"Undisputed Champions for Dignity!"
Boxingtalk's Nigel Clarke recently spoke with Alex "The Bronx Bomber" Ramos of the Retired Boxers Foundation. In this informative and emotional interview, Alex and his assistant Jacquie Richardson, provide details on the Retired Boxers Foundation and the many ways they are helping retired fighters. If you're a boxer or a fan of the sport, you don't want to miss this interview.Clarke: What is the Retired Boxers Foundation and what is its mission?
Alex: The Retired Boxers Foundation, "The Undisputed Champions for Dignity!" It is a Non Profit organization that has been in existence for several years--since 1998. We exist to help fighters when their careers are over, helping them live a dignified life.
Alex: As you know, in boxing, there is no pension plan, there are no medical benefits and as a result, many fighters wind up owing the government back taxes and also having problems neurologically....physical stuff. We exist to help the fighters throughout the world. We also have a medical advisory board. We've been helping fighters, and that is what I'm going to die doing!Clarke: You had a magnificent career inside the ring. If, I'm not mistaken, when you retired, you faced some tough times. Can you provide some insight on the types of issues a fighter faces once he retires?
Alex: Well you know, I can speak for myself and I can speak for a few fighters that I know. A lot of fighters leave the sport, sometimes they leave badly damaged and whether it be neurologically or whether it be emotionally or physically, there are a lot of things that happen when your career is over.
Alex: Boxing is a wonderful game and a beautiful sport. I love it and I will die a fighter. Today, I'm going to die as a fighter today doing the right thing for the sport of boxing, which is helping my brothers in the sport, who need help. We get calls every day. I talk to fighters everyday no matter where they are. We have people who represent the foundation in the states and overseas, we also have a medical advisory board; we have a great honorary board that includes James Carville and director Ron Shelton. We have some good people who have been helping. Director Ron Shelton, when we started this foundation was our biggest contributor. He gave us $50,000 donation for five years for operating expenses. We've been doing some great things to help fighters. No body draws a salary at the RBF. 100% of the donations go back to the fighters who need a hand up.
Alex: We also have people that help us with financial services. You hear stories about fighters owing back taxes or filing for bankruptcy. This is nothing new to the sport. You hear it today, with guys like Antonio Tarver not too long ago, Mike Tyson--who is a good friend and my brother in boxing till death--filed for bankruptcy. You hear it with numerous fighters. There are a lot of fighters who file for bankruptcy. We try to educate and do the right thing for the sport. Boxing is a wonderful game, like I say, your fighters don't come from ivy league schools, we come from the ghettos, the barrios and third world countries and were looking to make it out of there. So we have to educate the fighters. Our organization is about fighters helping fighters. Because nobody else does....and educating the public too, because people don't know about these things! People think the fighters make millions and the truth of the matter is that before they get anything, the IRS gets at least a third, their manager gets a third. Then there's 10% for the trainer, 2% for the cut man, and then you gotta pay the bills that have been piling up while you're waiting for the payday. Every fighter needs to have some legal counsel and accounting assistance, from day one. You can't trust nobody in the sport of boxing, so you gotta create your own protectors in this sport. These fighters also need to look at the "hangers on..." These are the people who always have their hand out, but don't really do shit to help you.Clarke: I've been a participant and a fan of boxing for several years and I have not heard of your organization.
Alex: We've been in existence for over six years. You don't hear the stories. I've had struggles in my life. You hear about fighters when their stories hit the newspapers. They wind up with problems--some they caused and some they can't help. I did. I had problems with drugs and alcohol and I was homeless, but God has saved me for a reason. He gave me the heart of a fighter and a few brains so that I could work from the inside to change things. I am honored to speak about what God has given me and that includes all of my experiences, good and bad, so that I can be an authority on what the sport needs and what the athletes need when their careers are over. None of them, myself included, want pity. All we need is a chance to start a new life. My Executive Director calls me the "Poster Child" of what can happen to a fighter who leaves the sport of boxing with some damage and no clue what to do when their careers come to an end. I am living proof that we can over come our addictions--I've been sober 5 years on December 29th--and that we can repair some of the physical and neurological damage if we get the right kind of medical care. We can start a new life. I always say, "My past is like my ass. It's behind me!"
