On January 10, 2018, the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame announced the names of 22 individuals who will be inducted into the hall in April. This year’s class runs the gamut from former heavyweight champion James J. Corbett (who dethroned John L. Sullivan in 1892) to Jake Rodriguez (28-8-2 with 8 KOs and 7 KOs by). As in years past, some of the inductees were well-chosen. Other selections have the feel of cronyism rather than merit.
This year’s inductees include, among others, Melvina Lathan.
Ms. Lathan is best known to boxing fans for her role as chairperson of the New York State Athletic Commission. During her time in office, the dangerous job of fighting was often more dangerous than need be. An investigation by the New York State Inspector General’s Office detailed the travesty of such instances as Yuri Foreman fighting Miguel Cotto on a knee that was so badly damaged that Foreman kept falling down during the fight and the horrific injuries suffered by Magomed Abdusalamov in a bout against Mike Perez, both of which unfolded against a backdrop of substandard NYSAC medical protocols. The Inspector General also uncovered a pattern of inappropriate gratuities that were received by some NYSAC personnel, including Ms. Lathan, on her watch.
Interviews conducted this month with several members of the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame Selection Committee and a review of related documents reveal that Ms. Lathan’s selection was the result of a seriously flawed process.
The New York State Boxing Hall of Fame operates under the auspices of Ring 8, a tax-exempt charitable organization designed primarily to help retired boxers in financial need. The hall has been in existence since 2011 and inducted its first honorees in 2012.
The selection process is haphazard at best. Numerous deserving candidates have been passed over in favor of less-qualified but better-connected individuals. Among the oversights, A. J. Liebling, Jimmy Cannon, Budd Schulberg, Bill Cayton, Barney Nagler, and Seth Abraham come quickly to mind.
A press release heralding the 2018 enshrinements advised, “The 2018 inductees were selected by the NYSBHOF nominating committee members: Jack Hirsch, Bobby Cassidy Jr, Randy Gordon, Henry Hascup, Don Majeski, Ron McNair, and Neil Terens.”
There’s one notable omission from this list. And a troubling back-story.
The NYSBHOF inducts members in four categories: living boxers, deceased boxers, living non-participants, and deceased non-participants. The 2018 selection committee had eight members, not seven, and held two meetings.
The first meeting took place in October 2017. Jack Hirsch (committee chairman at the time) recounts, “People came to the first meeting with names to put into nomination in each category. All of the names were discussed, and the list in each category was cut to a more manageable number with somewhere around twelve to fifteen names in each category. Then, in November, we met again to finalize the inductees.”
Several committee members were troubled by the presence of Bob Duffy in the room at each meeting. Duffy is a former president of Ring 8 and current chairman of the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame. These members were of the view that Duffy, however well-intentioned he might be, has interfered with the committee’s autonomy in the past and inappropriately tried to influence the selection process.
This concern was underscored by the fact that Duffy has been known to influence how many people will be inducted into the hall in each category in a given year while a meeting is in progress.
Also, Duffy insisted on bringing Charley Norkus Jr to the November meeting. Norkus is the son of Charley Norkus (33-19, 19 KOs, 6 KOs by), a heavyweight who plied his trade in the 1950s and died in 1996. Norkus, like Lathan, was chosen for induction in the class of 2018.
Duffy advocated strongly for Lathan at the November meeting but was overruled. Instead, the selection committee voted to admit five other living non-participants: Dave Anderson, Pete Brodsky, Herb Goldman, Bobby Goodman, and Ron Scott Stevens.
“So we were ready to go home,” Randy Gordon, a committee member, recalls. “People had their coats on. We’re walking out the door. And Bob stepped in again to advocate for Melvina.”
Among other things, to accommodate Lathan’s selection, Duffy ruled that the number of living non-participants to be inducted in 2018 could be expanded from five to six.
“So we voted again,” Gordon says. “And again Melvina didn’t make it. Some committee members had serious issues with her performance when she was chairperson of the New York State Athletic Commission. And it didn’t help that, a few months earlier [September 8], it was announced that the State of New York had agreed to pay $22,000,000 to Magomed Adbusalamov and his family. We left the meeting thinking that Melvina had not been chosen for induction. And then strange things started happening.”
On the afternoon of November 17 (one day after the meeting), Jack Hirsch (who is also the current president of Ring 8) sent an email to the selection committee members. Hirsch had supported Lathan in the committee’s deliberations. But even with his support and Duffy’s lobbying, Lathan had failed to secure the majority of votes necessary for induction. The electors’ final tally in the last-minute re-vote had been 4-to-4.
Hirsch’s email advised selection committee members that he had just telephoned 87-year-old Angelo Prospero, a former committee member who now lives in South Carolina. In Hirsch’s words, “Angelo is of sane mind but is a little hard of hearing. He had his wife Terry on the other line so he would fully understand what I was saying.” The email concluded with the news that Prospero had voted in favor of admitting Lathan, thus theoretically breaking the tie in her favor.
Hirsch later acknowledged to this writer that “Bob Duffy wanted me to call Angelo.”
Reaction was swift. Two hours after receiving Hirsch’s email, Steve Farhood (who was on the selection committee and had participated in the voting on all of the nominees in each category) sent a return email with a copy to each committee member. In his email, Farhood advised Hirsch that he was resigning from the committee, adding, “I don’t care for the manner in which we were manipulated and dictated to. I wish the committee all the best in the future.”
The following day, Farhood elaborated on those thoughts in an email to a fellow committee member, writing, “My decision had nothing to do with Melvina, at least personally. From the start of the NYSBHF, Duffy has repeatedly spoken of not interfering and allowing our autonomy. That has never been the case, usually because of his ties to Ring 8. The only thing I wonder: Why did he push so hard? It was as if he was desperate to get her through.”
More recently, on February 7, Farhood, while declining to discuss the matter further, did tell this writer, “I would like one thing made clear. My objection, and the reason for my resignation from the nominating committee, was not regarding the merits of any particular candidate, but rather the process in which candidates were being introduced and voted on.”
Also on February 7, Jack Hirsch resigned from the selection committee.
“I wanted some things changed and they weren’t,” Hirsch told this writer. “One of the things that bothered me in particular was Charley Norkus Jr being in the meeting when we were discussing his father, but I was overruled on that by Bob Duffy. And the situation with Melvina was a factor in my resigning. What can I say? I was committee chairman and I take responsibility for my part in what happened.”
There’s a school of thought that Hirsch was pushed into the line of fire by Duffy last November. But Jack says, “Please make it clear that I think Bob Duffy is a great guy and I consider him a friend.”
“I love Bob Duffy,” Randy Gordon concurs. “But he had a personal agenda last November and he got it through.”
There are some very deserving inductees in the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame, and this controversy shouldn’t take away from their accomplishments. That said, to be fully credible, the NYSBHOF needs an independent selection committee.
One way to accomplish this end would be to install Steve Farhood as committee chairman, give him the right to retain committee members who’ve shown good judgment in the past, and empower him to appoint new committee members in the future.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.
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