Admittedly, it is difficult to score fights, but most ringsiders have Ronald Reagan behind on points right now. The economy is cuffing him about the ears. It has taken his best shots and smiled in taunting derision. On his stool between rounds, the president hears his corner men say, "C'mon, Rawhide, you gotta throw the old one-two, you gotta land the $16 billion budget cut and follow up with a sucker right when the Pentagon isn't looking."
Or something like that. This fight talk comes naturally today because the old right guard at Eureka College, who had a bunch of soft-nosed tennis players over to the house last week, yesterday invited the world's welterweight boxing champion to drop by for congratulations and some picture-taking.
"Sugar Ray," a reporter called out to Ray Leonard, "any ideas on how to balance the budget?"
Leonard's fight with Thomas Hearns last week produced maybe $36 million, which, depending on taxes, may mean $18 million for Uncle Sam. Ray might have whipped out his checkbook there behind the Oval Office desk and written a check for an MX missile silo. But the president beat him to the punch.
"If we get too desperate," Reagan said, smiling nicely, "we might ask him to do a few benefits."
Leonard's 11-minute visit to the White House -- "We're proud to have Sugar Ray and Mrs. Ray here," the president said, leading everyone to wonder if Mrs. Ron were at home -- was part of "Sugar Ray Leonard Day," sponsored by D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy.
Afterward, Leonard rode in a parade beginning in Southeast Washington, stopping off at the District Building and the Capitol. Along the way, various politicians stood real close to the champ, so they would be in the television pictures. Fauntroy, who wouldn't get into the ring with Roberto Duran unless he had a whip and a chair, rode alongside Leonard in the parade, the two of them sitting atop the convertible's back seat.
Enduring politicians is part of fame's cost on Sugar Ray Leonard's home turf. Only five years ago, the kid from Palmer Park, Md., stuffed himself into a van for the 1,000-mile drive home from the Olympics, where he had won a gold medal for the United States. Yesterday he arrived at the White House in a pearl gray limousine twice as long as Duran and Hearns laid end to end.
"I think it's great," Leonard said of his day. "It shows appreciation and support for being part of the Washington, D.C., area. I'm thrilled by the whole thing." (Later, the thrill of meeting the president may have worn off, for Leonard said, "If I win two more championships, maybe I can meet the man on the moon.")
"It shows we have more friends than we thought we had," said Juanita Leonard, the fighter's wife.
The greater part of fame's cost has been a sense of resentment growing in Leonard and the people close to him. Janks Morton, the fighter's trainer and confidant, said last week that Washington didn't give Leonard his due because of "envy and jealousy." Leonard seconded the dark thought, saying people didn't think he deserved to make millions.
Inevitably, sudden wealth changes the way a man lives. Rawhide made some movies once and now buys $1,000 boots, but nobody back home in Dixon, Ill., expects him to knock around the neighborhood talking about old times. In Palmer Park, though, some folks think Leonard has gotten above his raisings, moving out to a mansion in the country, and they say he has forgotten other black men, the common men scuffling to make it.
Mike McDaniel would fight you before agreeing to such trash talk. Mike McDaniel is black and proud to count himself among common men, reserving the right to be uncommonly ambitious. He likes Sugar Ray Leonard a lot, admires him for working so hard so long. You'd like Mike McDaniel, who waited at the corner of Southern and Pennsylvania avenues SE to see the beginning of the Leonard motorcade. McDaniel talked to Helen Roberts, there with her two small children, and a reporter listened for a while before asking if he could write down what they said.
"It wouldn't bother me none if Ray quit fighting right now," McDaniel said.
"Before he gets hurt," Mrs. Roberts said.
"Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali were quick talkers," McDaniel said. "But now they talk like a record going slow. Something's wrong with them."
"Only thing that bothers me is when some people say Ray hasn't done right by us people," Mrs. Roberts said. "Is he supposed to pass out money? Nobody with any brains is going to do that. He earned it, it's his and I'm so happy for him I can't tell you."
"Nobody mad at Rockefeller, are they?" McDaniel said. "Rockefeller didn't go around throwing away money. Ray Leonard has showed fighters how to keep their own money away from gangsters. He showed people how to make money fighting and keep it. He's done all the right things. Took care of his parents and his brothers and his wife and his son. Shouldn't anybody ask any more out of anybody."
Mike McDaniel, 35, owner of a pet grooming business called Chi Chi's Pet Boutique, in Hyattsville, Md., first saw Ray Leonard on television six years ago. Briefly an amateur fighter before discovering he was a better soft-nosed second baseman, McDaniel saw in that brief film clip an extraordinary athlete.
"I love sports, and every time I see Ray Leonard it makes me feel good because he is a guy who had the skill and the guts and the determination to make it," McDaniel said. "That's all anybody should want out of Ray Leonard."
A minute later, with Leonard in the convertible, Mike McDaniel reached out and shook the fighter's hand.
"I forgot my camera," McDaniel said, "but that's okay. I have the snapshot in my mind forever."