Sugar N Spice: Taking care of the Ex-Boxers

10.14.04 - By Bert Randolph Sugar, Sr. Boxing Analyst at-large for - What happens to boxers when they put their careers away in moth balls and find their existence no longer defined by the ring? When they have to deal with the world after boxing and discover that the world can be a quagmire of quicksand, its particles shifting rapidly, and that they are, perhaps, ill-prepared to handle this sometimes daunting task?

It's one of the most dependable stories in all of sports: the tale of the ex-boxer who, having voyaged, Columbus-like, into a new world, is totally adrift at sea. The stories are almost too numerous to recount; the story of a King Levinsky reduced to selling ties; of a Beau Jack shining shoes; of a Johnny Bratton, homeless and sleeping in cars, etc., etc., etc.; these et ceteras going on for at least four or five pages or more.

Oh, sure, there are those fighters who have made a life for themselves after boxing--boxers like George Foreman, Max Schmeling, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jimmy McLarnin and a gloveful of others. But they are rare exceptions who merely prove the rule of what happens to so many.

For boxers are the only professional athletes without a safety net. Unlike former baseball, football, basketball and hockey players, when a boxer retires he has no pension plan, no health benefits, no nothing. (For many former MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL players, the most annoying part of real life is buying his own plane ticket and booking his own hotel room, now that the team isn't doing that for him.) Stripping it of its fig leaf, it means these boxers who have given us so much are now left, when they retire, as bereft as Robinson Crusoe, without a boat to fend for themselves.

Senator John McCain has introduced the Muhammad Ali Act, a bill sculpted to helping current boxers. But what about those who not only have slipped off the radar screen but through the cracks of society as well?

Even as we write, there are two groups dedicated to helping former fighters, both headed by former fighters who understand how life relentlessly stalks the very men who once stalked their opponents and who now need help.

One of those is the F.I.S.T., standing for "Fighters" Initiative for Support and Training, a non-profit organization headed up by former world heavyweight title contender Gerry Cooney. Acknowledging that most ex-fighters wind up with their bank accounts up for adoption, Cooney's organization helps boxers "Turn the page and find new goals." Not with handouts, but with training to "Help them stand up and get going again." Cooney underlines his organization's approach to helping ex-boxers by saying, in words worthy of being stitched into every sampler hung on every former fighter's wall: "You can give a man a fish, but it is better to teach him how to catch them."

The second organization is the Retired Boxers Foundation, run by former world middleweight title contender Alex Ramos. Ramos' goals are slightly different from Cooney's. Ramos told New York sportswriter Tim Smith, "I help who I can and don't care whose fault it is that they're in the situation they're in."

For all the sport's hard knocks and bad press, Gerry Cooney and Alex Ramos are two shining examples of boxing's good side, of the caring and compassion one boxer has for his fellow fighters. And why these two gentlepersons, while never champions during their careers in the ring, have proven to be champions after they left as they help boxers cope with their challenges after they also have left.

Bert Randolph Sugar, CMXsports Sr. Analyst At-Large, called "The Guru of Boxing," has a new book Bert Sugar On Boxing," (or "The Best of Bert Sugar, The Worst of Bert Sugar, What the Hell's the Difference?"), published by The Lyon Press and currently available at Border's, Barnes & Noble and

Article posted on 14.10.2004

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