May 13, 2007


Pair of Sagging Sports Jump Back Into the Spotlight (George Solomon, May 13, 2007, Washington Post)

From the 1930s through the 1950s, when the late Shirley Povich was writing six or seven columns a week in these pages, horse racing and boxing were two of the top draws in sports, with baseball, college football and golf. The NFL hadn't yet gripped the nation, Red Auerbach was trying to convince fans that pro basketball was worth a look and Ultimate Fighting took place only in alleys.

But times change and the sports caravan moves on (who else condenses 77 years in one paragraph for you?). Fans don't watch the fights very much anymore, with the heavyweight division nearly extinct and stars of any weight class few and far between. The Triple Crown still has major appeal, but day-to-day horse racing struggles for even a few lines in most newspapers.

"Both sports were a big deal in the day," NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said in a telephone interview. "But boxing can no longer get access to a big audience."


"Advertisers don't want to be involved in boxing. They think something will go wrong."

Ebersol said he couldn't be more pleased with NBC's ratings on the Derby ("a 50 percent jump" in seven years), adding that the sport "disappears" after the Triple Crown. "These great horses seldom race again beyond June 15. Nowadays a horse goes from the cradle to the Derby to stud. You can't create stars that way.

"Seabiscuit," Ebersol added, "raced twice a month for years."

Jim Gluckson, the spokesman for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, knows the sport has a problem once the Triple Crown ends. "We're pointing to the second half of the year, to the Breeders' Cup [Oct. 27] with the Breeders' Cup Challenge [24 qualifying races] in the coming months for 24 spots. And we'd like to promote our personalities, like Street Sense jockey Calvin Borel meeting Queen Elizabeth II at a state dinner at the White House."

Neither Mayweather nor De La Hoya was at the White House on Monday. Nor was any other fighter. That doesn't bother Junious Hinton, a veteran boxing coach who runs Sugar Ray Leonard's gym in Landover. "Back in the day, we just wanted an opportunity to fight in the ring. Today, the kids have other things they can do. But we still get them here. They dream of being the next Sugar Ray Leonard. We lose a third of our kids when they see the work it takes to become a fighter and we lose another third when they actually start boxing. The kids who stay love it."

Scott Buchanan stayed. A Spingarn product, he's been a sparring partner to some fighters and a mentor and trainer to others. Now, at 37, he wants his chance, knowing his age is not in his favor. "I love the discipline boxing demands and the challenge. I love the smell of the gym, the feel of the ring and even the old fight films. I believe what I tell the kids: I'd rather fight in the ring than the streets." He has a fight this month.

All of the greatest sports writings concern baseball, boxing, horse racing and hunting/fishing. But it may be that their very literary quality makes them bad fits for the modern media. After all, the less thought a sport requires the better it does on tv.

You would think though that if someone could manage to take over boxing and run the whole sport like a single league--getting rid of most of the current weight divisions and getting us back to something like 8 actual world champions -- it could thrive again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 13, 2007 12:00 AM

Fishing requires thought?

Posted by: Brandon at May 13, 2007 7:15 PM