Back in the day when everything was in black and white, when
men were men, women were dames, and Life was a magazine, it was
easy to tell who the good guys in boxing were. For the most
part they were quiet, unassuming men with enlarged knuckles and
scarred orbital ridges who opened doors for their wives, spoke
respectfully of their opponents, and rumpled the hair of admiring
urchins. Whenever these men made a stumble in their personal
lives, the gentlemen of the press, a group far less concerned with
their own celebrity than they are today, would either cover the
matter up or apologize for the miscreant. Every so often
they would serve someone up, usually a person of color, and anoint
him a villain, but this practice was not so much an indicator of
personal or even editorial morality as it was of cultural bias.
The narcissistic simplicity of mid-century America demanded
heroes--thus heroes were provided.
The world of the year 2000, a place where morality often
is perceived to be a matter of cultural relativity, does not
permit this sort of naive focus. We are given so much
personal information about athletes, we cannot view their actions
in the ring or upon the playing field as isolated events, and
instead of being persuaded to look away from their flaws, we are
encouraged to savor every nasty detail. Even icons of the
past, Joe DiMaggio and his ilk, have been stripped bare by their
biographers and displayed with all their warts highlighted.
It seems evident that what the times demand are not heroes, but
characters whose misdeeds are the stuff of soap opera. There are
those--politicians and the otherwise deluded--who cry out for a
return to the virtues of the good old days, yet it's clear that
the good old days never existed...not, at any rate, in a form that
would be recognizable to those who pine for them. True,
society has grown more violent, more dishonest, more cynical, but
what is referred to as the lost innocence of our culture merely
references a time when we were less accomplished at violence,
dishonesty, and cynicism, when the technologies that enable these
qualities were not so fully developed as now. That we have
reached this pass is not simply, as some would have it, the result
of our falling away from that ol' time religion and "the
principles that made this country great." The
cause of our problems is complex--a vast momentum of class
tensions and economics and Darwinism has produced the wave
front of the moment, and it appears that little can be done to
stop this wave from breaking over us and reconfiguring, for better
or worse, all that we know. The idea of renewing old
virtues, even if they are only fables, might well be our best hope
of turning things around...if, that is, said renewal would
permeate every level of society and contrive a proactive majority
of minds and hearts. This is, of course, unlikely to happen.
I'm writing this shortly after watching Diego Corrales--a
man accused of beating his pregnant wife badly enough to
hospitalize her and endanger their child--dismantle Angel Manfredy
and put himself in a position to earn a million dollar payday,
monies with which he will doubtless pay off the injured party and
thus keep himself free to fight for even more money. I'm
writing this in early September, looking ahead to a fall season of
fights featuring a genuinely interesting heavyweight title bout
and a potential classic at 154 pounds, but knowing that the most
talked about and probably the most financially successful bout of
the year will be contested between Mike Tyson and Andrew Golota.
I'm writing this because while thinking about these two
circumstances and the men involved, it occurred to me that boxing,
which is itself something of a fabulist entity in that it tends to
buy into its own bullshit, might be responsive to simple remedies.
And the simplest, most effective remedy I can think of would be to
place the sport in the hands of a commissioner. Someone
whose power would be absolute, overriding that of the alphabets
and the local commissions. Someone with the moral authority to
command respect. Someone with both a love for and a
knowledge of every side of the sport: business, fighters,
refs, judges, the entire spectrum of activity. Someone,
perhaps, with a legal background.
Someone like Mills Lane.
If this were the good old days, a time when the words
"Let's get him" were frequently imbued with judicial
weight, it's quite possible that, guilt or innocence aside, Mr.
Corrales would no longer be with us. Certainly his civil
rights would have been violated in some fashion, and few would
have wept because despite the man's assertion that we don't know
the whole story, it's hard to imagine any story that would justify
the least measure of violence leveled at a pregnant woman.
It's equally hard to imagine that Corrales' career will suffer to
any significant degree should he buy his way out of trouble.
But if Mills Lane were the czar of boxing in the USA, it's flat
impossible to imagine that whatever the outcome of his
difficulties with the state of California, Corrales would not be
subject to a serious fine and substantial suspension.
The Tyson-Golota fight is, in my view, more emblematic of
the ills of boxing than Mr. Corrales' alleged spousal abuse.
This is a fight that should never happen. Both Tyson and
Golota have proved that they're incapable of handling pressure,
and the fight has been made not so as to determine who is the
better man, but to see which of them will be the first to crack,
to perform an act of extralegal violence that will titillate some,
give others a reason to pontificate, and provide comics with an
abundance of new material. It's a reality show, a condensed
half hour version of "Survivor" whose appeal is less to
the sports fan than the voyeur. It plays to every sickness
of our society. Put simply, it's a travesty, a freak show.
We might as well have them fight in ten feet of water.
Because their rights are protected under the
constitution, Tyson and Golota cannot and should not be prevented
from fighting, but a commissioner like Lane could impose a remedy
that would potentially circumvent the interests of the
promoters by saying, Go ahead and fight, but if either man should
be disqualified, and if in my judgment that disqualification is
warranted, he will be subject to an irrevocable lifetime
suspension. Given this proscription, it's possible the fight
would not come off--the promoters might not want to risk their
cash cows--and while this would deny the press a chance to mount
their soapboxes and cry Apocalypse, more importantly it would be a
small step forward in a sport that has traditionally excelled in
taking gigantic backward leaps.
Perhaps in the long run, a commissioner of the sort I
envision--a no-nonsense hardliner, a Kennesaw Mountain Landis
without the racist streak and a more common sense approach to
governance--would act to smother the sport and drive major bouts
out of the country. That's a risk I think we should be
willing to take. At the moment boxing is a Gordian knot that
needs a severing stroke to unravel its criminal entanglements and
no commission, no Act of Congress, is likely to prove effective in
this regard. Ceding ultimate power to a single person is
obviously not something one would wish on society at large, and it
has drawbacks even when applied to something as relatively
inconsequential as sport. For one thing, I can think of no
one with a sufficiently high profile who would be qualified to
serve as Lane's successor.
Of course if this proposal were given anything
approaching serious consideration, it would provoke a hue and cry
from every quarter of the boxing game. Some would say that
Lane is a human being and therefore eminently fallible--he would
make mistakes. So what, I'd say. I'd much prefer the order
of a dictatorship governed by a man who screws up in the
process of earnest effort than the chaos dominated by criminal
manipulation for profit that now exists. Others might
suggest that I watch reruns of Mr. Lane's television show.
Look at him barking and snarling from the bench, they'd say.
Boxing should seek to find a more dignified figurehead, someone
with more gravitas. After I stopped laughing I would say,
Bullshit. Look at the swine who run the game; look at the
fools who serve them; look at the meatpackers, the hustlers, all
the parasites that grow bloated upon the blood of athletes. Boxing
needs an angry god. Someone who'll go into the temple and
chase out the moneychangers. Mr. Lane is most assuredly not
Jesus Christ, but I feel he is capable of imitating Him to this
extent. He would stir things up, and that alone would be
more beneficial to the sport than any change its current
administrators have heretofore provided.
Let's suppose that reality took a vacation and the
proposal was approved on principle. The next question voiced
would probably be, Why Mills Lane? Alternate candidates
would be proposed. Don King would nominate himself.
Bob Arum would put his weight behind a suitable front man.
Rock Newman would cry racism and offer the great Marion Barry.
The casino owners would dig up a suitably character-impaired
politician; the television networks would do the same. Jose
Sulaiman would scurry about like a chubby rat in a bad suit,
sniffing after the cheese in Seth Abraham's hip pocket. In
sum, it would be rather like a snapshot of the average moment in
the boxing world during the past decade--a snapshot that would not
be much different from one taken ten years from now.
Within a couple of months, millions of us will go to the
polls and exercise our right to vote. Would that we could do
the same thing in regards to boxing. But boxing is not a
democracy, it's a loosely gathered group of feudal holdings
incessantly at each other's throats, and most of us who love the
sport are disenfranchised. And this had always been the
case. As with society in general, in boxing there are no
good ol' days to reflect on. I have no great personal
investment. emotional or otherwise, in the fates of Diego
Corrales, Mike Tyson, or Andrew Golota. Those men should
certainly be dealt with in some meaningful way, but my chief
concern is with the lower levels of the sport, the milieu of the
club show, the world of the novice and the journeyman and the
grimy little players who misuse them. Dealing with this part
of boxing, the foundation of the sport, the 9/10s of the iceberg
hidden beneath the surface, has never been a popular task because
no headlines attach to it. If public scrutiny is not brought
to bear, nothing will be done, and the public is not concerned
with any of this. But if a hardline commissioner with some
celebrity status took on the status quo, it might convince a
significant number of the press that here was an entirely new
opportunity for a display of self-aggrandizing morality, one that
actually had some value. And if the press fell into line,
hey, who knows, we might get some serious TV interest.
Movies. The crusty, shaven-headed Lane chasing away the
roaches from boxing's feast would make a great late-career role
for Jack Nicholson. Maybe another Oscar. The klieg
lights would shine into every murky corner, sending the bugs
scurrying for cover...until they recognized their potential as
characters. Then they'd preen, call agents, try for bit
parts and positions as technical consultants.
Well, this is shoe gazing on my part. Foolishness.
If Lane were to be offered the position, chances are he'd turn it
down. The prospect of welding together the warring feudal
estates that control the fight game into a dictatorship, even one
approved of by the disenfranchised (the fans, the fighters, the
honest members of the boxing community), it's not only verges on
the impossible, it's flat out un-American. All in all, it's
a stupid idea. But considering how much effect aggregate
wisdom has had on the sport, stupid might just do the job.
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