On Nov. 16, one day before a congressional subcommittee looked into the possible need for legislation to improve health insurance and safety issues for jockeys, the full U.S. House of Representatives said "no" to the creation of a federal commission to oversee professional boxing.
Boxing and horse racing have more than a few things in common. Both sports, while operating under some federal guidelines, are predominately regulated by state commissions. As a result, regulations vary from one state to another, one racetrack or boxing ring to another. In horse racing, the absence of uniform regulations regarding licensing of participants and medication rules has been a major annoyance. Boxing has the same problems.
Horse racing and boxing can be dangerous activities. Boxers have died in the ring, and many more have suffered debilitating injuries. The death of 16-year-old Josh Radosevich at Ohio's Beulah Park Nov. 16 was a terribly sad reminder about the potential perils of riding fragile Thoroughbreds at full speed.
Both sports have integrity issues, too. Fixed fights and fixed races are part of boxing and Turf history. Whenever gambling is involved, criminal minds work overtime to try and beat the system. That's why vigilant regulation of both sports is so critical to their health.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain championed the legislation calling for creation of a federal boxing commission. It received Senate approval in 2004 and 2005 but has not made it through the House, losing most recently by a 223-190 vote.
The purpose of the legislation was to standardize health and safety requirements, establish a centralized medical registry for use by state commissions, reduce arbitrary practices of sanctioning organizations, and provide uniformity in ranking criteria and contractual guidelines.
McCain called professional boxing "the only major sport in the United States that does not have a strong, centralized association, league, or other regulatory body to establish and enforce uniform rules and practices." That's incorrect, unless McCain is implying horse racing is not a major sport.
"This legislation would better protect professional boxing from the fraud, corruption, and ineffective regulation that have plagued the sport for far too many years," McCain said. "The problems that plague the sport of professional boxing undermine the credibility of the sport in the eyes of the public and--more importantly--compromise the safety of boxers."
Boxing's reputation may be worse than racing's, but let's not kid ourselves: Horse racing has an image problem. The Breeders' Cup pick six scandal in 2002 exposed flaws in the wagering systems that may still exist. Performance-enhancing substances were found in an alarming percentage of horses at a California track last year in a stealth pilot test program. A federal indictment in New York earlier this year alleged doping, race fixing, and illegal gambling involving several people with reported ties to organized crime. A young jockey was left paralyzed and without adequate insurance after a spill in 2004.
Does that mean federal legislation is the answer? Whether or not you think so may be irrelevant. The two recent hearings on jockey safety conducted by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations suggest horse racing is already in the crosshairs.
Earlier this year, Congress threatened Major League Baseball with federal intervention if it failed to rid the sport of steroid abuse. Team owners and the players union took those threats seriously, recently agreeing to harsh penalties that will result in a 50-game suspension for a first infraction, 100 games for the next one, and a lifetime ban for a player testing positive three times.
Racing should pay attention.