First Time An Athletic Commission Refused to Licence A Fighter For Too Much “Mileage”?

Just a quick regulatory blast from the past.

I recently finished reading Tris Dixon’s “Damage” (No this is not a sponsored post). I can’t say enough good things about this very sober and very real discussion about an important topic – long term brain trauma in boxing. If interested in my thoughts you can check out my live tweet book review here.

Among the many great historical facts covered in the book was the apparently first time an athletic commission was documented prohibiting a fighter from being licensed based on medical advice that they are too far past their prime. If you know an earlier example I’d love to hear it.

The decision was made by the New York State Athletic Commission and concerned the legendary three division world champion Bob Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons was contracted to fight at the Atlantic Garden Athletic Club with pay of 45% of gross gate receipts. He was suspended based on medical advice given to the NYSAC. He did not take the prohibition lightly and sued. It was a losing effort wit the judiciary ruling that the State was within their rights to regulate prizefighting and further within their rights to keep someone they deemed no longer qualified from competing. The full decision can be found here with the following brief key reasonsing:

It is necessary to determine the extent of the authority which the defendant Athletic Commission possesses under the law creating it in order to ascertain whether the order against which the plaintiff complains is in excess of its jurisdiction. The New York State Athletic Commission was created by chapter 779 of the Laws of 1911. That act defines the scope of its authority. Section 3 of that act vests in the commission the sole direction, management, control of and jurisdiction over all boxing and sparring matches and exhibitions held within the State, and provides that no boxing or sparring match or exhibition shall be held within the State except pursuant to its authority. It is also provided that the State Athletic Commission shall issue licenses to clubs, corporations or associations under whose auspices such contests are held, and that every license shall be subject to such rules and regulations as the commission may prescribe. Under this act the commission has general authority over all boxing and sparring matches and exhibitions. To it is committed “the sole direction, management, and control of and jurisdiction over” such contests. It is empowered to make such rules for the administration of its duties not inconsistent with the statute as it may deem expedient. Every license which it issues is subject to such rules and regulations as it prescribes. The licenses issued, pursuant to its authority, are by their terms revocable upon the order of the commission. Pursuant to this ample authority, the State Athletic Commission has adopted certain rules and regulations governing such contests. Part I of rule 25 of such regulations provides that “In all boxing or sparring matches or exhibitions, contestants, referee, timekeepers, seconds and examining physicians shall at all times be under the control and direction of the Commission.”

Such regulations provide that any club, corporation or association which violate part I of rule 25 of such regulation shall forfeit its license. The provisions of the statute referred to above, taken in connection with the legislative purpose in creating the New York State Athletic Commission, leave no doubt in my mind that the commission was designed to impose such restrictions upon boxing and sparring contests as would promote its development as a sport, while at the same time this control should be so exercised that certain brutal or dangerous features which have sometimes attended such contests should, as far as possible, be done away with. In the case now before the court, the order of the defendant, State Athletic Commission, in prohibiting its licensee, the Atlantic Garden Athletic Club, from allowing the plaintiff to engage in such a contest cannot be said to be arbitrary or capricious. That order is based upon the judgment of the members of the commission after having taken the advice of a competent physician, that to allow the plaintiff to engage in such a contest would be to run the risk of serious injury to him. The risk to the plaintiff in engaging in such a contest is not a consideration purely personal to him.[15 Misc.2d 836]In the absence of proof that the commission were actuated by unworthy motives, the court should not interfere with the exercise of the discretion which the Legislature has directed it to use. The members of the commission have presumably been selected because of their special knowledge as to matters pertaining to such contest, and I know of no reason why the uninstructed judgment of the court upon this subject should be deemed superior to the judgment of the commission.

I conclude that the commission had jurisdiction to make the order against which the plaintiff complains, and that as there is no evidence that the commission in making such an order were actuated by unworthy motives or that they have acted arbitrarily or capriciously, there is no ground for interference by a court of equity with the operation of the order of the commission.


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