Sen. John McCain, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Introduce Federal Boxing Commission Legislation

Every few years or more, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain introduces legislation that would create a federal boxing commission, usually freshly after some boxing controversy. Monday, McCain announced on the Senate floor the reintroduction of that legislation, which he is co-sponsoring with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The controversy this time is, naturally, Manny Pacquiao’s highly disputed decision loss to fellow welterweight Timothy Bradley a couple weeks back.

Since I work at Congressional Quarterly by day and regularly cover the deeds of Congress in an objective, news-gathering way, I cannot give my personal opinion on this legislation, alas. I can, instead, offer a few thoughts about the process and prospects for passage.

A former colleague of mine, Amol Sharma, several years ago penned this piece outlining where some of the opposition to this bill has come from in the past, and my impression is that none of that opposition has changed. McCain (above right), in his speech — which I’ve attached after the jump — seemed well aware of the opposition that is out there, and catered his arguments thusly. He talked about how the commission would not interfere with states’ rights, with states in the past having opposed the legislation on those grounds. He also talked up how taxpayers wouldn’t pay for the commission (the CBO had labeled an earlier version of the bill as costing taxpayers $7 million a year). Both of those are key points in a Congress that has a great number of anti-federal regulatory, anti-spending Republicans who either ran because of Tea Party backing or relied on Tea Party backing for reelection.

It’ll be worth watching to see if Congress is outraged enough about this to act this year, and to act in this specific way; it’s also an election year with a typically crowded slate of legislation in the queue, although having Reid on the bill means that the person in charge of setting the Senate agenda will be able to put it on the calendar if he chooses to throw his weight behind it. The GOP-controlled House? That’s a bigger question mark, because that’s where some of the most numerous, and most vocal, anti-federal regulatory, anti-spending Republicans reside. This all strikes me as a heavy lift, but I’ve thought that before about bills in Congress only to see them pass anyway.

It might seem like I’m giving a lot of space here to the arguments against the bill, but it’s because I’m letting McCain’s Senate speech on the floor run below, unanswered. He makes all the arguments in favor of the bill you’ll need to make up your own mind. If you feel passionately about the issue one way or the other, I encourage you to contact your state’s U.S. senators and your representative in the House, and let them know what you think.

McCain’s statement:

“Mr. President, today I am pleased to be joined by Senator Reid of Nevada to introduce the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2012. This legislation is virtually identical to a measure reported by the Commerce Committee during the 111th Congress, after being approved unanimously by the Senate in 2005. Simply put, this bill would better protect professional boxing from the fraud, corruption, and ineffective regulation that has plagued the sport for too many years, and that has devastated physically and financially many of our nation’s professional boxers.

“My involvement with boxing stretches back a long way – first as a fan in my youth, then posting a painfully undistinguished record as a boxer at the United States Naval Academy, and then over my time here in Congress, where I have been involved in legislation related to boxing since the mid-1990s.

“The 19th century sportswriter Pierce Egan called boxing the ‘sweet science,’ while longtime boxing reporter Jimmy Cannon called it the ‘red light district of sports.’ In truth, it’s both. I have always believed that at its best, professional boxing is a riveting and honorable contest of courageous and highly-skilled athletes. Unfortunately, the last few decades of boxing history has – through countless examples of conflicts of interest, improper financial arrangements and inadequate or nonexistent oversight – led most to believe that Cannon’s words best describe the state of boxing today.

“The most recent controversy surrounding the Pacquiao-Bradley fight is the latest example of the legitimate distrust boxing fans have for the integrity of the sport. After the Pacquiao-Bradley decision was announced, fans were clearly apoplectic and many commentators found the decision astonishing.

• “Bob Arum, the longtime promoter representing both Pacquiao and Bradley, said: ‘What the hell were these people watching? … How can you watch a sport where you don’t see any motive for any malfeasance and yet come up with a result like we came up with tonight. How do you explain it to anybody? … Something like this is so outlandish, it’s a death knell for the sport.’

• “ESPN boxing analyst Dan Rafael – who scored the fight 119-109 for Pacquiao – called the decision an ‘absolute absurdity,’ saying, ‘I could watch the fight 1,000 times and not find seven rounds to give to Timothy Bradley.’