Alex: I testified at the attorney general boxing tasks force hearing back in 1999,which helped pass the bill for the Muhammad Ali boxing safety act, which has not done anything for the sport of boxing. Even though the intent was good and it drew attention to the need to make the sport safer, it didn't come with any funding to enforce it. It was in place when fighters like Greg Page fought in Kentucky, with no ambulance on site, no Oxygen, an unlicensed doctor--and where did it get him? In a coma for months and now completely disabled. His wife looked on the Internet and found us. We were able to raise funds, several thousand of dollars to help him when he left the hospital. One of our reps, Brad Cooney, jumped in and helped them get Supplemental Social Security in less than 90 days, and because Greg is totally disabled, he also got Medicare. We've been doing the right thing and that is what this is about.
Alex: There are a lot of stories that you might not know about. I've been in the game for over thirty years, there are many things people don't know about. Bobby Chacon, two-time world champ. He still walks around with dementia and you have people who still exploit him, which is disgusting and I can't stand to see it! We are here to help the fighters!Clarke: You founded the Retired Boxers Foundation in 1998. What difficulties have you had in advancing the organization?
Alex: You would literally think that you would get a lot of help from the sport of boxing. But what happens is that we don't, we mostly get help from outside contributions. We do the right thing to help the fighters and I am going to die doing this!
Jacquie: Alex is very passionate about what he does and it is very satisfying work. We operate on a budget of less that 25K a year. No one takes a salary. It might be as little as 85 dollars for bus fare to go home for a guy who is one the streets. It might be 400 dollars for someone who wants to become a certified trainer, but can't get far enough ahead to do it. Or like Jaun Antonio Lopez, we paid for his chemotherapy for six months ....until the WBC took over.
Alex: Eight months!
Jacquie: Eight months before the WBC took it over. You can't do much with 25K, but we can be the bridge until we find the right resources.Clarke: That leads into my next question, you guys operate on less that 25K for a year, yet promoters and cable networks make millions from fights, why aren't you getting assistance from them?
Jacquie: You know what, when you talk about Mike Tyson's $3 million purse, you're talking about one percent of what really comes in through television. I went through old lawsuits, when they were making 27 million from fights that were televised in 1977, who knows what it is now. If they gave us 25 cents from every pay per view subscriber it would endow this and every other foundation out there. You know...the Retired Boxers Foundation could be out of business, which is our goal, if every state adopted the kind of pension plan that California did, which costs $.89 per ticket sold to a boxing event, and a quarter from every PPV in boxing. You tell me one fan in boxing that wouldn't mind paying twenty five cents extra when they buy a PPV, or care if their ticket included eighty nine cents to help boxers retired with a pension and have some insurance while they were risking their lives to entertain the fans!Clarke: So you have reached out to promoters and networks?
Jacquie: We don't directly, but James Carville had Don King as his guest on CNN's Crossfire, and he specifically asked Don King why he didn't help people like Alex Ramos and the RBF. Don responded that "there are lots of poor people in the world and I try to help as many as I can." Dan Goosen and Showtime have been wonderful in providing tickets so that Alex and I can go to the fights. That's where we get information on who needs help. In fact, it was a writer at one of the fights that told us about Juan Antonio Lopez. You know...it's funny, but we NEVER get calls from the retired boxer themselves, asking for help. It's always from a fan or a family member or another fighter. HBO used to give us tickets to fights, but they haven't in over two years. We do our networking at the fights. Like I said, neither Alex or I draw a salary, and I already subsidize the RBF, so tickets to the fights would be out of the question without the generosity of people like Dan and Craig Goosen and Showtime. Bob Yalen at ESPN was also very generous to us, but we don't even know who the new people are.Clarke: What are you goals for the upcoming year?
J: Our goal for the upcoming year is to raise another 25K to stay in business. It does not sound very lofty, but that is the reality of what this is. For a normal nonprofit it takes 3 to 5 years to build your credibility. In boxing I believe it takes twice as long. Alex works 24/7, contacting people and getting resources. I work part time for the Ventura County District Attorney, and spend another 20-40 hours a week finding resources and delivering things that fighters need. Amazing what you can do if you care enough. Like I said, a phone call to the right person can change someone's life. Alex has a great relationship with Mauricio and Jose Suiliaman and the WBC. They picked up the cost of Juan Antonio's chemotherapy after we had paid it for 8 months. One phone call to the WBC and Genaro Chicanito Hernandez, and they arranged for his eye surgery and paid for it. Alex isn't afraid to ask anyone for help for one of his brothers in boxing! How much does it cost to make a phone call? Nothing really. We have helped dozens of fighters get Supplemental Social Security, we have helped them appeal rejections, we have helped them get Veterans Benefits and we have gotten them the medical treatment they need. Not only do we make the calls, we drive them to the Social Security Administration and VA offices, we help them fill out the paper work and we make sure that they get the right kind of physical and neuro exams to make sure they have appropriate diagnosis.Clarke: What are your thoughts on boxing reform and a national boxing commissioner?
