Friday, March 23, 2012

The Tragic Tale of Benny Paret

"Sure there have been injuries and deaths in boxing — but none of them serious."

Alan Minter
Former middleweight champion

I don't know when Minter made that comment — perhaps it was before a fellow named Angelo Jacopucci died from injuries suffered in a 1978 fight with Minter. Perhaps not.

Whenever it was, though, I doubt that it was prior to this day in 1962. Minter was only 10 years old.

Neither do I know if Minter's family owned a TV in 1962. TV ownership was still something of a novelty in those days. But if the Minters did have a TV in their home, it may have been set to ABC on this night 50 years ago — when Benny Paret and Emile Griffith met in a fight for the welterweight crown.

Paret and Griffith, who were both in their mid–20s, had fought twice before. Griffith won the first by a knockout, and Paret won the second in a split decision. The bout in New York's Madison Square Garden, scheduled for 15 rounds, was to be their rubber match.

In the 12th round, TV viewers had just heard the announcer say it had been a "slow round" when Griffith unleashed a furious flurry of blows to his opponent while he was pinned against the ropes. Referee Ruby Goldstein stepped in to stop the fight — somewhat belatedly, some thought — and Paret lapsed into a coma.

He died on April 3.

Many reasons have been suggested as contributing to Paret's death; all may have played roles.

New York's boxing authorities, for example, were criticized for clearing Paret to fight again four months after he was knocked out by Gene Fullmer.

Goldstein, it was said, should have stopped the fight earlier. Goldstein, who died in 1984, never refereed a professional bout again.
"Prodded by fear or maybe by conscience, Manny Alfaro, Paret's manager, gave a disgraceful performance trying to pin the blame on Ruby Goldstein, the referee. Nobody involved has any right to blame anybody else for a tragic accident, least of all a manager who gets his boy cruelly beaten by Gene Fullmer, then sends him back against a man who has already knocked him out."

Red Smith

Paret himself was blamed. At the weigh–in, Paret reportedly used a Spanish slang word for faggot in reference to Griffith — with the implication being that Griffith was homosexual. At the time, the suggestion that any athlete was homosexual would wreck his career, and it was especially egregious in the Spanish culture from which they both came.

Paret's death is often said to have been boxing's first televised fatality. And, although the cause of death was clearly the brain injury he suffered, there are many theories that attempt to explain why it happened at all. Some are plausible, some are not.

Deaths do occur in the ring, but they have not been as frequent as you might expect.

It is worth noting, though, that, after Paret's death, and the death of featherweight Davey Moore in 1963, commercial television did not carry fights regularly again until the 1970s.

1 comment:

miriam said...

Television was not a novelty in 1962. 1952, yes; 1962, no. 1962 was the year of "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Leave It to Beaver," and "The Twilight Zone." Doctor and lawyer shows were very popular. Famous newsmen included Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite at the end of his career.

Before that, there were "I Love Lucy," and many Westerns. Jack Webb asked for the facts in "Dragnet." In "Bye Bye Birdie," the McAfee family rhapsodized about being on Ed Sullivan. References to any of these shows would be as familiar as references to "Seinfeld," "The Simpsons" or "Mad Men" would be in later decades.

Moreover, the man in the White House in 1962 was there partly because he looked better on television than his opponent.

What were novelties in 1962 were color television (CBS was still an all-black-and-white network), and educational TV, later called public TV.