DON KING FORESAW TRUMP’S UPSET — Millions upon millions of Americans know the new president-elect by one of his nicknames, “The Donald,” but boxing people understand that before Donald J. Trump became the political equivalent of Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson, there was another guy with bad hair and much bluster who commanded center stage by promising everything to everybody and, occasionally, even delivering it.
The two Donalds became fast friends and allies from 1986 to 1990, when King brought the sport’s most cash-dispensing ATM, Mike Tyson, to Atlantic City, where he appeared in five bouts under Trump’s aegis, including the June 27, 1988, superfight against Michael Spinks in Boardwalk Hall that was that era’s precursor to Mayweather-Pacquiao. The Donald and His Hairness were going to collaborate to make the New Jersey gambling resort town a viable challenger to Las Vegas for pugilistic supremacy, and for a time they even seemed to be pulling it off.
As luck would have it, I placed a call to the now-85-year-old King, with whom I had not spoken in some time, on Monday evening (election eve) for his thoughts on major professional boxing’s drying revenue streams and what might be done to reverse course. King – who might be a lion in winter, but is still in there clawing and scratching, with a Dec. 10 matchup of his 33-to-1 longshot of a challenger, Eric Molina, against undefeated IBF champion Anthony Joshua in Manchester, England – responded with a typical stream-of-consciousness reply that referenced his still-intact ties to Trump.
In effect, King’s somewhat veiled prediction of a Trump presidency against all odds was the kind of audacious called shot not seen or heard since Joe Namath guaranteed that his New York Jets would whip the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Could His Hairness, who coyly has described his political affiliation as that of a “Republicrat,” be angling for a spot in the Trump Administration? Is there such a thing as an official promoter of ring slugfests involving members of opposite sides of the aisle in Congress?
“It’s all about fighting the system,” King said in response to my question about enhanced revenue streams in boxing, before becoming conductor of his own one-man presidential poll. “But fighting the system is the same thing we’ll be doing tomorrow in electing the new president. There is a consensus of public opinion that the system is corrupt, rigged, sexist, racist and evil. Nobody denies that, friend and foe alike – but nobody has offered to do anything about it except for a guy named Donald J. Trump.
“He says he will create a whole new system. We will tear this (current) system apart and make America great again. You got to go back to the basic thinking of the Founding Fathers, preluding to the corruption and other things we are suffering from right now. It’s why nobody likes Washington, nobody wants to believe nothin’ the government says, including the politicians themselves. They tell so many lies, it’s like they’ve come to accept their own as a kind of truth.
“But change is coming. Wait until tomorrow and you’ll see. And if it isn’t coming, you’re going to have a social revolution on your hands.”
Opinions are just that, merely opinions, until those offering them are able to back up their rhetoric with constructive action. Trump might prove to be the healer of a nation’s wounds that King suggests, or he might be swinging a sledgehammer to further sink the wedge that has separated segments of an increasingly fragmented American society. Time will tell, but one thing seems certain: the line separating sports and politics, which of late had become almost imperceptible smudge in the sand, is apt to become a chasm with high-salaried athletes feeling more and more empowered to take controversial stands that have little or nothing to do with the games they are paid so well to play.
Put it this way: if the Cleveland Cavaliers were to repeat as NBA champions, would the team’s superstar, LeBron James, who campaigned hard for the vanquished Hillary Clinton, refuse to go to the White House Rose Garden for the standard photo op with Trump? Would any of King James’ teammates make the trip “out of respect for the presidency,” or would they stay away in a show of group protest?
Political activism on the part of athletes has been on the rise for some time, with all manner of star performers at various times declining to meet and greet presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and the sitting president, Barack Obama. Perhaps the most obvious instance of athletes declining trips to D.C. came in August 2013, when three members of the only NFL team to go undefeated, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, refused to participate in their long-delayed moment in the presidential spotlight. Those Dolphins did not get to do the Rose Garden thing in 1973 because then-President Nixon was tied up with a little matter called Watergate.
“My views are diametrically opposed to the president’s,” said one of the dissenters, defensive tackle Manny Fernandez (no relation), the others being Hall of Fame center Jim Langer and guard Bob Kuechenberg.
In the 1960s and ’70s, of course, America might have been even more divided than it appears to be now, with high-profile athletes like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and others taking stances that reflected their own liberal beliefs, beliefs that were met with contempt by those who just as adamantly adhered to a more conservative value system. But what goes around tends to come back around, and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a recent firestorm of controversy with his refusal to stand for the playing of the national anthem, sparking similar protests from like-minded individuals from grade-school leagues right up to the NFL and NBA.
King, who long has made a habit of waving small American flags in the ring, not surprisingly has come down on the side of those who believe such protests are egregious.
“They can’t find two minutes for the playing of the national anthem of the greatest country on earth,” King said of television networks that have excised the Star-Spangled Banner from their boxing telecasts.
The ramifications of Trump’s election-night victory as the ultimate political outsider won’t – can’t – be known for some time, but his vow to be a unifying influence on a polarized America might be as difficult to achieve as it was for his predecessor, who called the president-elect early Wednesday morning to offer his congratulations and to invite him to the White House to discuss an orderly transition of power. Just a guess, but the feeling here is that the meeting will be more chilly than cordial.
Few things remain the same in a world that seemingly shifts not only year-to-year, but sometimes hour-to-hour. Tyson has remained tight with Trump since their shared Atlantic City days a quarter-century ago, but Iron Mike has broken ranks in a major way with his former promoter King, whom he has described as “a wretched, slimy, reptilian m—–f——.”
Proof once again, as if any were needed, that the sun don’t shine on the same dog every day. In politics, as in boxing and real-life, the glory of any given moment can dissipate as rapidly as it came to be.
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