Promoter Lou DiBella on why boxing might be behind other sports in returning to normal

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The new normal has people looking at things from new angles, or maybe from the sofa angle, being that many of us are holed up in our place of residence as we wait for the all-clear signal.

This, my friends, is March Madness. Not in a good way; not if you are in New York, as is promoter Lou DiBella. The Brooklyn-born Long Island resident is playing the waiting game, with fingers on both hands tightly crossed, that the virus doesn’t take the sort of toll on the state that some models are predicting. 

I chatted with the Harvard Law grad, and he said, frankly, “It sucks.”

He slid out out of his house, he shared, to give his significant other some space, more than six feet. She’s tired of hearing him burn up the phone lines, seeking to maintain some inter-play, even if it’s not physical, with family and friends and business associates and media.

“I lived in New York through 9/11, as you did. We’ve been through some rough stuff. This city’s getting hammered right now,” he said. “But in times like this, even if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t mind being alone, this is a time you wanna connect with people.”

So many of us are better understanding what we need and what we don’t need as much than we were before. The virus is forcing us to look inside. DiBella isn’t having an easy time with the fact that his mom is 85 and isn’t seeing people, because no one wants to take the chance that someone not showing symptoms might be a carrier. 

The promoter put on his labor leader hat, and directed comments at boxers.

“You are independent contractors. I know it’s not easy, but you gotta look at what you can do right now to get assistance through the state programs,” he said. 

NOTE: I’m not sure any state has set up their tweaked unemployment package and begun letting gig workers/freelancers to apply to get relief money — and yes, that seems fucked up, being that that gig workers are the ones most likely to be paycheck to paycheck. 

“More is going to be clear about that in the next week or so,” DiBella said. 

“Ideally,” I responded, and noted that promised “relief” hasn’t been dispensed, by and large. In New York, some state unemployment checks for people already in the system have been received, for those who managed to get a claim request in on a website that is thoroughly overwhelmed. 

DiBella gave wise advice when he told gig workers not to blow their whole wad on paying the rent, assuming that unemployment benefits will be available right quick. No, he said, make sure you have enough money for food, and see how things are looking in a week or so. He is a landlord, he noted, and “You’re going to get cut more slack now than you ever were before.”

During the chat, darn right that Combustible Lou showed up, when he ranted on the Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who said on Wednesday that he just found out that asymptomatic people could infect others. Yes, an eff bomb was summoned as he decried that destructive ignorance. 

DiBella admitted that throughout his 30 years in the business he hasn’t hidden his politics, and resists calls for him to “stay in your lane.” He referred to “that orange piece of shit who runs this country,” but, he made clear, he doesn’t hate anyone who is pro-Trump. 

“We’re all gonna lose people we know,” he continued, citing Louisiana getting hit hard. “This is no joke. I pray to God at this point that everyone’s taking this totally seriously, but I can promise you a month ago they weren’t, and a large reason for that is the orange liar who’s sitting in the White House. And by the way, politics aside, because that motherfucker has only been a politician for a few years, I’ve known Trump for decades, and he’s always been a piece of shit. He’s not an honorable guy, he’s not an honest guy, a guy that has any meaningful reputation for decency or philanthropy or empathy.

“You got a guy sitting there talking about his ratings on the day we’re setting records for Americans dying, on a daily basis! I mean, come on man, I don’t even wanna talk about that, because I’m gonna drive myself crazy. I sort of already had a reputation in boxing for being a communist before this pandemic, so I’m not really thinking I wanna have people thinking I’m even farther to the left than I am.” 

More tidbits from the chat: DiBella said he got sick a couple weeks ago, but didn’t have chest pain or breathing woes. But he did have a fever and a sore throat, and his doc said he thinks he had coronavirus. If he did, and fought it off, and has antibodies in his system, that could be a good thing. 

And more combustion — DiBella spoke from the heart more, he took aim at Chinese officials who covered up the severity of the virus, and said they need to be properly punished for that. But our officials are standing at podiums and doing the same, so there’s plenty of blame to be affixed, right here in our own front yard, in my mind.

Pivoting back to our shared addiction, boxing, the ex-HBO executive does that, minor league baseball, and he employs about a hundred people. He kept it real, telling me, “We’re in the event business, we’re not re-starting anytime soon. When the economy begins to re-start, get back to normal, we’re gonna be among the last industries to get back to normal. And that’s for a lotta reasons.

“You need two ambulances at every boxing event. You need medicals to go through state doctors and state commissions. You think state doctors have time right now to do boxing medicals? You think when there’s a shortage of ambulances in Louisiana, New York, and Detroit, you think that we’re going to have two ambulances sitting so people can resume beating the fuck out of one another for money soon? It’s not gonna happen. I’m worried about a lot of fighters, the blue collar fighters, the fighters who have to fight two or three times to have enough to put food on their table.”

He ended on an up note, with a challenge to all of us, off-shooting from the famous quote by the Jewish wise-man Hillel:

“We are going to get to the other side, we are. We gotta be as safe as we can right now, do what they tell us to do, and we gotta take care of each other,” DiBella said. “But if you’re only for yourself, then who the fuck are you, what kind of human being are you? If you don’t step up now, when are you ever gonna step up?”

My three cents: We are indeed going to get to the other side. But not all of us will. Not to be a downer, but I spoke to an Ivy League-educated doctor today, who doesn’t disbelieve a model that shows that half of America could get infected, and one million people could die. I know, thanks a lot, Dickie Downer. Point is, now is the time to speak up against BS, against any leader who isn’t doing their best to make sure no innocent people perish from this virus. I’m with Hillel and DiBella: if not now, when?

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