empirical analysis. Many former fighters, trainers and managers agree with the expressed note of caution. But fear is not enough, caution only a marking for future reference, as Mesi will continue onward.
The business of boxing, the elemental platforming of the sport upon the telecommunication entertainment matrix means that ethical considerations are only vital when serving the continuation of the sport as media product. And like all media business interests, boxing must have its stars. Joe Mesi was well on his way, may well again be on his way, to being an authentic superstar in boxing. Boxing in 2006 needs all the name identification and transcendental personalities it can make materialize. Having the right of determining his fate and test the veracity of scientific probability (remaining unencumbered by head traumas), Mesi reenters the arena of sports entertainment and the ring. The contradiction we might note is that many in boxing who are apprehensive of Mesi’s return have some sympathy for Mesi, in the abstract, to determine his life, and by extension his fate. The fans, boxing officials, boxing insiders and the media covering this case are all bound up by part or all of the contradictory emotions and notions to do with the Mesi case.
One glaring issue remains: the Mesi case makes Joe Mesi, heavyweight boxer seeking a license, a test case, a symbolic actor dancing on the head of the pin of precarious kismet. In pursuit of his self-interest, as an individual, he unwittingly becomes an agent for change, one that might unravel the definitive meaning of governmental oversight and self-regulation within boxing. Perhaps this is much ado about nothing… but perhaps not. Can boxers be protected against themselves and the weight of commercializing interests surrounding fighters as sports entertainment money makers? Even if members of oversight bodies are legally forced to desist from their stances, should moral and ethical objections be asserted, futile or not? Hopefully, moral and ethical objections will always find a voice, always be counted as part of the reasoning and the judgment of record.
“Constitutionally speaking, the way a judge has to look at this, as awful as it sounds, is that whether I live or die has nothing to do with it,” Mesi has said many times since the summer of 2005. “They shouldn't be able to take my livelihood away.”
Indeed. It’s just that possibility haunts those of conscience and experience. That too is a freedom, a right of the individual or group – freedom of expression – to make public their considered opinions. All sides are engaged; all sides await the ultimate arbiter ruling upon the Mesi case: time.
People in boxing don’t want to see the night on which the Mesi’s gamble with his professional ambition turns into tragic spectacle. One hardly can bare the image of Mesi lying on the canvas, time elapsing, his gloves cut off, the stretcher called for as oxygen is being administered with Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant talking us through the chronology of events. You don’t have to imagine the worst to be accused of reasonable apprehension in the ultimate outcome of the Joe Mesi case.
We can only wish the likeable Joe Mesi – heavyweight boxer – well, happiness and health, as he courageously lives and fights according to the dictates of his conscience.