Yesterday the Dragon was one James D. Norris and Cus D'Amato was St. George. Today? Why today Cus D'Amato is the Dragon and one Bill Rosensohn is St. George. Tomorrow the Dragon will be...well, you guess.
Arthur J. Jackson
This is an article from the Sept. 7, 1959 issue
On reading this letter last week, we were suddenly reminded of another—the famed letter from a little girl named Virginia asking the New York Sun for information about Santa Claus—and we will answer it in kind, for what Reader Jackson is really asking is: Do we still believe in dragons and do we still believe in St. George? And our answer is, overwhelmingly, yes.
We believe in dragons and we have been trying to get them out of prizefighting virtually all of our publishing life, as the reproduction from an early issue (SI, Nov. 1, 1954) at the top of this page shows. We also believe in St. George but, like Reader Jackson, we can often recognize the dragon more readily than the knight. Amid the blinding glare of the limelights and the clangor of money ringing in the tills, the two are not always readily distinguishable, and the one may often turn into the other. As Sports Columnist Arthur Daley pointed out in The New York Times last week the archdragon of them all, James D. Norris of the International Boxing Club, had a "matchless opportunity" to play saint. He was a rich man. "The chances are," wrote Daley, "that he doesn't even know his exact wealth. With his money and love for the sport, he could have cleaned it up. He never even tried."
The president of the IBC was our own first candidate for dragon-in-chief of boxing—a preference we made clear in December of 1954 under the heading, JIM NORRIS IS PART OF BOXING'S DIRTY BUSINESS, and in countless succeeding articles long and short. And long before his accession to the heavyweight championship we were proud and happy to hail the advent of a young knight whose flashing fists were to help pound the way to Norris' eventual undoing.
In the fullness of time, Floyd Patterson and the antitrust division of the United States Department of Justice proved too much for the Norris monopoly, and St. George's armor stood idle and empty in a corner of boxing's locker room. All eyes, including ours, turned then to the new champion's manager, Cus D'Amato, to see if he would put it on. Armed with the heavyweight championship—the most potent weapon in big-time boxing—Cus had the opportunity to fight the dragon of dirty business to a finish, and at one time it seemed as though he might do it. "Early in the game before Patterson won the title," wrote Marty Kane (SI, April 21, 1958), "the opinion around Stillman's Gym was that 'Cus is crazy.' By dropping his lance this Don Quixote from The Bronx could have made a quick and trouble-free fortune but he refused to do so. Nowadays the boys say Cus has guts." Cus doubtless had that, but he had also a curiously devious mind that claimed closer kinship to Napoleon and Machiavelli than to St. George. "Nothing ever changes," he mused one day to Kane. "Only our attitude toward things can change." And in the transition from outsider to man-in-the-saddle this potential St. George's attitude changed enough to give him a startlingly dragonlike appearance in subsequent dealings with a new promoter and a new potential champion.
"The Norris organization," wrote Daley in the Times, "was clipped on monopoly charges, but at least it ran things in a professional manner. Into the vacuum of boxing plunged bungling amateurs. They have made it worse because the greedy racket guys still hold the control or scurry about under cover until they wrest them away."
Bill Rosensohn, who once described himself to our reporter as "a 38-year-old boy with a pencil in his hand" brought a new kind of Ivy League enthusiasm to boxing via Madison Avenue and new hope with it. But he lacked the experience, the acumen and, as it turned out, the basic courage to cope with the undercover crowd or to resist the blatant efforts of Cus D'Amato to keep himself on the gravy train regardless of who might unseat his champion. Last week, likening himself to a disillusioned Neville Chamberlain and looking very much the part on a TV and radio hookup, Bill Rosensohn, the St.-George-who-never-was, talked of the might-have-beens of his career as a big-time fight promoter and confessed to the cardinal sin of appeasement.
Rosensohn's confession by no means spelled a future of hopelessness for the sport of boxing. The awareness of pugilism's peccadilloes which we cited in the five-year-old headline above was being suddenly shared by a host of newcomers eager to join our once-lonely crusade.
First there was Governor Edmund (Pat) Brown of California, whose state played host to the championship Basilio-Fullmer fight and might well turn out to be the site of the next Johansson-Patterson bout.
"I am seriously considering recommending the abolishment of boxing in California," said Governor Brown, "unless there are some national laws on the subject. The whole thing smells to high heaven."
Close behind Brown was California Attorney General Stanley Mosk, who returned to his home state from some chats with New York law enforcement officials "more alarmed about boxing" than ever. On the other side of the nation the New York Post's editorial page urged Governor Nelson Rockefeller "to interest himself in this situation."
Then galloping down from Washington came Senator Estes Kefauver, an old pro at probing the underworld, to announce that his antimonopoly subcommittee is starting a special investigation of the fight game on a national scale.
On a somewhat lower level of national awareness there was Sports Columnist Jimmy Cannon, who announced with some bluntness that boxing "is the garbage dump of sports."
Most significant of all, perhaps, was the resounding voice of the good, gray New York Times, a paper which only last month had seemed editorially to wish a return to what it all but called "the good old days" of the International Boxing Club and Jim Norris.
"Boxing," wrote the Times's chief sports columnist, "is the slum area of sports. Maybe the time has come to destroy this slum."
We heartily welcome all these Georgie-come-latelies to the fight, even though they seem determined to slay not the offending dragon but the outraged maiden. We ourselves cannot believe that the only way left to cure boxing is to kill it. There are plenty of decent, honest sports fans about who would like to see boxing thrive and flourish in an atmosphere of honest competition. We would like to be able to point out to Reader Jackson the single, sinful dragon who is holding the maiden in fief, and to cite for him the perfect gentle knight who will one day set her free. We doubt it will be so simple. Like the editorial writer who told Virginia about Santa Claus we are forced to seek refuge in a symbol, a symbol that is no less real because it is abstract. We hope that Virginia didn't stop believing in Santa Claus when she discovered that the seedy bell ringer on the Bowery street corner at Christmastime was not the real thing. Clean boxing has had some pretty seedy defenders, but the spirit of St. George is omnipresent in every man of good will, in every responsible official, in every truly dedicated athletic commissioner, in every indignant sportswriter and in every sports fan who seeks, as we do, to make championship boxing a clean sport instead of a dirty business.
Thus, our painful frustrations notwithstanding, we say again with the same firmness of tone:
BOXING'S DIRTY BUSINESS MUST BE CLEANED UP NOW