Budget cuts may Effect NY Boxing

Dear Governor Cuomo: Cut, yes, but not here.

February 26, 2011 at 5:39 pm by Michael Rivest

Melvina Lathan

That’s what everybody says, I know. Everyone wants to get the State budget under control, as long as they don’t personally feel the pinch.

But it doesn’t mean that all cuts are good ones, either, or even smart ones. The Governor has proposed eliminating the salary of the Chairperson of the NYS Athletic Commission. I was going to write about why that would be a terrible mistake, but then I came across a column written by Michael Woods, Editor of The Sweet Science, and this piece by Justin Klein. They’re perfect. All I can do is provide the echo sentiment.

You really need to read these articles. Cutting the Chairperson’s salary would be enormously ill-advised and likely reflective of a few facts:

1. Governor Cuomo must be unaware of just how important the position of Chairperson really is. Reducing it to a volunteer or stipend-compensated role suggests that the Governor simply doesn’t know that Chairperson Melvina Lathan is constantly improving the sport in this State, always reviewing medical testing procedures, for instance, like those to test for performance enhancing drugs. Regulating an international sport is not for the feint of heart. Fighters often come to New York State events from all over the world, and the decisions she makes affect safety, even lives.

2. The Governor may be unaware that Lathan has brought so much knowledge and leadership to the role that it’s hard to put it into words. Before serving as Chairperson, Lathan was a professional boxing judge for over 20 years. Losing her would be more than unfortunate; it would be tragic.

Look, I’m not a boxing guy. I just write about it. But sometimes that role affords me a perspective that promoters, managers, and fighters don’t have. Unlike these folks, I’m not preoccupied with getting something I need from the Commission – a license, a medical examination, or one of the countless authorizations needed to hold, or participate in, a boxing event in New York State.

Lathan jokes with ARES Promotions’ Adam Neary at the weigh-in before a January 23 event in Albany, NY

It means I get to observe. And here is what I’ve learned: Melvina Lathan has a combination of strength and accessibility that is rare in a leader, particularly one in a sport like boxing – where the egos are often huge and the personalities difficult.

Leaders typically load up on the “strength” part of the combination, lest the “accessibility” part be perceived as weakness. But Lathan is different. People tend to do what she says, not so much because they have to as because they don’t want to disappoint her. I’m serious. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, the respect she gets and gives in return.

My 19-year-old daughter works with me as my ringside photographer and has long admired Lathan, who never fails to drop the demands of the moment to make a fuss over her and engage her in conversation. “I want to be just like her when I get older,” she said of Lathan after one such interaction at the February 3 boxing event at the Empire State Convention Center.

When I told Lathan of this, she was so moved she actually teared up. That’s nice, you might say, but what does it have to do with her job? A lot, actually. Lathan gets things done largely because she’s tough when she needs to be, and yet has a warmth and generosity of spirit that is positively disarming. She has made boxing in New York State not just different, but better than it is elsewhere – maybe anywhere. Perhaps this is why she was recently invited by China’s Peking University to share with them just how she does it.

3. Lastly, Governor Cuomo may not be aware that there’s a better way for the State to bring in badly needed funds and still keep Lathan in her role: legalize MMA. It’s going to happen anyway. There is entirely too much money in that sport to hold it off much longer. MMA events wouldn’t fit in the Washington Avenue Armory; instead, they’d likely fill the Times Union Center, bringing piles of cash into the State with them. Lathan is on record as having supported MMA legalization and knows very well how much revenue it could bring.

But if MMA is going to be a reality here, it’s going to have to be overseen very, very carefully. The person who takes on that job will need the strength to deal with gargantuan egos and finesse her way through no small amount of neurotic intrigue, while also having the capacity to display a soft touch that will get people to respond just because it’s the right thing to do.

Guess who that person is.

Anyway, read Woods’ and Klein’s columns. Like Woods says at the start, “Dear Governor Cuomo: I don’t envy you.” The Governor has a tough road ahead, and he deserves our support. Cuts will be necesary, but this one would be counter-productive.

To Governor Cuomo, I say please, think it over very carefully, and reconsider.


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