By Jake Donovan
BIRMINGHAM—Jamal James has a tough enough task in front of him with Saturday’s challenge versus Wale Omotoso. The unbeaten welterweight from Minneapolis also comes into the ring with a heavy heart stemming from an incident that literally hits close to home.
Racial tension in the United States continues to trend in the very wrong direction, a lot of the outrage stepping from a history of police brutality that continues to goes unpunished. The Black Lives Matter movement has gained considerable strength since coming to the forefront in 2014, but from protests and rallies have unfortunately come increased tension between law enforcement and the communities they are supposed to protect and serve.
Two more perceived-to-be unjustified deaths at the hands of police have captured nationwide attention, with Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – African-American males from Baton Rouge, Lou. and St. Paul, Minn., respectively – suffering untimely deaths within the past month.
The unlawful traffic stop of Castile gone horrifically wrong took place in the Falcon Heights suburb of St. Paul, barely 10 miles from Minneapolis where James not only lives and trains, but where and his family has proudly served as pillars of the community.
The humble yet eclectic and well-spoken boxer has trained out of the Circle of Discipline gym since he first learned the sport. The center’s mission statement is to “provide youth and young adults with alternative programs and enrichment activities that address their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs—360 degrees of balance, which empowers them to reach their full potential and become positive leaders in their communities, cities, state, and in a global society.”
Such a statement is tough to digest in the wake of continued violence and little proof of reform coming to the forefront.
“It’s terrible the things we are forced to experience in the world, but we can’t stop being role models to those who look for a better way of life,” James (19-0, 9KOs) told BoxingScene.com ahead of his showdown with Omotoso (26-2), which airs live on FS1 from the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
The FS1 portion of Saturday evening is due to air immediately upon the conclusion of the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on Fox telecast, topped by unbeaten welterweight titlist Deontay Wilder versus longtime contender Chris Arreola. No fewer than five bouts will grace the two broadcasts, with several of the athletes appearing the shows dedicating their fights to related causes.
Felix Diaz – the only boxer ever from Dominican Republic to win an Olympic Gold medal, who faces unbeaten Sammy Vasquez in the Fox-televised chief support – will come to the ring to a Black Lives Matter-themed entrance, with his entire team supporting T-shirts stating “All Lives Matter/Stop Police Brutality.”
Vasquez – a decorated Army soldier who served two tours in the Gulf War – is dedicating Saturday’s fight to all those who are forced to overcome the ills of society, whichever side of the law it occurs.
“People are taking things way too drastically these days,” Vasquez explained to BoxingScene.com, relating his own everyday situation to the subject. “I’m just walking down the street with my daughters and we see somebody going crazy. It’s random. Someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting – a bullet doesn’t have anyone’s name on it. My daughter could get shot just for walking down the street. It’s crazy.
“We need to start handling this s**t in a better. Sports help unite people because all colors collide.”
That very viewpoint is shared by Wilder himself, who plans to use his platform to speak out against the senseless violence plaguing our nation. Both he and Arreola showed respect during Friday’s weigh-in, following their obligatory staredown by standing side-by-side while sporting signs that read “His Life Matters” with arrows pointing toward one another.
Erickson Lubin faces Ivan Montero in the Fox opener, fresh off of an NBC-televised knockout win over Daniel Sandoval four weeks ago. The 20-year young super welterweight prospect continues to represent an Orlando community still struggling to move past the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at Pulse night club last month.
“That still stays with me,” Lubin (15-0, 11KOs) reiterated to BoxingScene.com. “Just 'cause it happened last month and I fought last month don't mean it goes away. I still dedicate this to all those victims and their families who continue to suffer through that tragedy. I dedicate this to everyone going through tragedy. All lives matter and I dedicate this to all those suffering, who look to sports to take their mind off these tough times even just for a little while.”
Just as Lubin – win, lose or draw – has to return home to an Orlando region still coping with what took place just a short time ago, James will also head back to a part of the U.S. struggling to overcome tragedy.
“I want to give my thoughts and prayers to the Philando Castile family, to the Alton Sterling family. Also to all those officers in Dallas who lost their lives,” James points out, before sending a message lost far too often especially upon today’s boxing game. “It's up to us as athletes to use this platform to let the world be known that it's time for change.