For the revelation of pure excellence
This is an article from the Jan. 4, 1960 issue
The Sportsman of the Year
1954 ROGER BANNISTER
1955 JOHNNY PODRES
1956 BOBBY MORROW
1957 STAN MUSIAL
1958 RAFER JOHNSON
This Grecian Vase, or amphora, is the trophy that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED awards to its Sportsman of the Year. The original, which dates from about 510 B.C., is on permanent display in the Time & Life Building in New York. A reproduction is given each year to that individual who, in the opinion of the editors, has most closely approached the degree of excellence suggested by the ancient Greek concept of arete—a unity of 'virtues of mind and body to which the complete man of every age must aspire. Victory in sport is usually his, but it is not for victory alone that he is honored. Rather, it is for the way he has competed, his manner, his attitude, his acceptance of the responsibilities of his fame. Whether his achievement was over an extended period of time or only for an hour or for an instant, it was such that his fellow men could not fail to recognize it as the revelation of pure excellence—arete. The five previous winners of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's Sportsman of the Year award are listed above. Martin Kane's story of Ingemar Johansson, the Sportsman of the Year for 1959, begins on page 23.
The June drizzle stopped and the puddle-shiny cover on the Yankee Stadium ring was rolled back. Down the soggy aisles trooped the champion and his challenger, surrounded by their handlers. The roar of the crowd swelled. Champion Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson had come up to sport's most dramatic scratch, the line that separates the heavyweight champion of the world from his challenger.
In less than nine minutes of fighting the main issue was settled by a single punch—a punch that had been derided as a publicity man's hoax. But this punch soon raised a cloud of other vital issues, still unsettled. Ingemar Johansson, an obscure Swede, suddenly became the world's champion and thereby turned the world of boxing upside down. For the first time since the days of the freakish Primo Camera a European was heavyweight champion, the fifth such champion born outside the U.S. since John L. Sullivan established the modern title.
It was to some extent coincidence, to another extent much more significant than coincidence, that Ingemar Johansson's assumption of the championship marked the end of an era in boxing. It had been an era of American domination, an era of glory, but also an era of shame, in which U.S. prizefighting had rotted to a dirty business in the hands of monopolists and hoodlums working in cahoots.
Ingemar had almost instant personal experience of this and as a result has come to some pertinent conclusions which SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has long shared (see box on next page).
"Boxing is in a bad state around the world," he told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED last week. "It needs a new international organization to control it to decide who are the champions and what contenders they should fight. This organization will be useless without the full support of the U.S. The purpose of this organization must be to restore public confidence in boxing, which has been badly hurt by scandals and to protect the fighters, who have been too often manipulated by powerful promoters and unscrupulous managers."
It is not surprising that Champion Ingemar should hold such convictions. Whatever his fighting ability may prove to be in the reckonings of history, and only time will tell us that, the blond, smiling, soft-spoken Johansson is gifted with a special greatness, a compound of brawn and personality. He is master of a style that no professional has yet been able to solve, master of a punch that has knocked out 14 of 22 opponents, including Eddie Machen, who was the No. 1 contender before Ingemar took him out in one round. In these days when so many contenders are half-baked, he fought Patterson coolly and shrewdly with the poise of a genuine professional, nullifying the champion's speed of hand with his own speed of foot, staving him off with a relentless barrier jab, saving the big right hand for the right big moment. When that moment came the right exploded, just as he had said it would (SI, June 22), a straight punch precisely designed to penetrate Patterson's peek-a-boo defense as no hook could do.
Those who know Johansson best say his left hook is almost as good as his straight right, that he adapts to any opponent's style, moving in on counterpunchers as he wisely stayed away from Patterson's attempts to start those swift combinations. His is a cool head in a hot fight.
His class shows in other ways, too. It shows in his sense of fun, in his good business sense and in his determination to maintain the integrity of his good name in a sport that can well use an extra helping of integrity.
For these reasons—what he has done in the past year, what he is and what he stands for—Ingemar Johansson is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Sportsman of the Year 1959. As such he is eminently worthy to stand with his distinguished predecessors, sportsmen of other years: Roger Bannister 1954, Johnny Podres 1955, Bobby Morrow 1956, Stan Musial 1957 and Rafer Johnson 1958.
