‘White Collar Boxing’ Bill Threatens Safety of Fighters
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
A proposal that could put people in harm’s way and would result in an economic windfall for a small, privately held corporation is wending its way through the New York State legislature. On June 14, it was approved by the State Senate by a vote of 57 to 3. It’s now in the State Assembly Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Sports Development and is expected to come before the full Assembly this autumn.
The bill would legalize an activity known as “white collar boxing” and place it under the exclusive control of a company called United States White Collar Boxing, Inc (USWCB). Its Senate sponsors are Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), Hugh Farley (R-Schenectady), and Owen Johnson (R-Babylon). The Assembly sponsor is Darryl Towns (DBrooklyn).
Professional boxing in New York is regulated by the New York State Athletic Commission. Amateur boxing is forbidden except for competition and exhibitions conducted under the supervision of (1) the New York State National Guard or Naval Militia; (2) schools recognized by the New York State Board of Regents; or (3) USA Boxing (the non-profit corporation that is the national governing body for amateur boxing in America).
The proposed legislation would exempt “white collar boxing” from state regulation. It defines a “white collar boxer” as “a person who is not a professional boxer nor an amateur registered with the U.S. Amateur boxing federation, and who engages in boxing or sparring contests and exhibitions where no cash prizes are awarded to participants.” It would allow white-collar boxers to compete for non-cash prizes of any size as long as the prize is approved by USWCB. Finally, it would require any individual or entity that conducts a white collar boxing contest to register with USWCB and abide by its rules and regulations.
United States White Collar Boxing, Inc. is a for-profit corporation. Its sole shareholder is Bruce Silverglade, the owner of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn.
Silverglade introduced white-collar boxing to Gleason’s in 1988. “We had a lot of businessmen training at the gym,” he said last week. “After a while, they’d ask, ‘What’s next; what can I do now? I want to fight.’ I had to do something to keep them in the gym, and that meant putting them in some kind of fights. The New York State Athletic Commission didn’t want anything to do with it. The amateur governing bodies weren’t interested in older fighters. So I started white collar boxing.”
“This isn’t Brad Pitt and Fight Club,” he continued. “White collar boxing at Gleason’s is basically sparring without a decision, not a competition.There are a lot of big egos, but the fact that we don’t have decisions tones down the action.The boxers are less aggressive. We can shorten a round and the referee can break up the flow of the action without worrying that he’s acting prejudicially against one guy or the other. For most of our fights, we have three two-minute rounds. The boxers wear padded headgear and a protective cup. A doctor or an experienced trainer is at ringside. There are no winners or losers. At the end of the evening, everyone gets a trophy and goes home happy.”
White collar boxing is also, of course, profitable. The fighters pay gym dues, and relatives and friends buy tickets to their fights. “White-collar boxing is keeping Gleason’s open,” Silverglade said. “It’s an important source of income for us at a time of high rent and other expenses. I ran one show a month every month for 17 years and made $1,500 or more on most of my shows. Other gyms started doing the same thing. It wasn’t legal; they were bootleg shows. But no one seemed to care.”
Then the environment changed. Last year, the New York State Athletic Commission advised gyms that unregulated white-collar boxing was illegal. In November 2005, it forced the cancellation of a white-collar boxing charity fundraising event on Long Island.
In response, Silverglade tried to work with USA Boxing.
“It wasn’t a good fit,” he said.”There was a sanctioning fee of $200 per show and another $500 or-so for a doctor, referees, judges, and other officials. But cost wasn’t the problem. The larger issue was getting USA Boxing to accommodate our format of exhibitions without decisions. USA Boxing is for serious amateurs. It has a ‘master boxing’ division for fighters 35 and older, but even those fights have knockouts and decisions. So I started talking to people and asking what I had to do to make my shows legal. Someone suggested I talk with [New York State Senate majority leader] Joe Bruno. We met at his office, and I asked for help. Senator Bruno has been the driving force behind the legislation.”
But the proposed statute is a slippery slope. For starters, it’s woefully lacking in safety standards, saying only that white-collar boxing must be conducted pursuant to the rules and regulations of United States White Collar Boxing, Inc. This means that USWCB would be both a promoter and the regulator, a law unto itself. Silverglade acknowledged that problem last week, when he said, “I’m adamantly against decisions and anything else that would turn the match-ups from friendly sparring sessions into competitive fights. But yes, if I sold White Collar Boxing, someone else could come in and change things. The guys I have who are in their 30s are already a gray area. They’re the ones who are the most competitive. And with a new owner, the competition could become more aggressive.”
That means Silverglade’s “friendly sparring sessions”could be replaced by all-out “toughman” contests featuring bone-breaking punches and knockouts with a $100,000 car instead of a trophy going to the winner.
What about medical exams for the boxers?
“We haven’t had medicals in the past,” Silverglade acknowledged. “We plan on requiring them in the future.”
But as white-collar boxing promoters around the state “register” with USWBC, whatever rules and regulations the company puts in place will become more difficult to enforce.
Age is also a consideration. Silverglade’s oldest fighter is 78. He has been in four shows and, each time, boxed three 15-second rounds. In 17 years, we’ve never had a serious accident,” Silverglade said. “Although, once, a 68-year-old fighter broke a 60-year-old’s nose.”
Does the State of New York really want 78-year-old men in a boxing ring and people in their sixties punching each other in the nose?
From an economic standpoint, the proposed law will create a state-sponsored monopoly. Silverglade will own 100% of a promotional company that has the exclusive right to control white-collar boxing in New York. We’re not talking about a license that can be revoked. This would be a statute that could only be stricken from the books by another piece of legislation.
Bruce Silverglade is known throughout the boxing community as an honorable person who cares about the sport. But he doesn’t deserve this kind of preferential treatment. In fact, he might not even want it.
“I didn’t do this because I want to run shows in Syracuse or be the tsar of white-collar boxing in New York,” he said. “I’m not trying to put anything over on anyone. I’m just doing what people told me to do. I’m a small businessman. I want to run shows in my gym and make some money without anyone getting hurt. That’s all.”
Silverglade should run his shows under the auspices of USA Boxing. The best way to facilitate that would be for the state legislature to make USA Boxing’s current privileged status dependent upon its accommodating “white collar boxing.”