Equality for Female Boxers in the Olympics

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Women's Boxing: Not Enough Women
by Bernie McCoy
June 18, 2007


The sport of Women's boxing has accumulated a large litany of "not enoughs:" Not enough "face-off" bouts between the top fighters in the sport; not enough "live" television coverage; not enough serious consideration given to the sport becoming part of the Olympics; not enough knowledgeable mainstream media coverage beyond publicity for a semi-realistic movie and newsprint for a few "bold face" boxers, more renowned for their heritage or their outside-the-ring photo "spreads."; not enough "championship" bouts worthy of the "title." But, most, notably, the sport of Women's boxing has "not enough" women. No, not women in the ring, women outside the ring, in a position of leadership, those women fully capable of guiding the sport of Women's boxing.

Think about it for a moment: where was the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) in the days before Billy Jean King seized that sport by the throat and, literally, forced it into national recognition, culminating in, among other things, an equal prize money structure at major tournaments? Where was the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) before Louise Suggs and Patty Berg persuaded Dinah Shore to host the Nabisco Open and that tournament became the first women's golf event to have all four rounds covered on national TV? The answer is that women in tennis and golf, the two leading professional women's sports in the country, were in exactly the same place that women boxers are today, under-publicized, under-organized, under-paid and under-appreciated for their skills.

In tennis and golf, women, leaders like King, Suggs and Berg, made the difference, a huge difference in the development of their sport. They assumed leadership and a lot of the barriers that had previously blocked the sport's progress started going down. They went down because King and Suggs and Berg, figuratively, kicked them down. It wasn't easy, change never is. It wasn't quick and simple, nothing worthwhile ever is. And it certainly didn't occur overnight or over a year or two years. It happened gradually. But, eventually, on the sports pages in this country, names such as Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and Nancy Lopez started showing up on a regular basis. With that in mind, contrast tennis and golf with boxing. Women continue in the leadership of female tennis and golf, while, conspicuously, there are no women at the front of female boxing. Men run boxing, they run men's boxing, they run women's boxing. And, it's fair to ask, how's that been working, so far?

A "combat sport," contested in cages, that was, at one time, barred in the majority of states in this country, now threatens to surpass boxing in the national consciousness. A "sport" that has taken on some of the superficial trappings of professional wrestling and combined it with the type of realistic mayhem that usually results when a bartender tells two "patrons" to "take it outside," now appears on the cover of the nation's leading sports magazine. Boxing is in decline and the sport of Women's boxing, still in very much of a complementary position, is suffering because of that decline. The time has never been more opportune for a change in the direction of the sport of Women's boxing. And that change should come, as it did for tennis and golf, with the emergence of women moving to the forefront of the sport's leadership. Men guiding the sport of Women's boxing is, in a minor way, akin to a white man leading the NAACP; that man may be well meaning and have the best interests of the organization at heart, but he lacks the inherent empathy, the understanding of the people and their aspirations that a person of color would bring to the leadership.

Am I suggesting some sort of exclusive, women-only leadership council? Of course not! There are, and will continue to be, many effective advocates, supporters and implementers of the sport of Women's boxing who have played an integral part in it's development: promoters and managers currently in locations as diverse as Detroit, New Mexico and Lemoore, a longtime promoter of the sport and a broadcast executive who conceived, drove and mounted a valiant effort to position Women's boxing in a favorable television environment, a promoter who was instrumental in putting the first all-Women's boxing card on "live" television and who, recently, was a key player in another three-bout female card broadcast on Fox Sports. And, when I last looked, Jimmy Mallo, Lenny Fresquez, Christian Printup, Arnie Rosenthal and Rick Kulis are all firmly positioned on the male side of the gender divide. These men, and some like them, will continue to play the integral role in the sport of Women's boxing that they already have.

What I'm suggesting is that some women, already positioned within the structure of the sport, move to the forefront and assume a move proactive role in the direction of Women's boxing. Here's what I not suggesting: an infusion of those bold faced names, those women more interested in self-absorbing publicity for themselves rather than for the sport; what I'm not suggesting is those women who are unwilling or unable to do the tough work of kicking down the doors of TV networks that refuse to recognize the skill of top women boxers and the equally tough job of dealing with promoters who still think female boxers belong on the bottom of a fight card and at the bottom of the pay scale. Those "bold faces" know who they are, everyone in the sport knows who they are, they're the ones who show up only when the "red light" of TV is on, and, are gone when the hard work starts.

The women I'm thinking about are already deeply involved in doing the tough work in the sport of Women's boxing. It's the ex-boxer who supplies news and promotes female boxing and boxers on the "site of record" of the sport; it's the boxer who is winding up a singular career in the ring that has coupled her, now and forever, with the sport of Women's boxing; it's two women who have already made inroads in the sport as part of separate state boxing commissions; it's the woman who has succeeded, as the first female, to the board of the major boxing sanctioning body; it's the woman and an educator of high school students, who competes in the professional ring for many reasons, all of them exactly right, the love of the sport, the joy of competition and who, with every bout similarly educates boxing fans on the meaning of professionalism. Sue Fox, Christy Martin, Deirdre Gogarty, Trina Ortegon, Jill Diamond and Dee Hamaguchi are examples of women currently making positive contributions to their sport and women who have the potential to do what King and Suggs and Berg did for theirs.

Do I have a detailed plan? I do not. Smarter people than I, in the sport, will come up with that. What I do know is that Women's boxing needs help, it needs a lot of help and it's not going to get it from a "business as usual" approach. That much we know from history. Here's one more thing we know: the athletes in the sport are women, up and down the talent scale, and in the final analysis, the athletes, those who climb into the ring, are the ones who will have to put positive change into effect. They are the ones who have to step up and take the tough bouts, the bouts that will lead to more television coverage. The fighters are the ones who will have to agree to travel to distant venues to take those tough fights. The fighters will make the difference because, once the bell rings, they're the only ones in the sport who count. And they're all women. Are they more likely to listen to another woman, one "who's been there, done that," a woman who talks to them, not at them, and does so without a hint of patronizing? My bet is the fighters will not only listen, they'll pay attention because of the realization that they're listening to someone who they know is speaking form real-life experience. And that's probably a sea change from a lot of the talk female fighters are hearing today. There are many problems in the sport of Women's boxing, too many "not enoughs" and one of the biggest is "not enough" knowledgeable, straight talking women leaders.

What's the first step? The top women in the sport, those mentioned and probably several others, start communicating with each other, start accumulating their knowledge and experience in the sport. They begin by talking about the current state of Women's boxing and the future direction the sport should take. And then, these women, these leaders, should begin pushing the sport in that direction; pushing the promoters, pushing the media, pushing the managers, pushing the fighters, pushing whomever necessary to get the sport of Women's boxing out of it's current state of "not enoughs" and moving towards a level of success that the right mix of leadership can achieve.

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