With Johansson's stunning victory the person of the world heavyweight champion suddenly became important again. Floyd Patterson, a natural recluse, had been willingly all but obscured from public view by Manager Cus D'Amato. The new champion, a natural extrovert, has come much more sharply into public view and proved to be the very prototype of the clean, intelligent and independent athlete whom neither promoter, manager nor hoodlum can shove around. Europe idolizes him and he is now known in America for more than his good right hand. In television appearances his natural personality rivaled the practiced charm of Dinah Shore, with whom he sang a respectably melodious duet. In a TV version of Ernest Hemingway's The Killers, he won a solid hand of critical applause. He has made a movie, too, which will enhance his personal appeal.
Johansson's introduction to prizefighting in the U.S. would have disillusioned a lesser man. Confronted with the prime opportunity of his career, an opportunity he clearly deserved after the Machen victory, Johansson was told brusquely that he would not get his chance until he signed what he was later to describe as a "slave contract." Under it a man he had never heard of would collect 10% of his earnings (reduced from an original demand for 33‚Öì%) and tell him where and when and whom he could fight. Shortly before the fight he personally made this dark deal public. The New York State boxing commission then denounced the scheme and Ingemar was free, free to fight Floyd Patterson on honest, sporting terms.
Then, after the fight, it developed that one of the promotion's hidden backers, introduced to the sport by Promoter Bill Rosensohn, had been a gangster named Tony (Fat) Salerno. The disclosure led to suspension of licenses right and left and to a perjury indictment for Salerno's lawyer, Vincent J. Velella, charged with being a front man for the gangster. Before this happened, however, Johansson found himself adroitly maneuvered, quite as if by accident, into the company of James D. Norris and Truman Gibson of the dissolved and dissolute old International Boxing Club. The idea was to tie the new champion at least indirectly to the organization most responsible for the decadence of prizefighting. Ingemar forthrightly said he would have none of it.
"I will not have anything to do with gangsters," he declared publicly. "I will not fight for the IBC."
Because of his experiences with Rosensohn and the double-dealing that surrounded the first promotion, Johansson has since shown an intelligent caution about tying up with any promoter until the candidate is first thoroughly examined for probity. A highly professional man when a dollar is involved, he is also dedicated to boxing as a sport and resents the cheap chicaneries of fast-buck hustlers. His true feeling for prizefighting is as amateur as his love of fishing, sports cars, light planes and hacker's golf, none of which will ever make him a krona. He is distressed by the state of prizefighting in the U.S.
The sad and, at the same time, happy fact is that Johansson's big punch came at a time when boxing in America had only two places left to go—up or out. Johansson came to greatness in the year that boxing fell to a new low state. True, in the past few months the accumulated poisons of the James D. Norris-Frankie Carbo entente have undergone a purge of sorts by various courts and commissions, but the purge has been far too mild and the patient remains gravely ill. To survive, it must be cured of a whole syndrome of complaints—flabby controls, mobster domination, irresponsible sponsorship and self-gulled friends who protest that everything is fine. The sport's friends have compromised too long. The showdown period is now.
Boxing has the man—Ingemar Johansson—who has struck the blow for good against evil. Now what it needs is a plan.
Unlike baseball, the "world" championship of which is determined entirely within the U.S., boxing is a genuinely international sport. Its effective regulation must therefore be truly international, at least as far as the conduct of championship fights and the designation of leading contenders are concerned.
To study the possibilities of international control, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED retained a United Nations technical expert in development of international agreements, then questioned boxing leaders in Europe and the U.S. about his proposals. The expert drafted a constitution for international control of the sport, defining its purposes as:
1) To foster professional boxing as an international sport through collaboration and maintenance of standards of integrity and fair competition;
2) To assure the selection of world champions in accordance with such standards and to seek to solve controversies and differences that may arise in this respect;
3) To assist in the elimination of restrictive practices and discriminatory treatment in boxing and to promote fair and open competition.
The proposed organization's governing body would be a council representing boxing organizations around the world.
The Council would, among other duties:
1) Receive complaints and render decisions;
2) Recommend measures for the conduct of boxing;
3) Designate leading contenders;
4) Require champions to defend their titles at appropriate intervals.