• “Additionally, following the fight, HBO’s Max Kellerman was ringside where he said, ‘This is baffling, punch stat had Pacquiao landing many more punches, landing at a higher connect percentage, landing more power punches. Ringside, virtually every reporter had Pacquiao winning by a wide margin … I can’t understand how Bradley gets this decision. There were times in that fight where I felt a little bit embarrassed for Bradley.’

“Clearly, the conspiracy theories and speculation surrounding the fight are given life because there are so many questions surrounding the integrity of the sport and how it is managed in multiple jurisdictions. Professional boxing remains the only major sport in the United States that does not have a strong, centralized association, league, or other regulatory body to establish and enforce uniform rules and practices. Because a powerful few benefit greatly from the current system of patchwork compliance and enforcement of Federal boxing law, a national self-regulating organization – though preferable to Federal government oversight – is not a realistic option.

“Ineffective oversight of professional boxing will continue to result in scandals, controversies, unethical practices, a lack trust in the integrity of judged outcomes and most tragic of all, unnecessary deaths in the sport. These problems have led many in professional boxing to conclude that the only solution is an effective and accountable Federal boxing commission.

“This legislation would establish the United States Boxing Commission (‘USBC’ or Commission), providing the much-needed oversight to ensure integrity within the profession through better reporting and disclosure, requiring that the sport avoid the conflicts of interest which cause fans to question the outcome of bouts which hurts the sport. If enacted, the Commission would administer Federal boxing law and coordinate with other Federal regulatory agencies to ensure that this law is enforced; oversee all professional boxing matches in the United States; and work with the boxing industry and local commissions to improve the safety, integrity, and professionalism of professional boxing in the United States. More specifically, this legislation would require that all referees and judges participating in a championship or a professional bout lasting 10 rounds or more be fully registered and licensed by the Commission. Further, while a sanctioning organization could provide a list of judges and referees deemed qualified, only the boxing Commission will appoint the judges and referees participating in these matches.

“Additionally, the USBC would license boxers, promoters, managers, and sanctioning organizations. The Commission would have the authority to revoke such a license for violations of federal boxing law, to stop unethical or illegal conduct, to protect the health and safety of a boxer, or if the revocation is otherwise in the public interest.

“Mr. President, the Professional Boxing Amendments Act would strengthen existing federal boxing law by improving the basic health and safety standards for professional boxers, establishing a centralized medical registry to be used by local commissions to protect boxers, reducing the arbitrary practices of sanctioning organizations, and enhancing the uniformity and basic standards for professional boxing contracts. Most importantly, this legislation would establish a Federal regulatory entity to oversee professional boxing and set basic uniform standards for certain aspects of the sport.

“Thankfully, current law has already improved some aspects of the state of professional boxing. However, like me, many others remain concerned the sport continues to be at serious risk. In 2003, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) spent more than six months studying ten of the country’s busiest state and tribal boxing commissions. Government auditors found that many of these commissions do not comply with Federal boxing law, and that there is a disturbing lack of enforcement by both Federal and State officials.

“Mr. President, it is important to state clearly and plainly for the record that the purpose of the Commission created by this bill is not to interfere with the daily operations of State and tribal boxing commissions. Instead, it would work in consultation with local commissions, and it would only exercise its authority when reasonable grounds exist for such intervention. In fact, this bill states explicitly that it would not prohibit any boxing commission from exercising any of its powers, duties, or functions with respect to the regulation or supervision of professional boxing to the extent no consistent with the provisions of Federal boxing law.

“Finally, with respect to costs associated with this legislation. The price tag for this legislation should not fall on the shoulders of the American taxpayer, especially during a time of crushing debt and deficits. As such, to cover the costs, the bill authorizes the Commission to assess fees on promoters, sanctioning organizations and boxers; ensuring that boxers pay the smallest portion of what is in fact collected.

“Let there be no doubt, however, of the very basic and pressing need in professional boxing for a Federal boxing commission. The establishment of the USBC would address that need. The problems that have plagued the sport of professional boxing for many years continue to undermine the credibility of the sport in the eyes of the public and – more importantly – compromise the safety of boxers. This bill provides an effective approach to curbing these problems. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.”

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.