There came to light on Capitol Hill yesterday the newest concept with respect to the sorrowful state of boxing as an unregulated, scandal-prone and unhealthy profession. It is a bill to save boxing, not to bury it without honors, which has been the stubborn position of the American Medical Association.
In a press conference in the Rayburn Building, perhaps notable as the first convoking of sports journalists that featured a nonappearance by Howard Cosell, his panacea for saving the boxing business was outlined by Rep. Pat Williams (D-Mont.).
His plan, he could have said, is as simple as ABC -- the American Boxing Corporation, which Williams' bill would set up to oversee boxing nationwide, rout out the sinners, and bring some discipline to the various state boxing commissions that sometimes get very lax, and sometimes get too friendly with promoters and managers.
It isn't a federal boxing commission, such as proposed by other ill-starred bills that have ventured into Congress regularly since 1960 and met a common fate -- rejection -- that Williams' bill proposes. It is aimed at forcing state boxing commissions to clean up their act, or else.
Williams noted that this year is the 25th anniversary of the late Sen. Estes Kefauver's failed attempt to reform boxing, "but we have nothing to celebrate . . . twenty-eight (according to the Congressional Research Service) people have died in the ring since I introduced my Federal Boxer Protection Act two years ago . . . today marks the most determined step the Congress has ever taken to reform the sport."
The American Boxing Corporation, composed of six members, would monitor actions of the state commission as to safety of boxers, and establish fair labor standards, minimum rates of compensation, plus insurance and medical service, among other regulations.
And now hear this: It wouldn't cost the U.S. Treasury a penny, Williams says. Also, there would be special grants of money as a reward to the state commissions who comply with ABC standards.
If no U.S. funds are involved, where would the grant money come from? Ha, the American Boxing Association, not exactly philanthropic, would be cutting itself in for a percentage of the gate receipts in every state. If that doesn't put Congress in the boxing business, all the dictionaries have misspoke.
Cleaning up boxing is an excellent idea, which can be realistically equated with the ingenious plan for belling the cat, and just as impossible to implement.
In boxing, what you see is not always what you get, and what you get from so many of those of the milieu is compulsive hanky-panky. It is the nature of the environment.
For years, promoters, not state commissions, have decided who fights for titles. Promoters and managers are indistinguishable. The upshot has been a roundelay of inhouse title fights that assault the intelligence of boxing fans. The state of the game was never worse.
Williams, an avowed boxing fan who grew up in the era of Friday night fights on radio and television, views the American Medical Association's position as an overreaction. He says safeguards can be taken. He had support yesterday from members of the important House subcommittee on health, education and labor, which he heads.
"If steps are not taken to the save the game in the U.S., boxing will wind up being the exclusive province of Latin America and Montreal," he said.
Some states are tinkering with the thumbless glove, Sugar Ray Leonard's suggestion as a precaution against eye injury. But Angelo Dundee, Leonard's former trainer, says Leonard is off base there, that "the thumb protects a fighter's hand, if you have thumbless gloves, you have broken hands and wrists."
If the American Medical Association draws a too-dramatic picture of the ravages of boxing, then there are other pro-boxing people who are in their own right silly in their defense of the sport.
One of these is the neurologist who also is an adviser to the New York State Commission, and who said recently the risk of brain damage is "a muddy field" that needed more study.
He opposes the abolition of boxing. "It's like banning a book," he said.
A more debatable statement might never have been uttered.
In a signed editorial in its journal last May, the American Medical Association said, "Either boxing should be abolished, which we favor, or blows to the head should be made illegal."
No blows to the head, indeed. Hmm. You'd have some kind of a sport, but it wouldn't be boxing.