The Council would have an executive secretary who, with his assistants, would make such investigations and studies as the Council required.
That is the gist of the proposed plan. Its design is simple. Putting it into effect will not be so simple. There are obvious roadblocks and these will be encountered mostly in the U.S., which, ironically, has done most to glorify the sport and most to corrupt it. Such "controls" as there are in the U.S. are manned by the boxing commissions of the several states and the National Boxing Association, a quasi-official organization composed of 46 state commissions. But American boxing organizations, official, quasi or unofficial have never been able to work with each other on a national basis, let alone with foreign agencies.
Indifference to international controls was much more understandable when the U.S. dominated boxing through the magnificence of its Sullivans, Dempseys, Tunneys, Louises, Leonards and Canzoneris. But the drive that accounted for U.S. domination has decelerated more and more in the years of economic acceleration.
Boxing came to greatness in America, and great American boxers were developed, because the sport offered opportunities of truly bonanza proportions to recently arrived ethnic groups and to the recently freed Negro. It was, Horatio Alger notwithstanding, at one time the only escape hatch from grinding poverty for boys of the lowest economic-order and the lowest educational level. At first Irish and Germans were most prominent, later Jews and Italians, most recently Negroes and a few Puerto Ricans. But today's prosperity and the concurrently sorry economics of prizefighting have combined to militate against the development of American fighters. Most American fighters cannot earn a living by fighting alone. Free TV network shows have ruined the small clubs where American boxers once learned the trade and made a good livelihood while learning.
There is no good reason now for America to be the center of boxing. Of the 88 champions and ranked contenders in the world, 55.6% are now from outside the U.S., an unprecedented proportion. Twenty years ago this percentage was 37.5. We have all but abandoned the two lightest divisions—the bantam and flyweight—which once were so exciting. Not a single American is ranked in either division. Even the television promoters have made no effort to revive interest in the little men, apparently unaware that a flyweight looks as big as a heavyweight on the 21-inch screen and puts on a far better show of speed and skill than some of the lumbering behemoths we are being treated to.
Nor are we doing so well in our historic specialty, the heavyweight division. We have lost the championship to Sweden. Even before that, our top rankers of the moment—Eddie Machen, Zora Folley and Willie Pastrano—had been defeated in Europe by fighters who were little regarded on this side of the Atlantic.
As America's stock has fallen, other countries have risen in the sport in a way that suggests the classic pattern of the underprivileged seeking escape from oblivion. Nigeria recently had one of the world champions, Hogan (Kid) Bassey, and there are now two ranked Nigerian fighters.
Recognition of this displacement gives plenty of reason to hold that the time is swollen ripe for formation of an international board of control.
International control of boxing has been tried. It has not worked well. There is a persistently recurrent defeatism on the subject, summed up in what might be called "the mugg's argument." The mugg's argument, voiced most frequently by boxing writers and sports columnists, is that boxing always has been dominated by crooks and therefore it always will be. The mobsters are in full agreement with the sportswriters on this point.
But it is a point that aims directly at alternatives ordered by Governor Pat Brown of California—cure boxing or kill it. If the sport is inherently rotten it should be destroyed.
Prizefighting is well worth saving. For its sins it may yet be banished again to the barges, but its essential virtues require that it be given a chance to save itself. It is today our sickest sport, but here and there surgery is being performed. Carbo is in jail and may yet go to federal prison. With the indictment of Truman Gibson, president of National Boxing Enterprises, on a federal charge of conspiracy, whatever was left of the Norris monopoly's good name has declined dramatically. Even television networks, singularly insensitive in the past, have been debating whether to drop boxing as a prophylactic against even more scandals of the quiz and payola variety.
Prizefighting in the U.S. is groggy, certainly, but it need not be knocked out. Its men of good will vastly outnumber its Carbos and Norrises, though many seem fainthearted.
They also seem, some of them, permanently frustrated.
Attempts at international control have failed because the U.S. has failed to live up to the obligations of such membership.
