By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Turn on your evening news or glance at a favorite source of headlines.
Chances are pretty good there’ll be a mention of Flint, Michigan.
A decision to change the main water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River – which ultimately subjected citizens to dangerous levels of lead from aging infrastructure pipes – has triggered a chaotic two-year stretch that's left the birthplace of General Motors on the brink of municipal collapse.
The city declared a state of emergency in December, and criminal charges were filed last month against a district water supervisor and a district water engineer for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. A former laboratory and water quality supervisor who now serves as the city's utilities administrator was also charged. All three are on administrative leave.
As two of the city’s most successful native athletes, super middleweight contenders Andre and Anthony Dirrell are walking a fine line between mourning what’s become of their hometown and using the tragedy as motivation to further their professional careers. Both were victorious on a Friday night card in Atlantic City and both plan to keep the issue font and center while doing publicity for future fights.
“It’s a slap in the face,” Anthony Dirrell said. “First you’re mad because of the situation, because of how it is going to affect people and how can they be so blatant, and then you are sad because your family is affected. Any way you look at it is disappointing and disheartening.”
Those topics were front and center in a recent discussion with the Dirrells, who discussed their reactions as the crisis began, their impressions of how it’s been handled and the added impetus they have to succeed on behalf of those who are struggling.
Q: Can you talk about your feelings as natives of the city and the sort of reaction you had when you realized this was a serious issue going on in your hometown?
Andre Dirrell: I was in Florida right before it happened. I read about it a lot and heard about the situation. When I heard they were going to switch our water source from the original water source to the Flint River, I always knew how nasty the Flint River was. So when they said they were going to switch it over to there I was kind of like blown away. Why would they do that?
There is no way that water is sanitary enough or that they can make it sanitary enough for it to be OK. I knew that was a downhill battle the second I heard. My niece and nephew have been affected with it. It was pretty hard, man, and I’m feeling real down with our system right now. Not only because of the water system, the budget. Flint is at a really bad place right now and people are doing as much as they can to get it back up to speed.
Q: Were you angry, were you sad, what kind of emotions go through your head when you allow yourself to just sit and think about what’s going on up there?
Andre Dirrell: For me it is just sickening really.
Anthony Dirrell: We’re mad because water is an everyday use. You need water for everything – wash your dishes, wash your clothes, eat, everything -- you name it, you need it. And for them to just do this and switch waters, I think it should have been a vote with the people about if we should switch the water or not. And I know they are trying to cut money but it is about the safety of the people and the kids.
That is what is going to hurt the most, the kids and the older people. For the senior citizens to have to go through this it is sad and it is definitely upsetting to even see that because we have people in Flint that are going through it and have lived from it. Like my brother said, you’ve got schools that are closing, 40 percent of the people that live there are in poverty and there are no jobs. There’s no money coming in. And we seem to not get help. It seems that they want Flint to fall and then they rebuild.
Q: You see this stuff on the news and kind of get the sense that they would rather wash their hands of this and just start over again. As people who have people that are up there that’s got to weigh on you every day, doesn’t it?
Anthony Dirrell: It definitely does. I’m thinking they are washing their hands and they are done. They want all the people to move out so they can rebuild and tear everything down and just rebuild. That’s what I am just thinking because they aren’t doing anything to improve it. We were one of the most powerful cities in America because we had GM. That’s where GM first started. So for them to fall flat on their faces like that makes no sense to me. They want to rebuild and just get people out.
Q: Talk about your roles. You are natives to the city. You are high-profile guys, successful championship-level athletes. What do you feel like you can do, what do you feel your role is now to address this to help them?
Andre Dirrell: I’m feeling like I am doing all I can. We can’t go down there and dig pipes ourselves. So we just need to wait and see what’s going on. They don’t even have blueprints to the pipes, they don’t know where one pipe is and that’s sad because now if they dig they are just hoping they are going to hit a pipe. They are saying they are going to fix one house a month. There’s 50,000 houses. There’s no way it’s ever getting done if they did one house a day.
