Boxing: A cold day, Cassius Clay and the fall of Carbo

THE ONLY good reason I can think of for visiting Albany is the one that explains my presence here. It is to spend some time in the company of an old friend, Pat Putnam, who wrote notably about boxing for the American magazine Sports Illustrated before falling in with the promotional group America Presents, that now has Mike Tyson under its banner.

Partly, I imagine, because Putnam almost lost his life when held prisoner during the Korean war, he is unswerving in the belief that sportswriters ought not to take themselves seriously. "From one week to the next, hardly anyone remembers what you have written," he said.

It was when touching again on this theme that we got around to an event in Albany which was widely reported at the time but has probably slipped the memory of even boxing historians.

On 4 February 1963, by all accounts a bitterly cold day with ice thick on the pavements, Cassius Clay, as he then was, sat in the witness box before a joint legislative committee that was discussing a bill to abolish boxing in New York State.

A J Liebling would write: "Clay had abandoned the rhymed form, like `Some say the greatest was Sugar Ray, but they have not seen Cassius Clay', in favour of a freer medium, in which metaphor took precedence over jingle."

Then only 22 years old and barely literate, Clay said, "Boxing is at the winter of its year. In the time when there were great fighters like Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis, nobody talked against it. When there are no great fighters, people lose interest. It's a question of time."

Leaning forward and pointing through a window, he added, "In winter, leaves are not on trees, the grass and flowers are dead, the mind is thinking of chili and hot foods. Time is why. But the earth rotates around the sun... and in that time there are winter, spring, summer and fall." ("I thought I'd break that problem down for them," he said the next day.)

"Time, it takes time. Time will tell. In boxing's winter, people lose interest, but I am here to liven things up."

Clay was asked if all the 17 victories on his record had been on the level. "They say it takes a crook to know a crook," he replied, pertly.

Because of facts that had earlier come to light during a federal investigation of the sport, nobody was shocked by the implication.

Pleading guilty to three counts of "undercover managing and matchmaking", the mobster Frank Carbo was jailed for two years. Charges of attempting to extort, with force, a share of the purses of the welterweight champion, Don Jordan, led to a further 25-year term.

In King of the World, by David Remnick, a new and certainly the best- written book about Muhammad Ali, it is suggested that some American sports writers of that time did not take the job seriously enough to avoid being compromised.

Remnick writes: "...One of the most compromised corners of the boxing world was the boxing press. Throughout the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, many boxing beat writers (reporters) would line up at Madison Square Garden on Saturday mornings for a weekly envelope filled with cash - not a fortune, but just enough so that the promoter could be reasonably confident that the reporters would talk up and cover his bouts, just enough to keep them from asking the wrong questions."

The prosecutor Jack Bonomi decided against going for boxing writers in the hearings. "I figured if I was going to get anywhere [with the hearings] I needed the press on my side, and the press has a long memory," he said. "What they were doing was pocket change compared to the big guys."

In stating that not all voices in the press were convinced of the need for full-scale congressional hearings, Remnick quotes Red Smith, whose elegant sports columns for The New York Times were compulsive reading. "Outside the routine business of running the country," Smith wrote in December 1959, "the United States senate has nothing to worry about except the space race, atomic warfare, spiralling living costs, the world march of communism, Fidel Castro, the national debt and the 1960 elections. In the circumstances anybody can understand why Estes Kefauver [the senator who launched the hearings], a restless spirit, deems it necessary to relieve his boredom by investigating fist fighting."

Smith described Carbo, who is said to have carried out the murder of the gangster Bugsy Siegel, as "the more or less benevolent despot of boxing's Invisible Empire."

Putnam's view on this is that not even Red Smith could get it right all the time. Mine is that some of us older guys are wrong in thinking that all things in boxing are not what they used to be.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor