BWAA Conflicts Abound: Thomas Hauser and His Defection to HBO
By William Holmes
I admit it: I’m new to covering the sport of boxing.
I’ve been a lifelong fan, and was given the opportunity to write for boxinginsider.com last year at first on a pro bono basis, and eventually compensation was agreed upon. I knew that in order to be taken seriously in this industry, I’d have to work hard, stay on top of the comings and goings of the sport, and gain the respect of my peers.
I knew I’d be able to do the first two easily. Even if I wasn’t being paid for it, I’d watch every fight that was televised and available to me. The last part, gaining the respect of my peers, was something I’d have to think long and hard about.
Ultimately, I figured that the best way to do gain the respect of my peers was to join the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).
If you go to the website of the BWAA, you’ll see a list of questions they ask you if you want to join. They include the following:
(1) How long have you been writing about boxing?
(2) For whom do you write about boxing?
(3) Approximately how many by-lined articles have you written about boxing?
(4) How often, if at all, do you cover fights live at ringside?
(5) Have you written any books about boxing?
(6) What is your “day” job?
(7) Have any of your fight-related expenses (for example, hotel and travel) been subsidized by a promoter, sanctioning body, manager, or other member of the boxing community other than a publication that you have written for? If the answer is “yes,” please explain.
(8) Are there any current BWAA members whom you can list as references; and if so, whom?
(9) Are there any other factors that should be weighed in considering your application?
Also — and this is important – if you wish to apply, please submit links to a half-dozen articles about boxing that you’re proud of having written. These links should be representative of your best work.
I’ve been averaging approximately 2-3 articles per week, and have covered approximately 15 fights live. I have done live coverage, round-by-round coverage, interviews, and columns. I do have a “day job” as an attorney, in fact an Assistant Prosecutor, and that precludes me from writing about certain topics, mainly criminal law issues. When I applied, I had a feeling I was too new to the industry to be accepted, but I figured I might as well introduce myself.
Thomas Hauser, a respected member of the BWAA, read through my application and informed me that I was denied. I had a feeling it was because of the fact that I was relatively new to covering the sport. He encouraged me to apply again, and cited Thomas Gerbasi as an Internet writer that I should aspire to if I want to join in the future.
Humbled, but not defeated, I vowed to reapply again.
My feelings began to change when it was reported that Thomas Hauser was hired by HBO. Hauser is the man responsible for approving or denying new members of the BWAA, and he is now in the back pocket of HBO, and effectively silenced from voicing any criticism towards one of the biggest providers of live boxing matches in the US.
Why is Hauser being employed by HBO and a member of the BWAA an issue?
If you were to list the major power players in the sport of boxing, HBO would have to top that list. Practically every major PPV fight has HBO’s blessing behind it, and it’s rarity to see a PPV fight without the support of HBO.
To speak against HBO is to speak against the God of boxing.
Granted, HBO isn’t a promoter, manager, or a sanctioning body, but if you think about it, HBO has more power than all three of those combined. HBO gets a percentage of any pay per view fight that they purchase, and help promote their major fights with TV shows such as their 24/7 series. They are in effect an unlicensed promoter, and Thomas Hauser now works for them.
If you click on the about us on the BWAA’s website, it states the following:
The object, goal and purpose of the Boxing Writers Association of America is to foster the highest professional and ethical standards in boxing journalism, both print and electronic, and to promote better working conditions for those who cover and report on the sport.
If the object, goal, and purpose of the BWAA is to foster the highest professional and ethical standards in boxing journalism, shouldn’t their members not be consultants to one of the biggest players in boxing?
What’s perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Thomas Hauser previously worked for www.secondsout.com, which was owned by Robert Waterman, a promoter and manager in the industry. One has to wonder if Hauser was able to remain objective about the fighters under the control of Waterman when he worked for him.
Respected journalist Kevin Iole delved into the issue in one of his columns and stated: “It’s a dark day for boxing journalism. Despite Hauser’s protestations, [HBO] essentially bought the silence of one of the few men with the sources, the gravitas and the courage to take on the sport’s powerful forces.”
This is not the only questionable issue of the membership in the BWAA. Question number seven specifically asks if any of your fight expenses have ever been paid for by a fight promoter. Thomas Gerbasi, the Internet writer and member of the BWAA that Thomas Hauser informed me to model myself after, is also an employee of the UFC, the biggest promotion in the sport of mixed martial arts.
One might argue–successfully admittedly–that the UFC is MMA and not boxing, and therefore no conflict exists with Gerbasi being a member of the BWAA and also working for the UFC. However, the UFC recognizes the reach and power the BWAA holds, and used to sponsor their award dinners in the early days of the UFC. The UFC is also regulated by the same commissions as boxing.
The conflict that is apparent with Gerbasi and Hauser is not the only one. The Ring Magazine, which has been in publication since 1922, is currently owned by Oscar De La Hoya, who also happens to be the owner of Golden Boy Promotions. The former editor-in-chief of The Ring Magazine was Nigel Collins, now currently employed by ESPN.
Do you think the writers at The Ring Magazine think twice before criticizing the owner of the promotion that writes their checks? You’d be naïve if you think the answer is no.
How about popular ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael? Even he appears to have some conflicts. Rafael is also currently a boxing analyst for the EPIX network, which broadcasts most of the Klitschko brothers fights. Is it purely coincidence that Rafael, who previously had been soured on the heavyweight divison, now claims it is suddenly interesting?
Does his working for EPIX have anything to do with it?
Upon close inspection, many members of the BWAA have conflicts with the stated goals and purpose of the BWAA. Boxing is a sport that has a reputation by many of being corrupt and crooked, and when the Boxing Writers Association of America is filled with members who have these conflicts, it does little to ease the doubts and concerns of the fans who financially support the sport and who desire a clean and fair sport.
I’m not saying Thomas Hauser, Dan Rafael, members of The Ring Magazine and Thomas Gerbasi are not good writers. They are excellent writers, who I follow regularly. But if the stated goal of the BWAA is to foster the highest professional and ethical standards in boxing journalism, once full-fledged members start working for a promoter or a major power player in the sport, they should either remove themselves from the BWAA, or at the very least, become auxiliary members. Their ability to remain objective becomes compromised.
Perhaps I should apply again next year, and hope I can use my position as a writer to change the culture of the sport.
Or perhaps I should not even consider reapplying to the BWAA, because even the journalists who cover the sport are not free from the perception of corruption.