The National Boxing Association was founded in the hope that it might make order out of the chaos of individual state and city boxing commissions working at competitive cross-purposes. It has had some limited successes but its basic problems, inherent in the political nature of its member boxing commissions, have never been solved. The states tax prizefights, and the state commissions therefore compete against each other to get the fights and the revenue. Hotels, restaurants, night clubs and other businesses profit from a big prizefight and the representatives of these enterprises exert extra pressure on the commissioners. It has been estimated that a fight which drew $1 million in New York caused another million to be spent in the city for board, lodging and entertainment.
The NBA is nevertheless contemplating its own gesture toward international control. The gesture has a feckless feel. It would change the name of the organization to something like the "International Boxing Association" in order that the new title might acknowledge the existence of affiliate members like the Canadian Boxing Federation, the Japan Boxing Commission, the Thailand Boxing Commission and others. But the foreign affiliates attend NBA conventions in almost a passive spirit. Even in matters that can be handled by mail they exert little influence on NBA deliberations.
NBA President Anthony Maceroni, an earnest young man who has long worked ardently for boxing with little or no personal reward, proposes to put in international command an organization with a history of inability to control boxing within the U.S. Before attempting such a move the NBA should go out and win a few preliminaries. It needs a reputation.
The NBA attempt at internationalization probably results from its disastrous experience with the World Championship Committee, which had been conceived and organized by J. Onslow Fane, president of the British Boxing Board of Control. For a time the committee seemed on its way to success. Its purpose was modestly limited to regulation of the championships and designation of leading contenders. Then it began to fall apart as the inherent inadequacy of U.S. control weakened its basic structure.
The NBA plan to internationalize itself seems to have equally little chance for success, in part since it would give each member country a representative on the IBA's executive committee.
That alone would be a fatal defect. As Onslow Fane pointed out in a critique of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S proposal, wieldiness is essential for any world organization. He believes in something much more like a federation of associations, some of which have authority over several countries, a design that would prevent the organization from being overwhelmed by members.
"I think this is desirable," he said, "because I am convinced that a very large membership will lead to chaos and, possibly, under-the-table alliances on the principle that if I scratch your back you scratch mine."
Also to preserve wieldiness, Fane would limit the new organization to regulation of the championships and designation of the leading contenders.
Edouard Rabret, secretary general of the European Boxing Union, wholeheartedly supports the objectives of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S proposal, while cautiously agreeing with Fane on the point that "Too many cooks spoil the broth."
The state whose commission has done the most to clean up boxing within its borders is California. The investigating spearhead of California's cleanup is Jack Urch, executive director of the California commission. With dour regard for the situation in the rest of the U.S., Urch observed:
"An international organization would be ideal and I feel California would go along. We'd even settle for a national—meaning United States—organization."
There is some prospect, indeed, that California, disgusted at NBA's inability to control the situation, is about to withdraw from the national body.
"California views a strong organization as necessary to regulate and administer the many important interstate and worldwide aspects of boxing," Urch said. "We are conscious of the fact that without this type of worldwide organization to cover all areas we will get the very degrading situation in which we find ourselves today with the Carbo syndicate or any other.
"The idea of permitting racketeering to go on in one jurisdiction after it is smashed in another is ridiculous."
This is a point that Edwin Ahlquist, Johansson's adviser and Scandinavia's leading fight promoter, made in discussing the need for international control.
"As conditions now are," Ahlquist said, "the boxing authority in a state in America may exclude unscrupulous individuals, whereupon these—in certain cases—only have to move into another state and make arrangements as if nothing had happened. Anyone can understand that this paralyzes control of boxing, a control which is necessary.
"A world organization could in a short time restore public confidence in boxing, make all scandals impossible and protect the fighters, the public and all those wanting to make boxing an honorable sport again."
The NBA, the World Championship Committee, Fane, Rabret and individual states like California have represented most of the constructive efforts that have been expended to regulate boxing.
A new one may yet emerge from the projected investigation of boxing by Senator Estes Kefauver's Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly. Proposals for federal control of the sport have been heard with more and more frequency of late. Out of Kefauver's investigation may come just such a proposal. If so, and if adopted, an essential problem would be solved at a stroke. The disunity of the states, which was the base cause of the failure of the World Championship Committee, would be ended. The U.S. could then take an efficient part in international regulation of boxing, perhaps by joining a reconstituted World Championship Committee, perhaps by taking part in the formation of an international body along the lines of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S proposal—a body, to requote the Sportsman of the Year of 1959, dedicated to a purpose which "must be to restore public confidence in boxing."
