Up close and personal with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap

By Brad Cooney


Up close and personal with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap

Boxingtalk was able to sit down and talk with one of today's most respected sports journalist, Jeremy Schaap. Jeremy gives us his report card on the condition of today's sport of boxing, and an in depth look at what can be done to better the sport as we know it. Jeremy also shares his thoughts on the possibility of a Mike Tyson/Antonio Tarver fight. Jeremy Schaap pulls no punches in this interview, so you don't want to miss what he has to say in this Boxingtalk EXCLUSIVE!
BT - Jeremy bring us up to speed on what you have been doing with yourself.
JS - I have been covering a lot of different stuff for ESPN's Sport Center, also I continue to host the show ' Outside the Lines'. I have also been keeping busy doing feature stories, and doing stories for the new Nightline program on ABC, I will be contributing regularly there. I have been keeping  very busy out on the west coast talking to Vitali Klitschko, and Rahman before the fight was cancelled. I was looking forward to covering that fight and I feel it was a blow to the boxing fans, because I think there was some excitement about that fight.
BT - Jeremy, looks like James Toney and Rahman will go at it, what are your thoughts on that fight?
JS - You know I think that's an interesting fight, I really do. I am curious to see what kind of shape Toney comes in because last time I saw Toney, it was against John Ruiz, and Toney didn't look in very good shape. The last time I saw Rahman, he looked in great shape. Obviously a more natural Heavyweight is Rahman than Toney. I think Toney is probably a more skilled fighter per se. I think the fight can be interesting, Toney is clever, and
has quick hands.
BT - Let's talk about your book Cinderella Man, how is the book doing and why do you think the movie Cinderella Man didn't do so well?
JS - The book got a lot of good reviews, it was a great experience for me. I enjoyed the story a lot, and it was disappointing to me that the film didn't do as well but I think the film will make some end-roads in DVD sales. The DVD came out on sale yesterday, and as the Academy award season approaches a lot of interest will be generated again in the film. I don't know anything about Hollywood, but from what I can understand it was about timing. The people who decided to release the film in the beginning of
summer or late spring would probably like to have that decision back. I thought the movie was really good though. There will be a paperback addition of my book Cinderella Man coming out in the near future.
BT - Jeremy I am interested in your thoughts on the current condition of the sport of boxing today, give us your report card on today's boxing.
JS - I am not involved on a daily basis in covering boxing, I can't give you a real insiders look at what's going on right now but as someone who  follows the sport closer than most, it's weird that the average sports fan outside of boxing isn't terribly interested in what's going on out there. Even Jermain Taylor/Bernard Hopkins, you know I don't know more than a handful of people that really cared about their fight. I thought it was a very compelling matchup. A lot of it has to do with the Heavyweight Division being splintered, and nobody knows who the champion is, we haven't
had a bigtime fight in the division in a long, long time. There hasn't really been anyone out there that has captured the public's imagination. We really need that for people to get interested in boxing again. There will always be a certain core of fans that are interested, and have a passion for the sport, and I don't think that is going to change. If you are talking about boxing being a real mainstream sport again, covered extensively, and people are talking about it in the same breath as baseball, basketball, and nascar it's going to have to have a big personality come along and capture the public again, and I don't know when that is going to happen.
BT - Why do you think boxing has such a tough time getting it's act together concerning a retirement program, and benefits for its athletes?

