Bob Arum is 88, and he has lived during more up and down cycles than most of us. He has also worked within atypically disparate vocational spheres, as a lawyer in the US Department of Justice, and then as a promoter in the fight game, where justice is arguably more malleable and fluctuating. I often will ask him about bigger picture takes than just boxing, because he’s intellectually curious, studies up, and isn’t afraid to defend a stance.
He’s beyond passionate about politics, and it’s not hard to get his gears grinding hard about Trump, and his performance in the White House. Like just about every adult in the union, he’s been achingly cognizant of the turmoil stemming from the Memorial Day death of Minnesota resident George Floyd, choked out by a Minneapolis cop who is facing second-degree murder charges.
On Friday, I asked his thoughts on the state of the world, and he didn’t verbally whack Trump like a pinata party at a home for unruly children. Instead, he chose to give a public salute to an athlete who is impressing him mightily, with the leadership qualities reminiscent of some of the sportspeople who took civil rights and political stances in the 1960s and 1970s.
“People should continue with peaceful protests,” said the Las Vegas resident, decompressing after a mega-busy week for Top Rank. “That keeps issues at the forefront , and at the end of the day none of it will mean very much unless everyone comes out to vote; to put reasonable, decent people in office, who can implement what positive changes the people want.
“I have to do a shoutout to LeBron James, a serious and smart person, who’s saying the same thing. It’s great to protest, but it’s gonna come to very little if we don’t put decent people in the offices. And get rid of the recalcitrants. I want to get that message out, that what LeBron is doing is as valuable if not more so than the protests.”
The 35-year-old James, now plying the trade for the Los Angeles Lakers, is part of a group, “More Than a Vote,” which will work to get people to pull that lever, move beyond despair and cynicism, and help them realize that if enough people shift their thinking, real change can be achieved by electing people who actually want to serve the public, not their own fiefdom.
And, I noted, it seems to me that it’s harder for athletes now to choose to take a public stand for “good,” to juggle being a pillar in the sports world, and then also have a voice in taking a stand for inroads on behalf of blacks, victims of the mass incarceration movement that has intensified since the 1980s. Today, the United States makes up about 5% of the world’s population and locks up about 21% of the world’s prisoners.
The Floyd footage represents the last straw for millions of people who see case after case of darker skinned people being dominated and brutalized by law enforcement, when video shows they are not posing a threat to the cop, or have been subdued. “I can’t breathe” being among the last words spoken by black people accused of petty crimes, and the distinct lack of urgency shown by powers-that-be to acknowledge that our national system of policing, neither serves nor protects tens of millions of citizens who would like to think that all men and women are created equal — but whose eyes and experience has taught them this is but a high-minded slogan.
“Back then (in the 60s and 70s), a lot of the political establishment on both sides of the aisle wanted to affect change, but now we’re in a situation I’ve never seen,” Arum said. “One party is in lock step to this guy (Trump) who is totally incompetent and is a bad person. And until we get him and his followers out of office it’s gonna be hard to move the needle.”
Of course, we trafficked in the fight game, too. Here are some items on the Arum to do list:.
“If we can get appropriate site, I’d like to do Terence Crawford versus Manny Pacquiao, or Crawford versus a top welterweight, sometime this year, with spectators.
“Also, we’ll have Jose Ramirez fight Viktor Postol this summer. And we’re talking with the Brits, for when they open up in July, for a 10-rounder for Josh Taylor. Then we hope to move forward with a Ramirez versus Taylor fight, if not this year, then next.
“All in all, we’re trying to position ourselves to do what we call ‘bigger’ fights, we’re moving in that direction. We’ve talked with Golden Boy and with Al Haymon, if Al is up and running with FOX, if he has to a fight on FOX, we do that, or maybe we do it on ESPN. Same thing with Golden Boy, if and when DAZN comes back.”
(Yes, you picked up on that, Arum hinting that the status of the streaming service might be more iffy than some would lead us to believe.)
“We tried that with Maurice Hooker and Jose Ramirez on DAZN. You can’t run a promotional company and run on only one network if there are other opportunities on another network. That’s one thing this whole coronavirus thing has done, facilitate the breaking down of walls.”