The excitement of Ingemar's big right-hand punch drove from many a ringsider's memory the fact that the challenger fought with superb defensive skill, as Hy Peskin's pictures clearly show. Patterson never could penetrate the Swede's barrier jab or even reach him with one of his famous leaps (upper left). The frustrated Floyd found his punches coolly blocked, ducked and slipped. Then Ingemar threw his big right.
DRAFT CONSTITUTION FOR A WORLD PROFESSIONAL BOXING ASSOCIATION
Recognizing that professional boxing has an international character and provides enjoyment for millions throughout the world; and
Considering that its international character requires that standards of integrity and fair competition be adopted and adhered to in all countries concerned;
There is hereby established a world professional boxing association (hereinafter referred to as the Association), to achieve the purposes and carry out the functions set forth below.
The Association shall have the following purposes:
1) to foster and assist professional boxing as an international sport through mutual collaboration and maintenance of standards of integrity and fair competition;
2) to assure the selection of world champions in accordance with such standards and to seek to solve controversies and differences that may arise in this respect;
3) to assist in the elimination of restrictive practices and discriminatory treatment in professional boxing and to promote fair and open competition.
III. THE COUNCIL OF THE ASSOCIATION
1) The governing body of the Association shall be a Council composed of representatives of national boxing commissions (or their equivalent), each of which shall designate two members, provided that in the case of the United States the National Boxing Association shall appoint two members and the Boxing Commissions of California, Illinois and New York one each.
2) The Council shall designate by election an additional group of members not exceeding one-half of the total number of representatives referred to in paragraph 1. Such additional members shall be chosen from among individuals of high standing in their community who have demonstrated an interest in professional boxing. They shall be elected with due regard to the relative importance of professional boxing in their countries and without restriction as to nationality.
IV. THE FUNCTIONS OF THE COUNCIL
The Council shall carry out the following functions so as to achieve the purposes set forth in Article II above:
1) It shall after due consideration adopt principles and standards to govern professional boxing, with the objective of assuring fair and open competition for the championship and eliminating restrictive practices and tie-in arrangements;
2) It shall collect, analyze and make public information relating to the application of the principles and standards referred to above;
3) It shall receive and consider complaints submitted by any member or by its Executive Secretary regarding a breach of the principles and standards adopted by it and shall announce its decisions regarding such complaints;
4) It may recommend to national boxing commissions general or specific measures to be adopted for the conduct of professional boxing, and where appropriate, the participation of individuals in the management, promotion or exhibition of boxing matches.
V. PROCEDURE OF THE COUNCIL
1) The Council shall adopt its rules of procedure, including rules for the convening of sessions and for carrying out its functions between sessions;
2) Each member of the Council shall have one vote, and decisions shall be made by a majority of the votes cast;
3) The Council may establish such committees as are necessary for its functions, including committees to hear and report on complaints that principles and standards have been breached. Final decisions shall however only be made by the Council.
VI. EXECUTIVE SECRETARY
1) The Council shall appoint an Executive Secretary and fix his conditions of service, tenure and compensation;
2) The Executive Secretary shall appoint such assistants as he may require within the budgetary limits set by the Council and in conformity with such rules as the Council may adopt;
3) The Executive Secretary shall carry out tasks assigned to him by the Council, including such investigations and studies as the Council may authorize. He shall in general act as the chief administrative officer of the Association;
4) The Executive Secretary and his staff shall not seek or receive instructions in respect of the performance of their duties from any organization or individual outside of the Association. During their tenure, they shall have no professional activities in the field of boxing other than their duties for the Association.
VII. FINANCIAL PROVISIONS
1) The Council shall adopt an annual budget covering all expenses of the Association;
2) Each boxing commission which has designated representatives to the Council shall contribute annually a proportionate share of the expenses as determined by the Council. Such apportionment of expenses shall be made with due regard to the relative activity in professional boxing in the areas concerned;
3) Any boxing commission which is in arrears for two years or more in its contribution shall lose the right to vote and may be expelled by the Council from participation in the Association;
4) Voluntary contributions from organizations or individuals may be received by the Association in accordance with rules laid down by the Council.