I received the following e-mail today from the Chair of USA Boxing's Board of Directors. He's responding to our report Monday on the California State Athletic Commission shutting down amateur boxing, until problems we uncovered in the sport can be addressed. I thought Dr. Virgets made many good points and provided a lot of context, so I'm posting his entire letter.
I have been reviewing the 7 video clips on your amateur boxing investigation and find your work to be excellent and revealing. You have exposed some areas of concern that USAB must address. I can assure you that the USAB national office staff is addressing these issues as I write this e-mail. As you continue to conduct your investigation, I would ask that you try to recognize both sides of this issue and continue to proceed with a fair and balanced report.
The USA Boxing Board of Directors (BOD) is investigating why our National Office did not reply to the California Commission. We are receiving conflicting information regarding what was received from the California Commission and we are working to get to the bottom of this and the other issues that you have uncovered in your report.
Like the California commission, USAB also has a very limited staff to oversee 58 LBC’s, 1500 clubs and 38,000 members in the 50 states. We depend upon volunteers who run these LBC’s to report violations of rules and inappropriate conduct to the national Office. When a compliant is file the national office works with the LBC to affect a resolution. Local issues are the domain of the autonomous LBC’s and internal issues are first addressed at a local level. Complaints’ against the LBC or appeals of local rulings are the domain of USAB. USAB received 3 complaints from all of California in 2007 and 1 compliant in 2008. Two of the complaints received in 2007 were upheld and the 3rd was withdrawn. The 2008 compliant was also withdrawn.
USAB receives its governance authority via the Ted Stevens act and the USOC and executes its duties via the USAB rules and regulations handbook. However, like any organization that attempts to exercise governance over another, we have legal limits and issues that that we must comply with or face costly court cases. This is why individuals who voice complaints to the USAB national office are asked to follow the proper procedures for grievances. Our challenge is first identifying the problem, (which normally is brought to USAB in the form of a formal compliant), investigate the issue and then act upon the grievance. Grievances take time because all of these complaints have potential legal ramifications. USAB must proceed with appropriate caution and allow due process when handling cases throughout the USA.
This is not to excuse USAB from any lack of oversight or failure to comply. This BOD expects the National Office to take every compliant seriously and do its due diligence in resolving every case while holding accountable those persons who are found to have operated outside of the best interest of the athletes and the rules.
What I hope you recognize is that a state commission cannot do this job. Not only do they lack the staff to exercise supervision over every club and event, they do not have the infrastructure to train and develop the hundreds of completely volunteer referees and judges, or cultivate a pool of volunteer doctors willing to attend every bout. The Commission is also prevented from exercising too much control when it comes to Olympic and international qualifying events. The Ted Stevens act and AIBA by-laws state that each sport will have one NGB and that the NGB will have autonomy from the USOC. Therefore, it is in the best interest of all concerned to work together to find solutions to the barriers that these LBC’s face. Together, the California Commission and the USAB program should be able to affect positive changes. Working separately, or at odds with each other will just do a disservice to a population of athletes who are already compromised by their socio-economic status.
The gyms that you show in your report do not represent the norm. Most of what I saw in your report is gyms that are small private businesses and only a small percentage of their operations come under the governance of USAB. The real story is in those volunteer gym owners who use their own limited funds to provide opportunities for children who have no other avenue to pursue than the gym, or the streets. These gyms have opened to fill a void that was created when high schools, the Boys and girls clubs, recreation departments, YMCA’s and Catholic Youth Organizations decided to drop their support of boxing programs.
LBC’s face many difficult decisions. Because amateur boxing is not found in the high schools or colleges, it does not have an alumni of educated graduates and cannot draw our leadership candidates from such a pool like other NGB’s have successfully done for years. Our LBC leadership normally comes from volunteers with outstanding boxing experience, but limited education or business training. The volunteer leadership of the LBC is responsible for granting sanctions for boxing events to member clubs in their area that meet the requirements per USAB rules and regulations. They are also responsible for soliciting and signing up members, conducting competitions, soliciting and certifying volunteer coaches, referees, judges, recruiting volunteer doctors and governing the LBC membership. They spend hundreds of volunteer hours during the best that they can with their limited resources to provide opportunities for athletes who do not have the size, talent or financial means to participate in another sport. And the LBC leadership accomplishes these responsibilities with little or no parental or outside financial support.
Who are these people? The USOC recently conducted a survey of all NGB’s. They found that the average family income of a NGB family was $72,000, the average educational level was a college degree and the average membership age was 27. Our membership is much younger and our volunteers and member incomes average well below the poverty line. They are educated at or below a high school diploma, and they have no training in business or administration with the exception of what the USAB national office can provide. Like the lack of discipline and below average ACT scores you see in all lower socio-economic inner city schools, it is easy to look from the outside and define the problems, (which are significant); but it takes a tremendous amount of talent to identify solutions to the problems and recruit those individuals who have the clout to cultivate the necessary resources to provide a quality program.
I agree that activities like those that took place at the Olympic Club are exploitation of our athletes, are morally questionable and cannot be allowed to continue. However, what is not being addressed is how can the LBC make up for the lost revenue? The same revenue that keeps equipment in gyms, transports athletes to competitions and provides money for facility rentals, rings, medical support and other cost related to offering a competition. Without the money or the venue, athlete opportunities decrease.
What concerns me most is that the organizations that are quickness to cry athlete exploitation, raise safety concerns and participate in the philosophical criticisms of boxing programs when media is available, are invisible when it comes to participating in finding solutions to the needs of these athletes when the camera is gone. Do they really think that shutting down amateur boxing is going to open new doors of opportunity for these children? Do the “social protectors” of these oppressed think that now the children will suddenly have an opportunity to join USA Swimming? Are they going to channel these children into new activities by offering scholarships at a cost of approximately $200 a month so that they can become swim club members? Is the doctor who you interviewed that expressed such a negative opinion of the safety of sport of amateur boxing (even though refereed research would reject his conclusions), willing to take these kids to his country club and teach then tennis or golf? Where do they think these kids go when you take away boxing opportunity? Incidentally, California had a total of 9733 amateur boxing bouts contested in 2007-08. The total number of medical injury claims for this time period was 16. That represents .0016 injuries per bout.
I am not trying to justify the issues or wrong doings of our LBC’s by simply stating the challenges that they face. Rather, I am asking that those who speak out in opposition to what is taking place, step up and also be dedicated to finding solutions to these problems. We need smart, passionate people to work with us to insure that these kids are provided opportunities and protected from exploitation at every level of their boxing experience. I want USAB to be held accountable for providing a safe boxing learning environment, and a character and discipline building experience for all of our members. When we fall short of meeting our responsibilities, I want people like you to hold us accountable. My only request is that as you proceed, you search for finding the solutions to LBC challenges with the same passion that you have displayed investigating and identifying the problems. I realize that this request may be outside of the scope of your investigation, but this population of volunteers and the athletes are starved for someone championing their cause.
Chair, USA Boxing Board of Directors