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James Toney Needs Compassion, Not Insults

By Ivan G. Goldman

Last week’s series of events that led to the cancellation of James Toney’s scheduled heavyweight fight with Tomas Adamek was a foul-smelling chain of ugly words and deeds that was utterly bereft of decency or good sense. Everyone involved should make amends.

The vilest participant was some hideous agitator with a baseball cap and video camera who apparently follows Toney around like a park pigeon. This is the guy who could be heard in his self-made video encouraging Toney to physically threaten ESPN writer Dan Rafael. Pigeon-man could even be heard bragging to Toney that he’d personally challenged Rafael in some way or other at a media conference. I’m told this guy considers himself a member of the media. Holy crap, what have we come to? My colleague Johnny Walker offered up the video of Toney’s egged-on tirade in this story:

It’s an eye-opener. Because boxing is by its very nature a violent enterprise, weak-minded creatures sometimes give in to the urge to emulate their super-heroes and pretend they’re tough. Bad idea, pigeon man. Just because you’ve read some Superman comics doesn’t mean you should leap off a tall building. “Lights Out,” a great fighter in his time, needs to get this guy off his trail.

Why was the fight cancelled? This is how promoters think: 1. A fighter on one of our future cards threatened to assault a writer. 2. If he does, we could get sued. Why? Because people sue those with the deepest pockets, not broke fighters like Toney who can’t even pay their tax bills. 3. Let’s cancel the whole thing and slink away before we lose serious money.

Toney, a sure Hall of Famer, should, after ridding himself of pigeon-man, issue an apology immediately and promise never, ever to harm someone who’s not physically attacking him. By the way, I’m not convinced James is brain-damaged. He’s still quick on the uptake, and he’s always slurred his words. In fact, I remember several years ago he hired a consultant who employed a specialist to try to teach him to annunciate so he could possibly work in the media himself. Don’t laugh. James, when he stops blustering, is a master observer of what’s going on in that ring. Anyway, if someone like Dr. Margaret Goodman tells me James appears brain-damaged, I’ll believe it. Until then, I withhold judgment.

Rafael, when he opined that the Adamek-Toney bout scheduled in September was a horrible idea, was just doing his job. But later, after Toney threatened him, Dan, getting caught up in the turmoil, told a fan in an ESPN forum, “I take it with a grain of salt from an angry, brain damaged and broke fighter. I am not mad at James. I just feel sorry for him.”

It’s one thing to call a fighter brain-damaged when you’re trying to save him from further injury, but in this instance an obviously angry Rafael was using the term the same way a street kid calls another street kid a “retard.” He appeared to be gloating that a fighter had, he believed, suffered permanent injury. From what I know of Rafael he’s better than that. He needs to apologize too.

I remember when James had a celebrity entourage, big jewelry, and tailored suits. Now apparently all he’s got is pigeon man. I understand his anger, but anger has hounded him his whole life. A natural athlete with steel guts, he could have excelled at almost any sport. In high school he was offered scholarships to play football at Michigan State and Western Michigan but was ejected before the season even began for beating up Deion Sanders. They both claimed the same bunk at a training camp.

Toney owes a lot of money to a lot of different people and agencies. Some of it is in the form of child support, which could put him in jail. He beat the odds when, a fatherless kid, he fought his way out of various Michigan ghettos. But where does he go from here? I’m not sure he’s ever worked at a real job. He’ll be 44 next month. He’s not a bad guy. He needs help, the kind of help ex-fighters almost never get.

Ivan G. Goldman’s latest novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE

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