Amateur boxing in the United States was in critical condition even before it narrowly avoided a three-month suspension last week, and the long-term prognosis remains stubbornly unclear.
In fact, the only thing clear about the sport that gave the world champions like Ali and Frazier, Rademacher and Patterson, Leonard and de la Hoya, is it’s unlikely to produce anyone of their like in the foreseeable future.
But all of that matters little to the vast majority of the members who make up USA Boxing. The sport’s national governing body will undergo yet another reorganization, this one forced on it by the United States Olympic Committee.
The most important function USA Boxing provides, however, remains intact: providing the umbrella liability insurance policy that makes local amateur boxing clubs possible.
“What I’m concerned about day-to-day is teaching kids how to box,” Ray Kerwick said. “I’m concerned with keeping my kids off the streets and keeping them out of trouble. We teach them to box, and that way we teach them discipline and self-confidence.
“I think that’s the case for most of the local groups.”
Kerwick spent Thursday morning fielding calls from fellow boxing coaches in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, explaining that they would have to shut down and close their gyms until mid-January after USA Boxing announced a three-month ban imposed by the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
There would be no insurance during the suspension, he explained, so there could be no training, no teaching and no competition.
But before the news sunk in fully, USA Boxing sent out a new message: Never mind, the suspension is off.
“That whole thing was about getting one guy to resign from the board of directors,” Kerwick said. “It’s ridiculous.”
The one guy is former USA Boxing president Hal Adonis, who infuriated AIBA with a series of outrageous and insensitive comments published in the May 7 issue of The New Yorker magazine.
In a story about boxer Claressa Shields, Adonis told writer Ariel Levy that, in women’s boxing, “half of our girls were molested; half of our girls are gay.” He went on to say that abuse is a factor in success in amateur boxing.
“When kids call me up, I say, ‘Let me ask you a serious question: Have your parents every hit you?’” he’s quoted saying. “If they say no, I say, ‘I don’t think you belong in boxing.’”
In the wake of those comments, AIBA demanded that Adonis be removed as both president and as a member of the board. USA Boxing officially fired Adonis as president on May 29, but he steadfastly refused to resign his seat on the board, and under Colorado law (where the organization is incorporated), he could only be removed from the board by a vote.
As president of Inland Northwest Boxing, Kerwick is a voter.
“Adonis won that vote by something like a 2-to-1 margin,” he said. “I knew he didn’t get my vote, and he didn’t get any of the votes from Washington, Oregon and Montana.”
Adonis’ refusal to step down forced AIBA to impose its three-month suspension, which was lifted after Adonis resigned Thursday, effective immediately, Kerwick said.
“I don’t know if the two are related, but I know he did resign,” he said.
The troubles surrounding USA Boxing aren’t over. Fed up with a growing list of rules infractions, mismanagement and lack of results in international competitions, the USOC issued an ultimatum: agree to a complete change of governance or be decertified – removing amateur boxing as an Olympic sport.
A “transitional board” made up of a group mutually agreed to by the USOC, AIBA, and USA Boxing takes control on Jan. 1.
“That’s really nothing new,” Kerwick said. “That’s the third or fourth reorganization we’ve been forced to go through that I can think of since I’ve been involved.
“But you know, it’s a little like the pot calling the kettle black. The USOC has had its own share of scandals and they put USA Boxing to shame.”
Internationally, the United States is as down as it has been. In the past two Olympic Games, the U.S. men have just one medal, a bronze won in Beijing. Women, who competed for the first time in London, earned two medals, a gold for middleweight Shields and a bronze for flyweight Marlen Esparza.
Coaching changes, including the last-minute change that saw Joe Zander replaced by Basheer Abdullah, who coached the team in the 2004 games in Athens, have been part of the problem.
“I know Basheer and he’s a good coach,” Kerwick said. “He coached my son, Mahlon, on the Army team. But he got the job at the last minute. He didn’t plan on working with the Olympic team and had worked a corner in a professional fight. Under amateur rules, if you work a professional corner, you then can’t work an amateur corner for six months.
“Basheer was working with an Olympic team and couldn’t even be in the corner to work with his fighters.”
That problem has been compounded by a number of inexplicable decisions.
In 2010, Marine Cpl. Libardo Anthony Jiminez Jr. was a member of the All-Marine Corp boxing team training under coach Ron Simms.
In a disturbing video now available online, Jimenez is seen taking a number of vicious blows to the head during a sparring session on March 20.
After stopping the session, Jimenez appears visibly shaken and unable to stand up on his own and leans heavily on the ropes while Simms removes his head gear. After a brief conversation, Jimenez climbs through the ropes and staggers toward a drinking fountain in the back of the gym, falling twice, while the coach returns to sparring.
Minutes later, Jimenez tells teammates that he cannot see and collapses. His teammates call for emergency medical services, which arrive and transport the unconscious boxer to Naval Hospital Camp Lejune. All the while, Simms continued to coach the sparring session.
Jimenez is airlifted to a hospital in Greenville, N.C., where he dies three days later, never having regained consciousness.
An investigation into the death and the conduct of the coach was ordered and Simms was placed on administrative leave. But before he was officially terminated as coach of the All-Marine team he was tabbed to serve as an assistant coach for the Olympic team.
“I agree that (Simms) should never have been named to the Olympic team because what happened was inexcusable,” said Kerwick, himself a former national team coach. “But that situation was used to force Joe Zander out and I don’t agree with that.”
Kerwick said he has yet to hear a word about the make-up of the transitional board that takes over Jan. 1 – a group to be made up individuals mutually agreed up by USA Boxing, the USOC and AIBA.
“I’m hoping that the current president, Dr. Charles Butler, will continue as president,” he said. “I know him and I supported him when he ran against Hal Adonis in 2009. He’s been a ringside doctor and I think he has some very good ideas.”
It may be time for some hands-on involvement, too, he said.
“I’ve tried to ignore a lot of what had been going on for the last year or so while I dealt with my own health issues,” Kerwick said. “But a couple months ago, I just decided I’d seen enough and I’m going to speak out when I can. If that means getting more involved and running for a seat on the board, I guess I’ll have to look at that.
“I just can’t sit by and watch stuff like this happen.”