McCain Thanks Ali for Support and Applauds House Hearing on Boxing Reform

September 9, 2004

Washington, DC – Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, submitted written testimony for a hearing on boxing reform held today by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Senator McCain expressed his strong desire to see legislative reforms adopted by the House of Representatives. Senator McCain’s statement follows: Thank you, Chairman Stearns, for chairing this hearing to evaluate the regulation of the professional boxing industry and to discuss the need for boxing reform. I am pleased that the greatest heavyweight champion of all time, Muhammad Ali, will appear today in favor of reform. Mr. Chairman, the title of your hearing today is “Examining Professional Boxing: Are Further Reforms Needed?” I would submit unequivocally that the answer is “yes.” I have been an avid fan of boxing for nearly fifty years, and while I have derived great joy from it over the years, I continue to be saddened and dismayed by the recurring scandals that mar what is left of the sport’s credibility. Professional boxing is in dire need of a regulatory scheme that creates a level playing field for all participants. The sport has become more the “red light district” of sport and less the “sweet science” over time, and without the adoption and implementation of uniform federal standards, I fear that the sport of boxing will continue its downward spiral. Professional boxing is the only major sport in the United States that does not have a strong, centralized association or league to establish and enforce uniform rules and practices. There is no widely-established union of boxers, no collective body of promoters or managers, and no consistent level of regulation among state and tribal commissions. Due to the lack of uniform business practices and ethical standards, the sport of boxing has suffered from the physical and financial exploitation of its athletes. The General Accounting Office (GAO) confirmed in a July 2003 report on professional boxing regulation that, because professional boxing is regulated predominantly on a state-by-state basis, there is a varying degree of oversight depending on the resources and priorities of each state or tribal commission. The report also indicates that the lack of consistency in compliance with federal boxing law among state and tribal commissions “does not provide adequate assurance that professional boxers are receiving the minimum protections established in federal law.” I have introduced and the Senate has passed unanimously the Professional Boxing Amendments Act. This legislation is designed to strengthen existing federal boxing laws by making uniform certain health and safety standards, establishing a centralized medical registry to be used by local commissions to protect boxers, reducing arbitrary practices of sanctioning organizations, and providing uniformity in ranking criteria and contractual guidelines. It also would establish a federal entity, the United States Boxing Commission (USBC or Commission), to promulgate minimum uniform standards for professional boxing and enforce federal boxing laws. Despite Congress’s efforts to address the problems that plague the sport of professional boxing by enacting the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996, and the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000, boxing remains beset by a variety of problems, some beyond the scope of local regulation. Despite these federal laws, which established minimum uniform standards to improve the health and safety of boxers and to better protect them from the unethical business practices too often seen in boxing, promoters continue to steal fighters from each other, sanctioning organizations make unmerited ratings changes without offering adequate explanations, promoters refuse to pay fighters who have put their lives on the line, local boxing commissions fail to ensure the protection of boxers’ health and safety, and boxers are contractually and financially exploited. Most recently, we have learned through press reports of a federal law enforcement investigation that reportedly may yield a dozen or more indictments for charges of fight fixing. Effective public or private oversight has led to decades of scandals, controversies, unethical practices, and far too many unnecessary deaths in professional boxing. A tragic example of poor local regulation occurred just last year in Utah where a 35-year old boxer collapsed and died in a boxing ring. The young man should never have been allowed to participate in the bout given that he had suffered 25 consecutive losses over a three-year period leading up to the fight, including a loss only one month earlier to the same opponent he fought when he died. Mr. Chairman, while tragic in its own right, this is merely one in a seemingly endless series of incidents that continue to occur as a direct result of inadequate state regulation. The bill that passed the Senate would improve existing boxing law, and also establish the USBC to better enforce such laws. The primary functions of the Commission would be to protect the health, safety, and general interests of boxers. More specifically, the USBC would, among other things: administer federal boxing laws and coordinate with other federal regulatory agencies to ensure that these laws are enforced; oversee all professional boxing matches in the United States; and work with the boxing industry and local commissions to improve the status and standards of the sport. The USBC also would maintain a centralized database of medical and statistical information pertaining to boxers in the United States that would be used confidentially by local commissions in making licensing decisions. Since the introduction of the bill, there has been some confusion among local boxing commissions regarding the effect that this bill would have on them. Let me be clear. The purpose of the USBC would not be to micro-manage boxing by interfering with the daily operations of local boxing commissions. Instead, the USBC would work in consultation with local commissions, and only exercise its authority should reasonable grounds exist for intervention. Mr. Chairman, the problems that plague the sport of professional boxing compromise the safety of boxers and undermine the credibility of the sport in the public’s view. I am hopeful that your committee and the entire House of Representatives will consider the Senate-passed legislation that provides a realistic approach to curbing such problems. Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. ###