I was the Vice President of the Boxing Writers Association of America from 1982 to 1986, and a member until 1992. During that period the selection process for the yearly awards was a joke. I have had no connection with the group since 1992. I do not know if this still applies, but if I had to guess, I’d say it does.
In the past, I’ve attacked everything from unscrupulous boxing promoters to incompetent and biased boxing judges (take your pick) to haughty boxing honchos. But now I’m going to give you some insight into the inner workings of the BWAA, an organization that has done nothing for boxing but to give out questionable awards, often to their own members.
The Boxing Writers Association of America (once more properly called the New York Boxing Writers Association) was formed in the middle 1920s, and some of its illustrious early presidents were Nat Fleischer of the “Bible of Boxing” Ring Magazine, and boxing writer Ed Sullivan, who later changed hats and gave black and white TV viewers a “Really big shew” every Sunday night at 8:00 pm. In the late 1970s, I was a wide-eyed neophyte boxing writer doing a full page of boxing every Monday for the News World in New York City. In fact, I was the only full- time boxing writer employed for any daily newspaper in the City of New York. So, I summoned the courage and applied for admittance into the hallowed BWAA.
Unfortunately, I was not met with open arms.
The old fogies in the Boxing Writers Association probably thought if your name is Joe Bruno and you were born and raised in the Mafia territory in Little Italy, I had to be somehow connected to “The Boys.” They had already rid boxing of Frankie Carbo and Blinkie Palermo (two paisans who ran boxing with an iron fist and steel bullets for many years, and went to prison for their troubles). So accepting another vowel-ending member was not on the top of their list of important things to do.
Yet, after careful consideration (and maybe the fear of having their knees broken), I was reluctantly issued my BWAA membership card.
My heart fluttered as I sat down and broke bread with my early sports writing heroes—Red Smith and Dick Young. But I was soon shocked and dismayed to find out that the majority of the members were not boxing writers at all, but in fact public relations people, most working for various boxing promoters throughout the country. Sure, there were crack boxing scribes like Mike Katz, then of the New York Times, and Eddie Schuyler of Associated Press. But the men who carried most of the weight and made all of the decisions were the late Murray Goodman (PR person for Don King), Irving Rudd (Bob Arum), BWAA recording secretary Tommy Kenville (Madison Square Garden), John Condon (Madison Square Garden), Trish McCormick (Madison Square Garden), and independent PR persons-for-hire Rich Rose, Irvin Rosey, Eddie Pitcher, Harold Conrad, Howie Dolgon and Patti Dreyfus. There were more boxing press agents who were also voting members, but their names and faces now escape me.
The secretary-treasurer of the BWAA for as many years as anyone could remember was the intensely disliked Marvin Kohn, whose claim to fame was that he was Sophie Tucker’s press agent sometime in the Roaring Twenties. Kohn was also an influential long-time commissioner at the New York State Athletic Commission, and he used his power there as a lead weight to beat into submission anyone who dared to challenge his clout in the Boxing Writers Association. (As treasurer, Kohn hoarded the organization’s monies accumulated throughout the years, and at every meeting Dick Young demanded an accounting of the funds and was never given one. Young died in 1987, and Kohn died a few years later, and as far as I know, the mystery of the BWAA riches died with him.)
The private interests of the powerful press agents became evident when we held our yearly luncheon to nominate people for our prestigious awards presented at our yearly bigwig BWAA Dinner held in some hallowed hotel in New York City. Nominations were taken for Fighter of the Year, Manager/Trainer of the Year, TV Media Person of the year, Boxing Writer of the Year, and other illustrious awards such as the James J. Walker Award for “long and meritorious service to the sport of boxing.” (Why such an important award was given in the name of a New York Mayor who was so disgraced he resigned from office and fled the country before he was arrested was never explained.)
The procedure for accepting nominations were like this: You raised your hand and named anyone you damn well pleased. That name was immediately accepted into nomination, and when five or six names were compiled, the nomination was closed. Secret ballots were sent out weeks later, and votes were counted, but since some of the press agents did the actual counting, the ballots were hardly secret at all.
I got my first whiff of a possible conflict of interest when Murray Goodman nominated his boss Don King for the James J. Walker Award in 1981. King’s “long and meritorious service to boxing” at that time was a whole five years, but when you were as old as Murray was, I guess you lose track of time.
The following month during the winter holiday season, King threw a holiday extravaganza at a famous New York City nightclub. Invited were certain boxers, trainers and managers, but the main recipients of King’s largesse were the fifty or so member of the Boxing Writers Association of America who would vote for the awards right after the first of the year. The dinner was more lavish than most weddings I’ve attended in New York City. There was an open bar from 6:00 pm to midnight, and the dinner consisted of Prime Ribs and Lobster tails.
But the biggest hint that King wanted bang for his buck was when after the dinner Murray Goodman went around to each member of the BWAA and handed us a gift, saying, “When you vote next month for the James J. Walker Award, don’t forget to vote with your conscience.”
I tugged open the holiday wrappings and came face to face with a huge silver platter with the King’s name and logo stuck smack in the middle. This platter had to cost close to five hundred dollars in 1981 money. I was so shocked by the offering and the innuendo, and I couldn’t figure out what to do with the damn thing anyway, I almost handed the platter back to Murray.
But more on that later.
Then, Murray and King made the rounds of all the boxing writers, and King offered each one of us his personal holiday greetings. By the time he caught up with me, I was wobbling at the bar near midnight banging down my second dozen scotch and sodas with TV sports maven Bill Mazer and New York Post boxing writer Mike Marley.
The “King and I” had our personal problems in the past, so I saw he was somewhat reluctant to shake my hand. But good old Murray, whom I actually loved dearly, basically prodded King into extending me his hand.
King towered over me and said something like “Happy Holidays and thanks for coming.”
I shook hands with the big lug. And after our hands disengaged, I looked up and timidly said, “Don, thanks for inviting me. This is one of the best parties I’ve ever been invited to. And next month when I vote for the James J. Walker Award, I WILL vote with my conscience. I’m voting for Eddie Futch!”
I next saw the same look King must have given poor Samuel Garrett before King stomped him to death on a sidewalk in Cleveland in 1966.
King grimaced, he growled, he gurgled, and then he spat out, “You guinea bastard!”
Murray jumped between us before The King and I went at it, and since I’m pretty good with my hands, and King obviously only with his feet, I had felt real good about my chances.
The next month, Eddie Futch won the James J. Walker Award in a runaway, and that was the last holiday party, not to mention the last silver platter, that to my knowledge, Don King has ever given to the members of the BWAA.
But let’s get back to the silver platter.
I immediately presented the platter to my Aunt Frances, who was given a little puppy for Christmas by her son, my cousin Johnny. Aunt Frances used the silver platter as a feeding dish for her new dog, who she fondly named “King.”
You can’t make up stuff like this.
Joe Bruno is the author of 17 books, including “Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks, and Other Creeps – Volumes 1-5” and “Whitey Bulger – The Biggest Rat.” Joe Bruno’s Amazon Author Page can here seen here. Also visit his blog, “Joe Bruno on the Mob.”