WASHINGTON – Adrian Davis’ 14-year boxing career should have ended on June 6, 1972, when he suffered a broken nose and what would later be diagnosed as severe retinal damage.
But Davis’ career did not end that day.
He got back in the ring three months later for a fight that did more damage to his retina and ultimately cost him the sight in one eye.
“Sometimes boxers just can’t stay out of the ring,” said Davis, who said he was prodded by his promoter and cleared by a doctor to fight the second time.
Critics point to fighters like Davis as the reason the federal government needs to step in and oversee boxing, a sport they say is plagued by inadequate health and safety standards and unscrupulous promoters who exploit fighters.
The Senate this spring voted to create a U.S. Boxing Commission in the Labor Department, to oversee the activities of state and tribal commissions. A House subcommittee took the issue up Thursday.
Speakers said the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996 and the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000, which aimed to protect boxers by setting uniform safety standards, are flawed because enforcement has been left up to each state.
“It comes down to enforcement,” said Greg Sirb, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. “The federal legislation that has been passed was great, but most state and local commissions are small groups, with staffs of two, three or four people, and it puts a lot of local commissioners in a tough spot to expect them to ensure compliance.”
The World Boxing Association opposes a national boxing commission. WBA counsel Noah Reandeau said the organization supports efforts to increase health and safety standards, but that the “best solutions could probably come from within the industry.”
The boxing commission bill “would make boxing the only sport to be comprehensively regulated by the federal government,” said Reandeau, who added that lawmakers may not have fully thought through the implications of their proposal.
The WBA has proposed convening working groups to address boxing’s problems instead of a federal commission.
But proponents say federal oversight is needed to eliminate the problem of state and tribal commissioners, some of whom approve mismatches that can pose a safety threat to fighters. Some commissions have come under criticism for approving fights that have resulted in death or serious injury for overmatched boxers.
That was the case in Utah, where a 35-year-old boxer died in a fight last year, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday in a prepared statement to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.
“The young man should never have been allowed to participate in the bout, given that he had suffered 25 consecutive losses over a three-year period leading up to the fight, including a loss only one month earlier to the same opponent he fought when he died,” McCain said in his statement.
Junious Hinton, a former boxer and a trainer at the Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing Gym in Palmer Park, agreed that uniform safety standards are important because, “some guys just shouldn’t be allowed to fight, and the promoters aren’t looking out for them, they just want to get someone else a win.”
Hinton commended the Maryland State Athletic Commission for its work screening fights to ensure the safety of boxers. Others commissions are not as diligent, he said.
Patrick Pannella, the executive director of the Maryland State Athletic Commission, said it is “essential that a (state or tribal) commission does its homework when deciding whether to approve a fight.”
The Maryland commission has not taken a position on whether a national governing entity is necessary, said spokeswoman Liz Williams.
“We are waiting to see what happens on Capitol Hill,” she said.
But many members of Maryland’s boxing community have expressed optimism about the proposed reforms.
Davis, now a trainer at Round One Fitness Center in Capitol Heights, said that most fighters would welcome the federal legislation as protection.
“This isn’t soccer or tennis,” said Davis, who was in Hasim Rahman’s corner when the Baltimore native won the heavyweight championship in 2001.
“Most of the people that get into fighting are from the lower-class,” he said. “There are a lot of poor people and a lot of ex-convicts who don’t have education and who get offered some money and just take it, not knowing what they’re signing up for.”
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