By Thomas Hauser
Five years ago, I wrote an article entitled The New York Times and Boxing . I catalogued every article that appeared in the paper’s sports section over a 100-day period and concluded, “The New York Times no longer covers boxing as an ongoing sport. If a fighter of importance dies, it’s noted. On rare occasions, bouts are referenced. But the paper’s motto – ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print’ – which is prominently displayed in the upper-lefthand corner of page one each day, doesn’t extend to boxing.”
The response to the article was gratifying. Tom Jolly (then the Times sports editor) invited Larry Merchant and myself to breakfast to discuss ways that the Times might improve its boxing coverage. In due course, Greg Bishop became the paper’s go-to boxing guy. Coverage of the sweet science wasn’t extensive, but at least the Times recognized boxing.
Now the pendulum has swung again. In 2011, Jolly was promoted to associate managing editor. He was succeeded as sports editor by Joe Sexton, who gave way in January 2013 to Jason Stallman. Earlier this year, Greg Bishop left the paper to take a job with Sports Illustrated. Since Bishop’s departure, boxing has all but disappeared from the Times.
In May of this year, I decided to repeat my exercise of five years ago. From May 19 through August 26, I tracked every article that appeared in the print edition of the Times that’s distributed in New York.
The conclusion: The New York Times no longer covers boxing as an ongoing sport. If a fighter of importance dies, it’s noted. On rare occasions, bouts are referenced. But the paper’s motto – “All the News That’s Fit to Print” – which is prominently displayed in the upper-lefthand corner of page one each day, doesn’t extend to boxing.
Only things are worse now than they were five years ago. During the 100-day period surveyed in 2009, there were seven full articles about boxing and nineteen short news “briefings.” During the 100-day period surveyed this year, there was only one full article about boxing in the Times sports section and four “briefings.”
Let’s look at the statistical data.
Certain events demanded significant coverage during the hundred days in question. These included the ongoing Major League Baeball Season, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League playoffs, the World Cup, three major golf tournaments (the U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA), three major tennis tournaments (the French Open, Wimbledon, and the start of the U.S. Open), the National Football League pre-season, the Belmont Stakes, and LeBron James signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The statistical summary ( click here ) shows that Major League Baseball received the most extensive coverage in the Times, followed by soccer, NBA basketball, tennis, and golf.
This statistical table doesn’t include the Times’s daily recital of Major League Baseball standings, box scores of every Major League Baseball game, Major League Baseball league leaders in individual categories, Major League Soccer standings, WNBA standings, round-by-round leader boards for golf tournaments and round-by-round match results from tennis tournaments played all over the world, and statistical summaries for every NBA and NHL playoff game.
There were ten fight cards of note televised by HBO and Showtime during the survey period. The dates and featured fight on each card were:
May 24 Adonis Stevenson vs. Andrzek Fonfara
May 31 Carl Froch vs. George Groves
June 7 Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez
June 14 Ruslan Provodnikov vs. Chris Algieri
June 21 Vasyl Lomachenkop vs. Gary Russell Jr.
June 28 Terence Crawford vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa
July 12 Canelo Alvarez vs. Erislandy Lara
July 26 Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Geale
August 9 Danny Garcia vs. Rod Salka
August 16 Shawn Porter vs. Kell Brook
Four of these cards took place in New York (two at Madison Square Garden and two at Barclays Center).
The Times ignored all but one of the above fight cards. The only coverage of boxing in the sports section during the entire hundred-day period was:
June 1, 2014: one column-inch on Nonito Donaire’s technical-decision victory over Simpiwe Vetyeka in Macau.
June 9: three column-inches on Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, and Joe Calzaghe being inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canastota.
June 13: An article about Chris Algieri.
June 16: One column-inch on Algieri’s victory over Provodnikov.
July 18: A one column-inch item reporting that Cashmere Jackson (a 26-year-old former women’s light-welterweight amateur boxing champion) died in Cleveland after jumping onto the roof of a car that an assailant drove toward her after an altercation.
