by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

BARCELONA, Spain — And you thought your little 9-year-old, sitting in the house playing video games all day, was blowing his chance at the Olympics. Are you kidding? We have a job for him right now.

Boxing judge.

In fact, if we had a few more 9-year-olds over here, we would probably have one fewer Olympic controversy this morning. That’s because boxing, a sport that seems determined to sink under its own stupidity, has suddenly made it more important to test the reflexes of its judges than its boxers.

See if you can follow this:

Over the weekend, a panel of five judged a flyweight bout, and they all agreed that Eric Griffin, the captain of the U.S. team, handily defeated a Spaniard named Rafael Lozano.

Now. Getting five boxing judges to agree on anything is like getting Iraq and Kuwait to spend Christmas together. Yet there it was. Five judges. All said Griffin won. So what do they do?

They give the fight to the Spaniard.

For this they blame the computer. Yes. The computer has arrived in Olympic boxing, and, as with any field when computers are introduced, the result is a group of otherwise seemingly mature, breathing adults, turning into potato heads.

This is how the boxing computer is supposed to work: Judges keep one thumb on a blue button (for the blue fighter) and one thumb on a red button (for the red fighter.) They press the appropriate button when they think a “scoring” punch has landed — not that anyone knows what a “scoring” punch is — and they try to keep up with the fight. They are sort of like contestants on
“Family Feud” without all the kissing.

But here is the problem: A punch is only “officially” counted if three of the five judges press the same button within one second of each other.

Otherwise, no points.

So, in theory, a boxer could get knocked out of the ring, and if three of the judges were a little slow in pressing the button, they could wind up giving the guy a gold medal.

Assuming they could wake him up.

Regurgitating the past

Only boxing could think up this system — and claim they did it to eliminate controversy from their sport. Good thinking, fellas. And now, for your next trick, world peace.

Let’s face it. Controversy is as much a part of boxing as bleeding. Especially at the Olympics. Over the years teams have protested, walked out, sat in the ring and even attacked the judges over bad decisions.

Once a Spanish fighter got so fed up, he turned and punched the referee in the face. I’m not sure how they scored that one.

The most recent controversy — before this weekend — was in South Korea four years ago, when American Roy Jones was robbed of his gold medal by judges who gave the fight to a home-country favorite named Park Si-hun. A French newspaper summed up the decision with the headline “TO VOMIT.”

Ah, the French. Such a way with words.

Anyhow, it was this awful Roy Jones decision that led to the new system of scoring — and we can see how well this is gonna work. Have you ever watched a kid and his Grandpa sit down at a video game, and Grandpa says, “All right, now, Billy, how does this thing –“

And the kid already has 8,000 points?

Well, picture a bunch of balding boxing judges trying to 1) watch a flurry of punches, 2) determine which ones landed, 3) who threw them, 4) how many times they should press a button, 5) oops, which color button? 6) all within one second of one another?

No wonder Griffin got robbed. He punches so quickly, the judges were probably paralyzed.

“They turned my kid from a million dollar fighter to a $300 a night fighter,” moaned Bob Jordan, a Tennessee businessman who is also Griffin’s sponsor. He appealed the decision. He lost.

“What do we have to do to get a fair fight over here? I think every American should write their damn congressman and tell him to stop foreign aid. Without us, these jerkwater foreign countries would dry up.”

Did he say his name was Bob, or Billy Bob? Button pushers screwed up

Anyhow, here’s the most amazing thing about Griffin’s fight: On their own screens, every judge had Griffin outslugging the Spaniard. One judge counted 29 scoring punches for the American. If you added the total cards, it came out 81 punches for Griffin, 50 for Lozano.

Yet when the computer score came out, it was Lozano 6, Griffin 5.

Five punches? For the whole fight? Obviously, we need to take these judges to a video arcade.

Lord knows how many more times this system will backfire. Meanwhile, who takes care of Griffin? The guy was a gold-medal favorite, a four-time world champion. He worked as a dishwasher to get here. He trains in a converted drugstore in Tennessee. An Olympic title could have put his life on a different track. He has a baby son. What will he tell him about these Olympics?

“It’s funny,” Griffin sighed on Sunday. “When I heard about the computers, I thought it was safe. I thought computers don’t lie.”

Yeah. And judges don’t screw up. Before the Olympics, Griffin told a reporter he was coming to Barcelona because “I always wanted to be something.”

Now he is. A victim.

Leave it to boxing.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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