The Hauser Report: Shame on the Arkansas State Athletic Commission

On Wednesday, November 22, Association of Boxing Commissions president Mike Mazzulli sent a letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. In the letter, Mazzulli advised the governor that the Arkansas State Athletic Commission is engaging in conduct that the ABC believes is “an egregious disregard for health and safety standards” and “appears to be a direct violation of Federal Law.”

Mazzulli’s concern traces directly to a fight card that was contested in Arkansas on November 11. On that day, Mazzulli’s letter declares, “The State of Arkansas Athletic Commission knowingly allowed an HIV positive fighter to engage in a bout.”

Making matters more troubling, as Mazzulli’s letter points out, the boxer in question was denied a license in the State of Florida due to a positive HIV test in July, after which he was placed on the national suspension list maintained pursuant to federal law under the auspices of the ABC.

Worst still, as Mazzulli’s letter recounts, “Both the Florida Commission and I notified Arkansas through the Department of Health [which oversees the Arkansas State Athletic Commission] of the HIV positive status of a boxer but he was allowed to fight anyway. Since Arkansas had actual knowledge of the HIV positive result, the fighter should not have been allowed to engage in a bout and, under Federal Law, the action of Florida denying a license for medical reasons should have been honored.”

“This situation,” Mazzulli’s letter to the governor concludes, “is one of the most serious we have seen in many years. Hence we feel compelled to bring this matter to your attention.”

Copies of the letter were sent to Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and half a dozen personnel at the Arkansas Department of Health.

The Arkansas State Athletic Commission website has a “mission statement” that proclaims, “The Arkansas State Athletic Commission is committed to maintaining the health, safety and welfare of the participants and the public as they are involved in the combative sports regulated by the Commission.”

But in truth, Arkansas trifles with fighter safety. Under ASAC rules and regulations, the commission isn’t even required to conduct blood tests. There is a question on the Arkansas fighter license application form that reads, “Have you ever tested positive (even if a 2nd test was negative) for HIV or Hepatitis or Staph infection. If yes, please describe, including dates and name of doctor or medical provider.” The application also includes a HIPPA release.

While the administration of a blood test is discretionary under Arkansas law, the commission’s regulations provide, “A positive test for the presence of infectious diseases shall result in an immediate suspension of the licensee’s license.”

The fighter in question is not being named in this article so that he can be the one to tell family members and others of his situation should he choose to do so. Suffice it to say for the moment that he has had a long association with at least one well-connected person in Arkansas boxing. He fought on November 11 and won his bout. There‘s no indication that the opponent was informed of the situation so that he could make an informed decision as to whether or not to participate in the bout. Nor is it publicly known at this time whether the physician who cleared the boxer to fight was informed of the boxer’s HIV positive status.

An HIV-positive test result doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has AIDS. And false positive test results have been known to exist. But the fighter in question is still on national suspension because of the findings in Florida. And the Arkansas commission can’t claim ignorance of the situation. As Mazzulli told this writer, “Multiple people at the Arkansas State Athletic Commission and Arkansas Department of Health were notified by the ABC, and the fight was still allowed to take place. We have not heard from them since the fight either.”

Also, the facts suggest that a possible cover-up of wrongdoing may now be taking place. As Mazzulli’s letter to Governor Hutchinson states, “Eleven days later the bout still had not been reported to the Boxing Registries, which is in violation of the Federal Muhammad Ali Act requiring that results be reported to the ABC official record keepers within 48 hours.”

A telephone call by this writer to the Arkansas State Athletic Commission was answered by a voice message that advised, “Office hours are by appointment only.” A return call was requested. To date, no one from the commission has called back.

Meanwhile, Greg Sirb (the highly competent Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director who has worked with Mazzulli on this issue) has his own take on the matter.

“Arkansas,” Sirb states, “should stop all boxing and other combat sports immediately and should not allow them to resume until the state has regulations and policies in place that ensure the effective testing for and handling of situations involving infectious diseases.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing  – was just published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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