Opinion Editorials

Jan 28 1999 -

Exploited to His Death

The world of boxing recently lost a noteworthy warrior. Jerry Quarry, a former top contender in the 1960's and ‘70's, died at age 53 after being taken off life support. In the last years of his life, Quarry had descended into the dim twilight of pugilistic dementia, virtually helpless and destitute of his earnings in the ring. Quarry's admirable career and his sad death are a not an uncommon story in a sport which often seems to destroy its most devoted athletes. Boxing fans remember Jerry Quarry as a dauntless heavyweight who challenged the sport's greatest names a generation ago. His title bouts were testimonies to the fact that above all else, Jerry Quarry was the quintessential fighter, and true fighters never quit. To his great credit, Quarry never did quit, but losses against great fighters such as Ali and Frazier took their toll. Against these champions Jerry Quarry valiantly gave everything he humanly had to give, plus a few flurries more. It was not enough. Quarry's years of grit and sacrifice apparently were not quite enough for the profiteers of the game either. In 1992, deep into retirement and a decade after tests revealed early signs of brain damage, Quarry was lured back into the ring for a $1,000 payday. Since several state boxing commissions properly refused to license Quarry because of his deteriorating mental condition, the promoters simply moved the bout to a state that had no commission. The result was an appalling spectacle in which Quarry's face was torn open and several of his teeth knocked out. His condition then rapidly degenerated. He had no medical benefits or pension to support him. Quarry's triumph and ultimate tragedy as a boxer has been experienced by hundreds of boxers in our country. Three years ago a small group of Members of Congress worked with state commissioners and boxing industry leaders to enact a national boxing health and safety law. This sensible law requires all bouts to be supervised by state athletic officials and prevents promoters from using injured or debilitated boxers in their events. Last year the Senate passed the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, that Senator Richard Bryan (D-NV) and I authored. The bill would protect boxers from much of the blatantly exploitative and fraudulent business practices that cheat boxers and undermine the industry. Neither of these modest measures requires any public funding nor would they create any new bureaucracy. I am hopeful the House of Representatives will pass the Ali Act this year and secure a more honorable future for boxing in America. Let us respectfully mourn the passing of Jerry Quarry, because he was a decent man and a courageous athlete. Then we should act to ensure that the boxing industry no longer exploits any fighter's willingness to literally give his all. Despite the glories that can be achieved in the ring, that is simply asking too much.