Cover of December 17, 2001 Issue

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December 17, 2001 Issue

Ellen Willis discusses religious fundamentalism in culture wars at home and abroad; Bruce Shapiro reports on John Ashcroft’s strategy…

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After the Taliban

Laura Bush might put on a good face for women's rights in Afghanistan, but her husband's handwork works against women in other places.



Boxing Days San Francisco Jack Newfield knows as much about boxing--and injustice--as any writer at work today. His article "The Shame of Boxing" [Nov. 12] captures the tragedy of this sport as few writers can. Anyone who cares about boxing knows that it can no longer be enjoyed without a drastic overhaul that puts fighters first. And anyone who cares about people must recognize that it is cruel to subject fighters to corruption, exploitation, manipulation and the real prospect of poverty, dementia and death. RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON     Chalmette, La. As a lifelong, die-hard fan of the "sweet science" and someone who deeply cares about the sport, I found myself giving Jack Newfield a standing ovation at my computer after reading his great article. It should be mandatory reading for all state officials in the sport. Bravo. FELIX CASTRO     Brooklyn, N.Y. Less than two months after the biggest terrorist attack ever, is The Nation not finding enough news so that it has to resort to a feature on...boxing?! (I admit I didn't read it, because I have no interest in it.) It seems irrelevant, given the urgent situation in the world now. MARISA BLACKWELL     Los Angeles Thank you for Jack Newfield's article, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was surprised to see an article about boxing in a progressive publication that wasn't a screed about how boxing is violent and therefore should be banned. As a boxing fan I agreed with all Newfield's prescriptions for fixing what's wrong with the sport, and I'd like to add one of my own: for fighters to wear helmets, as is done in Olympic boxing. DIANA WAGGONER     Denver Boxing has no place in a civilized society. The only way to improve it is to ban it, immediately. STEVE READ     Portland, Ore. I am totally impressed with one of the best- written and most thorough articles I've read on boxing. I cover men's and women's boxing, and Jack Newfield is right on. SUE T.L. FOX WBAN Network     New York City For nine years, when I was working for radio station WMEX in Boston, I broadcast many boxing bouts--some with nationally known fighters as well as club fighters. I also spent a lot of time backstage, getting to recognize "connected" managers and promoters. The Mob was pervasive. Over the years, I saw a number of club fighters become cognitively disabled (punch-drunk). As with capital punishment, any "reforms" of the industry will be cover-ups of the fundamental brutality of a "sport" in which the participants are intended to maim each other--the more seriously, the better. During my years at ringside, often when there actually was a boxing bout--skill rather than assault--the crowd would derisively sing in waltz rhythm. As usual, Jack has done a first-rate job of muckraking, but there is no way to disguise that boxing is planned savagery. In a civilized society, it should be outlawed. Unless, of course, we are much less civilized than we claim to be. NAT HENTOFF     Nashville, Tenn. Jack Newfield has demonstrated once more why professional boxing remains the most relentlessly corrupt and racially exploitative business enterprise in the United States. The most recent law from Congress, named for Muhammad Ali, won't bring the velvet out of the sewer. It won't begin to deal with the depth of sleaze that rips off fighters and fans. John McCain's commitment is admirable, but without a new, searching Congressional investigation with extensive public hearings, including confronting the meat-merchant promoters and managers, proponents of a national commission will never build support from the public or Senator McCain's Congressional peers. When we think of state-sanctioned death, capital punishment comes immediately to mind, and we are horrified at the thought of televising an execution. At the same time, the public is entertained twice or more a week with matches where state-sanctioned death is a sad possibility. There's another option. Because of the deaths and brain damage, the American Medical Association has called for a ban on boxing. Every credible health organization in the world has done the same. Newfield will argue that a ban won't work, that it would drive the filth underground or to other countries. Even a moratorium--a temporary ban until there's a national commission to clean it up--has no chance in today's environment. I congratulate The Nation for giving Jack Newfield's cause resonance. His has been a lone voice. And once every few months--in the faint hope that I will love it again--I feel the magnetic pull of the once "sweet science" and pay HBO or Showtime to prove that I hate it still. JOHN SEIGENTHALER SR.     