The Cashmere Jackson report epitomized the Times’s attitude toward boxing. It appeared during the same week that Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana were engaged in a national tour to promote their September 13 rematch. The Times had no coverage of the tour. Instead, it chose to single out an ugly incident involving a fringe participant in boxing.
In addition to the above pieces, the Times also ran an obituary on Matthew Saad Muhammad in the obituary section on May 28. And an article about Gennady Golovkin making a walk-on appearance in the Broadway musical version of Rocky appeared in the news section (not sports) on July 23.
Most egregiously, the Times didn’t devote one word of coverage to the June 7 middleweight championship fight between Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez at Madison Square Garden. However, one day before the fight, it saw fit to tell its readers that the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League had released Joe Adams. And on the day of the fight, it printed the second-round results from the Manulife Financial Classic woman’s golf tournament in Waterloo, Ontario. For those who are interested, Shanhan Feng and Hee Young Park were tied for the lead in Ontario at 11 under par.
What else did the Times cover?
On June 28, Terence Crawford had a thrilling breakout performance against Yuriorkis Gamboa. The Times never mentioned the fight. Perhaps it was too late for the Sunday edition. But it wasn’t mentioned on Monday either, when the Times devoted 204 column-inches to sumo wrestling.
On July 26, Gennady Golovkin made an emphatic statement at Madison Square Garden with a third-round knockout of Daniel Geale. The Times sports section didn’t mention the fight the following day. But it did feature 340 column inches on diving for abalone off the coast of California.
The Times also devoted more space in single articles to the World Muay Boran Federation martial arts championships in Ayutthaya, Thailand (120 column-inches on May 19), bocce (120 column inches on May 26), the University of Tokyo baseball team (100 column-inches on June 15), bluefish fishing near Sheepshead Bay (120 column inches on July 17), rock-climbing (148 column-inches on August 19), cricket (72 column-inches on August 21), and rugby (136 column inches on August 25) than it did to boxing during the entire survey period.
Here’s a sampling of what the Times (which didn’t consider Cotto-Martinez worthy of mention) did consider newsworthy: Round-by-round results of matches from various men’s tennis tournaments, including the Topshelf Open in Den Bosch, the Bet-At-Home Open in Hamburg, the Claro Open in Bogota, and the Croatia Open in Umag. Also, round-by-round results of matches from various women’s tennis tournaments, including the Aegon Classic at the Edgbaston Priory Club in Birmingham, England; the Gastien Open in Bad Gastein, Austria; the Bucharest Open in Bucharest, Romania; and the Baku Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan. It also listed the top three finishers in track and field events at the Golden Spike Meet in Ostrava in the Czech Republic.
There was no report on the outcome of Carl Froch vs. George Groves. But at various times during the survey period, the Times informed its readers that the New Jersey Institute of Technology would not renew the contract of men’s volleyball coach Ryan McNeil or strength and conditioning coach Dan Hill; Blake Metalf was the new video coordinator at Albany College; Amy Simon had been named women’s lacrosse coach at Fredonia College; Brettt Harker was the new pitching coach at Furman; Ray Cameron had resigned as women’s lacrosse coach at Lees-McRae College; Sean Raffile was the new swimming coach at Bridgeport College; Brendan Armstrong had been promoted from coordinator of athletic services to director of campus recreation at Lasalle; Brian McCullough was the new pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Sienna College; Rachel Carey was the new assistant volleyball coach at Baruch College; Michael Graves was the new assistant softball coach at Carson-Newman College; Tanya Kotowicz was the new women’s lacrosse coach at Central Connecticut State; Karl DeHof had been named coordinator of compliance at Limestone College; Darryce Moore was the new assistant women’s basketball coach at Martin Methodist College; and Lucas Monroe was the new assistant strength and conditioning coach at Teas-Pan American College.