Alex: They talk about a national boxing commission. If it is with the same guys who are in the sport today, what is the sense of having it? They need to have boxers on this commission. There're many fighters out there who are very intelligent. A lot of people think that fighters, because that they come from the ghettos, are not educated. First of all, all these guys on commissions, they are all political appointees. Come on! How in the hell!? These guys aint't never boxed in their life! If the commissions were doing their jobs the way they are supposed to at the state level, we would not have to be talking about this shit!Clarke: If I am currently a professional fighter in the sport, why should I concern myself with the Retired Boxers Foundation?
Alex: You never know what could happen--your life could change in a minute. Look at Gerald McClellan, he was one of the best fighters in the world, he needs 24-hour medical attention. Wilfredo Benitez, the youngest champion ever in the world! Needs medical attention 24 hours a day. The government of Puerto Rico is paying him some money, like a social security. I know because I was at his house, and we did a fundraiser for him in New York. We have a lot of support. Bernard Hopkins has supported us in many things; Fernando Vargas is on our board. We try to do the right thing for the fighters, because, you never know! Current professional fighters should enjoy their glorious days in the ring, but wouldn't it be nice if they could do something for the great warriors that paved the way for their success? We have never received a dime from a fighter, past or present. We are brothers in this sport and we do care about each other, but when it comes time to make charitable donations, everybody seems to look the other way. Maybe they are afraid of what they see. Clarke: What should boxers know about your organization?
Alex: Boxers should know that they can contact us, whatever time it is. If they want help they got it. There are a lot of fighters that may not know if they are damaged. But these fighters can be helped and the doctors need to know their boxing background before they can make the right diagnosis. I took an MRI and the MRI showed that my brain is beautiful and looks perfect. I had problems with my balance and I was embarrassed and the doctors knew that there was something wrong. They did a complete neuro work-up that verified the damage, but not the cause. The next step was very extensive neuro-psych testing and they found on the frontal lobe part of my brain-- they found damage to my frontal lobe and right Temporal Lobe of the brain. The frontal lobe of the brain is the Executive function of our thought process. It is where our emotions are centered. When it is damaged, the neurotransmitters "misfire" and that is where the rage disorders, authority disorders, and how we determine consequences for our actions takes place. When it is messed up, we do stupid things and we don't even know that what we are doing is wrong. A lot of the fighters have that. We want to educate my brothers.
Jacquie: This I think will be a major service to families. A lot of fighters end up with some damage on the front part of their brains. That part handles executive functions. The earliest symptoms of damage to a fighter are rage disorders and outbursts and extreme jealousy according to medical research on the subject. What fighters don't know is that they can be helped. Depakote is one drug that is normally prescribed for seizures, but has an unusual side affect in that it can improve the balance and gait problems that many fighters have. If you go to a regular doctor, they might misdiagnose you. They don't fully understand the impact on the brain from boxing. We happen to work with doctors and we have a great medical advisory board. The fighters them selves feel badly, if they only knew that there are things that can diminish those problems. Many fighters respond well to Welbutrin, for some reason it works well for some fighters. We've seen fighters improve dramatically.Clarke: So there is medication that can help?
Jacq: Yes. The fighters need to know that there is help. It also helps if they continue to be active and to continue to exercise. This improves the blood flow to the brain and it helps. They need to exercise their brains as well. They should read the newspapers, do crossword puzzles and thinks that make them think. It sounds goofy, but it really works. Depression is also a common side effect of frontal lobe damage. When anybody is depressed, they want to withdraw from the world, and curl up in a ball. This is the worst thing for a fighter to do. These are things that can be helped. Their quality of life can change dramatically. Also, fighters need to know that substance abuse will kill them faster than their boxing injuries. Worse, if they have damage, alcohol and drugs will just speed the process up so they end up with dementia.
If anyone would like more information on the Retired Boxers Foundation, they can visit the website at www.retiredboxers.org