“First, don’t f@*% with me. I’m a desperate man! And second, I want some fresh coffee. And third, I want a recount! And no matter how it turns out, I want my old job back!”
—Mark Carlton as defeated Old Detroit Mayor Ron Miller in Robocop
Unemployment is at 8.2% and expected to climb. Real unemployment is at a near-Great-Depression-level 14.5% and climbing. The Eurozone is on the brink of collapse, and there’s no telling to what extent they’ll drag us down with them. The Russians are arming the Assad regime in Syria, and providing materiel for Iran’s oh-so-innocent nascent nuclear program. The New York Times readily and repeatedly obtains—and prints—classified intelligence information, but the United States Congress can’t get anything out of the Department of Justice beyond name, rank, and serial number.
So what’s at the top of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) legislative agenda?
That’s right, the United States Senate hasn’t passed a single budget proposal in three years on his watch, has taken no action on a dozen or more jobs bills that have passed the House, and Harry Reid’s concern is federal regulation of professional boxing.
I’m not even making that up.
I confess I haven’t followed boxing at all since Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear off back in 1997. For those of you like me who were still wondering why the sun rose an hour late last Sunday morning, I now have the answer: apparently Manny Pacquiao lost a controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley for the WBO Welterweight title on Saturday night. According to many observers, Pacquiao should have been awarded the decision; it’s all a great travesty, and there are multiple investigations sure to result in those responsible being sacked. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that this is a problem inherent in any “sport” in which winners and losers are decided based on a judging panel’s subjective assessment of the largely aesthetic quality of an athlete’s performance (see gymnastics, figure skating, ice dancing, diving, synchronized swimming, pretty much any “X-Games” event, and the BCS football championship).
Based on complaints by others who saw the Pacquiao/Bradley fight, Reid—who didn’t see the fight himself, but who was an amateur boxer and rumor has it stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night—is renewing calls for a federal commission to regulate the sport nationally. Yes, the solution is always some kind of government intervention. In this case, Reid wants to set up a National Boxing Commission—I prefer “Commission for the Regulation and Administration of Pugilism”—to establish health and safety regulations, license boxers and officials, and also regulate the business side. Presumably the notion is that if only there had been government oversight of these things, the Pacquiao/Bradley result would have been different. I also suppose it’s just a coincidence that Manny Pacquiao has been a political supporter of Reid’s (although I’ve got to think that the Vegas boys who run the casinos that host these fights can’t be happy with their senator inviting federal noses to peek into their operations).
Doesn’t the Senate have anything better to do with its time?
The irony here is that the fight took place in Las Vegas—in Reid’s own home state—where the Nevada Athletic Commission already has health and safety regulations for boxing, licenses participants and officials, and regulates the business. In other words, government is already doing what Reid wants government to do. So apparently Reid’s position is that the federal government will do it better. Oh, now I see. And you know Reid’s right on this, because his co-sponsor on past efforts to pass this kind of legislation is none other than John McCain (R-AZ), and anything McCain supports has to be good.
This might be different if someone crossed state lines for a bout—thus implicating interstate commerce—and got hurt because of inadequate safety measures, although it is worth noting that the major private boxing authorities—the WBC and IBF at the time—handled reforms themselves after Duk Koo Kim was killed in a bout with Ray Mancini in 1982. But that’s not the issue with Pacquiao/Bradley. The sole concern in this instance is that some people don’t agree with the outcome of the contest, and feel that someone other than the one who won should have won. If that is the impetus for regulation, what Reid is really advocating is that the United States federal government literally step in and sort out the winners and losers.
Of a game.
A rough and sometimes brutal combat-oriented game, but a game nonetheless.
This idea that government needs to intervene to correct the results of sporting events is, in a word, stupid. To begin with, I can’t find anything in the Constitution that even comes close to suggesting that Congress has any authority to act in this fashion. Nowhere in the Federalist Papers did Madison, Jay, or Hamilton discuss federal regulation of sports. The Preamble doesn't say "We the People, in order to assure right and just outcomes of athletic contests . . ." There is no constitutional right to a correct decision in a boxing match—or any other sporting contest—or even to a fair fight for that matter.
More importantly, where does it end? If Congress is going to regulate the judging of boxing matches, will it next be setting up commissions to ensure the results of gymnastics competitions? Is there going to be a federal panel reviewing ball/strike calls at Fenway? Are we going to have mandatory instant replay review of every questionable pass completion in the NFL?
Oh, wait. I forgot we already have that.
And why stop at professional sports, or even organized athletics? Maybe there should be an agency in the District to oversee Little League—Alex, who is Danny Almonte?—or a federal bureaucrat to certify the winner when my six-year-old and her friends play Chutes and Ladders. Hell, maybe we should even consider bringing in U.N. observers, just to make sure it’s all on the up-and-up.
I love sports, but we’ve got to get ahold of ourselves. At the end of the day sports are just games, and human errors and unlucky breaks are a part of them. Unlike capital punishment, it’s not really that important in the grand scheme that we move heaven and earth to get it 100% right whether the ball was in or out.
In golf it’s called “the rub of the green”: sometimes good shots bounce into bad places. The USSR gets three cracks with time expired to beat the U.S. to win Olympic basketball gold in 1972. Mike Renfro is incorrectly ruled out of bounds, costing the Oilers a game-tying touchdown in the 1979 AFC championship game against the Steelers. Colorado scores on fifth down to beat Missouri in 1990. Jeffrey Maier reaches from the seats into the field of play to steal a home run for the Yankees’ Derek Jeter in the 1996 ALCS vs. the Orioles. Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch tags out Boston’s Jose Offerman from several arms’ lengths away in the 1999 ALCS. That’s just the way it goes, and life seems to go on, even in Red Sox Nation.
Reagan taught us back in 1960 that “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So, governments' programs, once launched, never disappear.” It is the very nature of government agencies to metastasize, both in size and in jurisdictional reach. Once we start involving government in regulating the officiating and results of sports, it’s only a matter of time before it moves beyond simply ensuring that the player who should win in fact does win, to ensuring overall “fairness.” In the interest of creating an “even playing field,” regulators will begin skewing the rules—or selectively applying them—so that better players don’t have an advantage over inferior players. Maybe bad golfers will get a federally-mandated bigger hole, or slower track runners will get a head start enforced by administrative rule. From there, they will seek to eliminate advantages created by one player having grown up in an environment more conducive to developing playing skill, and from there move to force-fitting the win/loss results to some pre-determined distribution reflective of the demographic cross-section of society regardless of skill level, performance, or effort.
This pathological impulse to resort to government regulation as the panacea for every perceived societal deficiency has got to stop. More importantly, the pervasive interest of government at all levels in controlling the minutiae of our lives has got to stop. Sports. The size of the Coke you get at a restaurant. Your popcorn at the movie theater. A glass of milk. Where is the end to what the Statists want to control?
Jefferson wrote that “the policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.”
He would not recognize this country today.