Q: I saw a story a couple of months ago that you were buying bottled water and going up there. Is that the kind of thing you feel like you guys could contribute at this point?
Andre Dirrell: I want to start with my family first. I hate to say it but I have to reach out to my family first and make sure they are all stable there and then after that we will move up into the community. There’s only so much we can do at the end of the day. It is up to the city to get things fixed.
Q: I remember 10 years ago when the hurricane went through New Orleans and the football team wrapped themselves around it and they were unbeatable for a year or two and they put the whole city on their back. Do you feel motivated thinking about the people in Flint, your families up there?
Andre Dirrell: Just knowing I have them with me on my side, I get that extra motivation. I want to help change the situation in any way that I can. Yes, it is a big motivational factor. I’m pretty glad I have to opportunity. So yes, it is very motivational and I’m very pumped.
Q: Same for you, Anthony?
Anthony Dirrell: Definitely. We are a name in Flint and our voice has definitely got to be heard. It is definitely motivating for me to just push harder.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO super bantamweight title – Windhoek, Namibia
Paulus Ambunda (champion/No. 37 IWBR) vs. Moises Flores (No. 10 IBO/No. 6 IWBR)
Ambunda (24-1, 10 KO): Second title defense; Never lost a fight in Namibia (24-0, 10 KO)
Flores (24-0, 17 KO): First title fight; Third scheduled 12-round fight (2-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: This one’s a head-scratcher. The IBO only slots Flores as a No. 10 contender, but the independent rankings have him 31 spots ahead of his foe. Sounds like a new champion. Flores in 9
WBA lightweight title -- Manchester, United Kingdom
Anthony Crolla (champion/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Ismael Barroso (No. 1 WBA/No. 14 IWBR)
Crolla (30-4-3, 12 KO): First title defense; Never lost a fight in Manchester (8-0-2, 4 KO)
Barroso (19-0-2, 18 KO): First title fight; Second straight fight in United Kingdom (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The champion’s got the backyard advantage, but the challenger looked awfully impressive in his previous trip across the pond and might have what’s needed for two straight. Barroso in 5
WBC middleweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Saul Alvarez (champion/unranked IWBR) vs. Amir Khan (unranked WBC/unranked IWBR)
Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten in fights beyond 154 pounds (4-0, 2 KO)
Khan (31-3, 19 KO): Ninth title fight (6-2); First fight beyond 147 pounds
Fitzbitz says: I like Khan. And I think he’d be a guy to give Floyd Mayweather all the trouble he wanted. But Canelo’s too big, and not a bad fighter to boot. Hard not to see him winning. Alvarez in 8
IBF junior flyweight title -- Tokyo, Japan
Akira Yaegashi (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Martin Tecuapetla (No. 10 IBF/unranked IWBR)
Yaegashi (23-5, 12 KO): First title defense; Only one loss in weight class (8-1, 5 KO)
Tecuapetla (13-6-3, 10 KO): First title fight; Sixth fight scheduled past eight rounds (2-3, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Yaegashi will make no one forget the best fighters of today, let alone those of years gone by. But compared to this dubious challenger, he’ll seem like Roman Gonzalez 2.0. Yaegashi in 10
WBO junior bantamweight title -- Tokyo, Japan
Naoya Inoue (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. David Carmona (No. 1 WBO/No. 17 IWBR)
Inoue (9-0, 8 KO): Second title defense; Five KOs in five scheduled 12-round fights (26 total rounds)
Carmona (20-2-5, 8 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Third fight outside Mexico (1-1, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The 23-year-old has had a stellar beginning to his career and certainly has some big events – see: Gonzalez, Roman – in his future. This one won’t impede those plans. Inoue in 6
Last week’s picks: 4-2 (WIN: Kono, Mulovhedzi, Buthelezi, DeGale; LOSS: Uchiyama, Landaeta)
2016 picks record: 28-7 (80.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 760-255 (74.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.