Monday, April 6, 2020

The Void

Sports, games they are, can seem inconsequential at a time of pandemic. Who beats whom and which athlete said what have fast become relics of a different era. For now, paramount concerns are safety, health, protection, employment status and for many, prayer. There have been untold thousands of deaths and who knows how many more or how long this will last? Our routines, social structures and family units have been uprooted. The virus's damage on our respective communities and economies will be devastating, and the recovery process will not automatically lead our societies to a similar robustness that existed pre-epidemic, where unemployment numbers in the U.S., for example, were at record lows.

A void now exists. And it exists for so many of us in multiple contexts. We can't see our families as we would like to. Our freedom of movement and association has been curtailed. We see our friends through screens. And simple joys that had been seemingly insignificant, like going out to a restaurant or browsing in a store, have been stymied. These are serious times and hopefully we face this crisis with the requisite valor; we all have a job to do to keep our families and communities safe.

During this quarantine period I haven't had much that I wanted to write about. I've worked in healthcare consulting over the past 14 years and my job has provided me with insights into this crisis that are deeply troubling. Our clients are almost all hospitals, with many in New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit states. Many of our client hospitals are operating in a constant state of emergency, treating increasingly sick communities with dwindling resources to combat the virus effectively. Protocols are literally changing on a daily basis. Our clients must regularly process and incorporate new information on testing, treatment, drug efficacy and availability, access to supplies, quarantine and exposure protocols, and admission and discharge procedures. 

Are mistakes being made in this process? Yes, it's inevitable. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has inhibited the type of structured debriefing and strategizing that helps hospitals improve performance. But even the best hospitals are flying by the seat of their pants to put out fires, staff their units and keep people alive. This virus isn't following a traditional playbook learned in Epidemiology 301.

I'm sure that I have plenty of additional observations about the U.S. healthcare industry's response to the coronavirus, but healthcare hasn't been an area that I've chosen to write about over the last nine years, and it's also not why you are reading this. 

I write about boxing. It's an enduring passion and one that compels me to opine. Boxing plays a significant part in my life, as it does for so many of you. The anticipation of a big fight on a Saturday, the chance to see greatness, the communal aspect of seeing live boxing or following along with our favorites on social media, the pre- and post-fight reactions – these all provide pleasure, entertainment and joy. And couldn't we all use some of that at this time? 

My thoughts turn to the many I've come to know over the years who depend on boxing for their livelihood: fighters, trainers, referees, managers, promoters, writers, photographers, broadcasters. This sport mostly involves independent contractors of one form or another. Without fights, for many there is no income, or far less. 

I credit those who continue to write, even if it’s not about matters of life and death. Sports, as insignificant as they seem at the moment, have always been a needed form of escapism, and in these times, a little escapism can be much appreciated. 


"Nothing will kill boxing. And nothing will save it."

– Larry Merchant 

Boxing was having a strong moment before the pandemic (of course, those predisposed to negativity missed this). Enormous influxes of cash entered the sport over the last two years, from DAZN, ESPN and Fox to name three. Streaming services have made more fights available than ever before. Whole cards were now being broadcasted, further connecting boxing fans with emerging prospects. 

After a multi-decade stasis in U.S. boxing where HBO was the dominant player and Showtime its scrappy younger brother, boxing again became a far more competitive marketplace. The additional investment into the sport helped grow fighters' purses and fostered job creation within the industry – both healthy signs. 

For hardcore boxing fans, the bounties were manifold. Weekends brought matchups from all over the globe on our TVs and devices. Fights that we once would have to read about in small print in a magazine several weeks later were now being broadcasted live. We no longer would have to wait for 15 fights to see a hot emerging prospect. The expanded relationships with Fox and ESPN brought widespread coverage of the sport that had been sorely lacking. 

The resumption of boxing will include many unknowns. DAZN, for example, has already started to withhold money for its rights fees in other sports. The company, saddled with an enormous amount of debt, may decide to recalibrate its business strategy post-pandemic. 

Furthermore, the return of the sport will produce a glut of fighters facing lengthy inactivity periods. How fast will they be able to return to action? Will well-paid boxers give up their generous pre-epidemic guarantees to fight in a smaller forum, or will they hold out for their established minimums? Who will want to fight vs. who will insist on the big money will be a fascinating look into the mindset of many of our top fighters. 

What about the fans? Will boxing restart in empty arenas and sound stages? Will enthusiasts have the freedom to travel? Will we see massive fight cards to rekindle interest or will there be drips and drabs as the industry cautiously dips its collective toe into the water?

What will happen to international superstars who previously had been allowed to fight in America? Will Top Rank still be able to feature Naoya Inoue in the U.S.? Will there be difficulties for international fighters to get visas to fight in America? Will Eddie Hearn, for instance, still be able to travel freely between Britain and the U.S.? If not, what will happen to his stable and his ability to sign North American fighters? 

Also consider that there will be a backlog of events throughout the country. Other sports, concerts, musicals, ice shows, circuses, rodeos, comedians, and additional forms of live entertainment have all been shut out of arenas during this crisis. Boxing may not have its pick of the litter regarding venues. Upon resumption of a familiar everyday life, there will be a triage process among live entertainment options. It may take some time for a normal schedule to return to boxing. 

Throughout this period of quarantine, I'm sure that many of us will watch old fights and maintain our connections with boxing friends and contacts via social media. We will continue to miss our sport greatly and hope that it can return to thrill us and provide us with enjoyment. 

For those in the industry, please take appropriate caution upon restarting your efforts. Yes, you all have bottom lines, bosses to please and payrolls to make, but do your best not to expose your employees, fighters and those in the sport to unnecessary risk. We are counting on you to guide boxing through turbulent times. Please be merciful stewards. 

All the best, 

Adam Abramowitz

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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