The Times also noted that Caroline King and Samantha Sarff had been named assistant women’s rowing coaches at Clemson; Megan Corrigan was the new assistant women’s lacrosse coach at Susquehanna College; Joe Schoen and Brandon Misiaszek had been named assistant men’s lacrosse coaches at Utica College; Jordan Smith was the new assistant men’s tennis coach at Middle Tennessee College, Allen Corbin had resigned as assistant men’s basketball coach at Shenandoah College; John Maine had been named volunteer assistant basketball coach at Charlotte College; Justin Barker was the new assistant women’s volleyball coach at Loyola of New Orleans; and Jason Cichowicz was the new assistant athletic director for ticketing operations at Delaware College
Jason Stallman, as earlier noted, is the New York Times sports editor. He’s a respected journalist, who began working for the paper in 2003, became deputy sports editor in 2010, and assumed his present position in January 2013.
Speaking with the Columbia Journalism Review, Stallman declared, “We want to give our readers something noticeably different. We try to be imaginative and experimental. That could be in the form of story topic, design, photography, graphics, whatever. Just something that doesn’t feel like everything else out there.”
When asked by this writer to outline the philosphy that drives the sports department, Stallman responded, “We just try to cover the world of sports in an aggressive and imaginative way. We try to tell different stories in different ways. We try to cover the events that our readers are most interested in. It's an incredibly inexact science.”
Stallman also acknowledged placing greater emphasis on traditionally European sports like soccer and cycling than his predecessors did.
“Our audience is more and more global,” he explained. “We have readers all over the world -- a lot of them -- so we've expanded our reporting in that direction.”
Of course, one might note that boxing is a global sport. And the Times didn’t have one word of coverage on Carl Froch vs. George Groves, which attracted 80,000 fans to Wembley Stadium.
Stallman has never been to a professional fight. Asked how often he watches boxing on television, he answered, “When I was a kid, I was enchanted by Hagler, Leonard, Duran, Barkley, Mugabi, Spinks, Hearns. But I have a hard time watching it, considering everything we've learned in recent years about the long-term effects of repeated brain trauma. it's just a little too jarring for me.”
Football is jarring too. But the Times offers saturation coverage of the National Football League and college football for five months each year.
The lack of boxing coverage in the Times is frustrating for fans and also for people who make their living in the sweet science. Some of the best-established sports brands in New York - Madison Square Garden, HBO, Barclays Center, Showtime - are associated with boxing. Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez set a record for the largest live attendance for a boxing match in the history of Madison Square Garden. One million viewers watched Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Geale live on HBO. The Times covers events that don’t come close to matching those numbers. By way of example; the average television audience for a New Jersey Devils hockey game is fifteen thousand households. A Major League Soccer game doesn’t generate anything near the on-site attendance or live television audience that a big fight does. But these games are covered regularly by the Times.
It’s also troubling that, at present, the Times couldn’t cover complex boxing issues on short notice if it wanted to. The biggest stories in the sport often occur behind the scenes. And no one now at The Times knows what’s going on behind the scenes in boxing. The paper simply doesn’t have a “go to” person on staff who’s grounded in the sport.
Greg Bishop was last person at the Times who covered boxing in a meaningful way. At first, he was unfamiliar with the sport. But he was attracted to it, asked Tom Jolly if he could cover some fights, and became knowledgable over time. Now that he’s gone, the number of people on staff who are knowledgable regarding and drawn to the sweet science can be expressed in arithmetic by a circle.
“There’s a lot in boxing that speaks to the larger landscape in sports,” Bishop recently told this writer. “PEDs, the role of the television networks, the lack of an effective governing body in contrast to how other sports are run. It was an uphill battle anytime I wanted to write about boxing at the Times. In the end, it was just ten percent of my time. But it was fun.”
The Times sports section now features more longform journalism and offbeat topics than in the past. One hopes that, in the near future, its editors will realize that there are fascinating stories in boxing that go beyond mundane reporting on the outcome of fights and repetitious pro forma pieces on Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
The editors of the New York Times might not like the Tea Party, but they cover it. They should also cover boxing.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] . His most recent book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) was published by The University of Arkansas Press.