Chicago A trivial point, perhaps, and yet... Jack Newfield, in his great, definitive piece on the rottenness of the boxing game, has cited sixteen top writers on the subject. For some reason, he failed to mention the nonpareil: Nelson Algren. Two of those Jack named, Pete Hamill and Budd Schulberg, have often referred to Algren as the best of the lot. Whether it be in his short stories or his novels, his lyric style as well as his bite into the core of the rotten apple has always knocked me out. When will this guy ever be recognized as the keenest observer around? The constant ignoring of this man drives me nuts. STUDS TERKEL     Alamosa, Colo. Jack Newfield mentions Bob Dylan's indictment of boxing in "Who Killed Davey Moore?" by saying "he has the manager, the referee and the crowd all defensively rejecting responsibility for the calamity." The song also includes a verse about the sportswriter's responsibility for the calamity. Did this strike a little too close to home? JOEL KAUFMAN     San Luis Obispo, Calif. I disagree with Jack Newfield's claim that boxing takes such poor care of the fighters because they are black and Latino. Boxing was always rotten at the core. In the days when Jews, Irishmen and other white fighters dominated, the fighters usually got screwed much as they do today. Newfield also implies that white guys never could really fight. Tell that to the likes of Jerry Quarry, Carmen Basilio, Rocky Marciano and Jack Dempsey. TOM OGREN     Davis, Calif. I was sure Jack Newfield would recommend abolishing professional boxing. A contest in which the object is to inflict enough injury to an opponent's brain that he falls to the canvas and cannot get up for at least ten seconds is not a sport any more than cockfighting is a sport. No reforms can get around that. As for the old cliché that boxing provides a ticket out of the ghetto, Floyd Patterson observed long ago that for everyone who escapes by boxing a hundred others are doomed to stay because they developed no other skills. We got rid of dueling and we can get rid of boxing. SHERMAN STEIN     Los Angeles The International Brotherhood of Prizefighters is in the process of completing our 2001 fighter registry. We are also looking to break ground on our seventeen-story boxing glove, which will house the IBOP Hall of Fame. We are also implementing various pension plans and medical/life insurance plans for fighters. All sorts of things the boxing community has only talked about. Well, it is finally going to happen. ANTHONY TORRES International Brotherhood of Prizefighters     Scottsdale, Ariz. I hold an Arizona manager's license, and I've been involved in professional boxing for more than fifty years in virtually every position, which qualifies me as--at the very least--knowledgeable about the sport. I would rank Jack Newfield's "The Shame of Boxing" as one of the most incisive, well-thought-out, honest pieces ever done. He has cast light on so many problem areas that I am moved to nominate him as the first national boxing commissioner--should that post ever be created. STEVE EISNER     Honolulu Newfield sure knows his stuff. In Chicago, I fought in smokers as an amateur, billed as a hero of the "Famous Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion," a Golden Gloves runner-up, 1946. I learned to fight as a kid in Eastside Los Angeles, Boyle Heights. We learned racist attitudes early--"Jew boys" can't fight, and never hit a "colored" fighter in the head, hit 'em in the stomach. I was taken aback when given the same advice by my handlers in Chicago. In close decisions I won over black fighters and lost to whites. I had to knock the white boys out to win. To beat the black fighters, all I had to do was remain standing at bell, no matter how groggy. Worse, I was once told to take it easy on a white prospect. Didn't knock him out, and lost. I figured then and there that I was just another bum. I quit. Newfield is right, only a union can clean out the Augean stable. "Stables"! We're animals--all of us in boxing and out in the real world too. Good thing I turned down Nichols, a black man, a nice guy not a Don King, who wanted me to join his stable. Worked in the steel mills, but they were worse. By the way, Newfield left out of his list of boxing greats Henry Armstrong, who held three championships at the same time, feather-, light-and welterweight, and fought the middleweight champ Ceferino Garcia to a draw. He left off his list of writers who touched on boxing James Jones (From Here to Eternity). God, what that Kentucky-born soldier in Farewell to Arms went through. Like me, he quit boxing for the rotten army officers and steel bosses. Like me, he got blacklisted. Unlike me, he didn't stick with the miners' union. Too bad, because the UMW got rid of the gangsters. Marx said, We're not a bunch of oxen. We're Spartacists, we're fighters. DON MATSUDA     Santa Barbara, Calif. Readers may be interested in Sartre's discussion, in his posthumous (and unfinished) Critique of Dialectical Reason, of several of the themes broached by Newfield. Sartre writes, "Every boxing match incarnates the whole of boxing as an incarnation of all fundamental violence." Sartre's reflections on boxing were, in a sense, beholden to his larger philosophical agenda (e.g., rendering intelligible "struggle" as an incarnation of capitalist scarcity), yet they provide cogent reasons in support of Newfield's perceptive proposition that boxing is "more about Marx's concept of surplus value than notions of literary symbolism." Sartre seems to suggest that boxing is a concomitant of capitalism and will thus persevere as long as the latter, giving credence to Newfield's assessment of the impotence of calls to abolish the sport. Perhaps the many--I hesitate to use the words--reformist steps will someday lead to a vista atop the mountain in which both the elimination of boxing and capitalism are on the horizon. PATRICK S. O'DONNELL   Read More


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