JS - Well it's just hard, there is no union and nobody to represent it's interests. The sport by it's nature is individualistic, and people don't seem to think collectively. There are guys that are saying to themselves ' I am only going to be around a couple years, why should I give 10 percent of my purse on that' ?. It's tough to get people in the boxing community to think collectively because they have never had to do it before. They have never been part of a union, never collectively bargained. It's always been a situation where managers, and promoters saying this is the way it is going
to be, take care of yourself with your part of the purse. There is so much on the national agenda right now being at war, that I don't know how much priority it's going to be at the congressional level. One state might agree on one thing but the next state doesn't have to honor it... so it's tough.
BT - Jeremy our Olympic boxing teams have not done as well as previous USA boxing teams of the past, why do you think that is?
JS - Well, a lot has to do with the fact that boxing isn't as meaningful in the United States as it used to be. We just don't produce nearly as many young people who are skilled in the sport. forty or fifty years ago guys like Joe Fraiser, Clay, Foreman were all amateur boxers and grew up in gyms, they grew up in gyms, that's the kind of thing that they were drawn to. Today, I don't know how many people really believe that a kid like Clay, or a kid like Joe Fraiser would go into boxing instead of something like baseball, or football. There are a lot of places around the world where they don't have the resources to play team sports, where kids are more willing to go into rings, and get hit. What kids in the United States at the age of 12 or 13 are thinking about learning boxing? Boxing is hard, and dangerous, and can be painful, and most kids today do not want to make those kind
of sacrifices in this country that are necessary to become a good fighter. The problem extends all the way down to the amateur ranks, the other problem is the rest of the world is just catching up in a lot of ways. What's going on in Eastern Europe, Latin America there more kids that want to  get involved in the sport. In the USA, I don't know, or have too many friends that have kids that are learning how to box, and you can argue if that's a  good thing or a bad thing, but you can certainly argue about that if you are an Olympic Boxing Coach in The United States.
BT - Jeremy if a boxing commissioner ever came to be, and you were assigned that role, what would you do to make boxing better?

JS - I would create one belt in each division, and I would also eliminate many of the weight divisions... what is there like 17 now? there shouldn't be more than 10 to 12 divisions. There should only be 10 or 12 champions, and one belt. If you win a championship you should have 18 months to defend that title against the mandatory challenger. You should have 12 months to do what you want to do, and then at the end of that 12 month period whoever is the number 1 contender at that time in your division you should have to fight. If you don't, you lose the belt and you go back to the end of the line. There is no sense now that the fights that people want to see are going to happen, because it's often in the best interest of promoters or the fighters, and people lose interest. In the 1990's one of the things that speaks poorly for the sport is that there were quite a few Heavyweights that people really had interest in who ended up never fighting each other, or fought when they were over the hill. How can someone like Riddick Bowe, and Lennox Lewis never fight each other? How does that happen? How come Riddick Bowe and Tyson never fought? How could Lewis and Tyson never have fought until both were over the age of 35? You know, you can't expect the sport to thrive when the few resources it has are not utilized properly. I would make sure you eliminate the confusion about who the champions are, and make sure these guys have to fight each other, or they lose their titles.
BT - Jeremy you mentioned Mike Tyson, and I have to get your thoughts on a possible Mike Tyson/Antonio Tarver matchup?
JS - Well I just think that Mike Tyson is totally shot as a fighter. I don't think it has anything to do with his skill level, or fitness, I just don't think he wants to train, or fight, and has no interest in hurting anybody when he gets into the ring. I think there are a lot of guys that can beat Mike Tyson easily and  Antonio Tarver is one of them. I can't imagine why anybody would want to see that fight.
BT - Out of all the sports that you cover, which is your favorite?
JS - You know I really enjoy boxing the most. I think fighters have more personalities, other athletes are guarded. I respect fighters, not all are great people, but I respect them. I think what boxers do is the hardest of all sports. I find boxing fascinating, and I think team sports are really corrupted by the big money. The winning doesn't matter that much, guys get 100 million dollar contracts. The great thing about boxing, is that it's the last  sport where winning really matters, they don't get 160 games a year, or 16 games like in football, fighters get maybe 2 or 3 games a year that you have to win so you get another decent payday, you have to win so you don't get hurt, you have to win for your pride. At the end of the day if  the Red Sox finish 2nd in the A.L east, is Manny Ramirez really crushed? No, not really, especially now after winning a world series. But when a fighter gets beat, is he crushed? Almost always.
BT - Jeremy the sports world lost a legend with the passing of your father Dick Schaap. What was the most important thing he taught you about being a sports journalist?

JS - My father could be critical, but he was never unfair. My father never took cheap shots, and I think you have to respect the people that you cover,  and you have to respect your readers, and listeners. 



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