NYSAC under fire: The Inspector General’s investigation – Part II
This is the second in a five-part series on the Inspector General of the State of New York’s investigation of the New York State Athletic Commission. Click here for Part I.
Tragedies happen in boxing. Some of the world’s best, most conscientious referees, trainers, and ring doctors have been at ringside when fighters died. But some tragedies can be avoided.
There are three lines of defense to protect a fighter when he crosses over the line that separates bravery and courage from unacceptable risk: 1. the referee; 2. the fighter’s chief second (usually his trainer); and 3. the ring doctor.
I’ve written at length about Magomed Abdusalamov. The most comprehensive of these articles examines, among other things, the actions of referee Benjy Esteves and trainer John David Jackson when Abdusalamov fought Mike Perez. That can be found at http://www.boxingscene.com/magomed-abdusalamov-dark-side-boxing–71949.
The Inspector’s General’s office focused its questioning with regard to Abdusalamov-Perez in significant measure on the conduct of the ring doctors.
Dr. Osric King was the ring physician assigned to Abdusalamov’s corner. Benjy Esteves told the Inspector General’s staff, “Dr. King, at least seven times, I saw him come up to the ring.”
Dr. Avery Browne (who was assigned to Perez’s corner) concurred, telling investigators, “It’s obvious the physican in Mago’s corner was very attentive, was on the apron almost every round in clear view, assessing his responses and how did he generally look.”
That testimony from Esteves and King is simply wrong. A study of video recordings confirms that there were two occasions when Dr. King stood on the ring apron near Abdusalamov’s corner and looked on between rounds. But he was standing outside the ropes to Abdusalamov’s left while the fighter’s head was turned to the right so he could hear one of his cornermen (Boris Grinberg Jr.) convert Jackson’s instructions to Russian. Thus, Dr. King could see little more than the back of the fighter’s head. There is no indication that he tried to communicate verbally with the fighter.
John David Jackson maintains that he acted properly during the fight and has aimed his fire at NYSAC medical personnel who were in Abdusalamov’s dressing room after the bout. Jackson told the Inspector General’s office that Abdusalamov was groaning in the dressing room and said his head hurt and that Jackson told the doctors several times that Magomed should be taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Jackson’s testimony is similar to that of Abdusalamov’s brother, Abdusalam Abdsalamov, who testified through a translator, “In the dressing room, he [Magomed] sat down right away. The way that I remember, the doctor came to him. And he started to stitching his eye and they were saying something in English. Magomed said to do an MRI of his head. He said that he has big headache. The doctor was right in front of him and he was putting stitches on his eye, and he [Magomed] was holding his head and saying MRI. And he was asking for painkillers. And Boris Junior was translating that to the doctor. He was feeling worse and worse. I sat him down very quickly and said that we have to call for the ambulance. He was not able to dress himself so I dressed him myself. After that, we practically drug him out to the street. And on the street, he vomited on the street a couple of times.”
These statements by Magomed Abdusalamov’s trainer and brother appear to be at odds with the facts. Indeed, Abdusalamov’s own cutman, Melvin “Chico” Rivas, rebutted them when interviewed by the Inspector General’s office.
Q: To your recollection, was Mago’s brother or Mago’s father agitated in any way?
Rivas: No, sir.
Q: Did they appear concerned about Mago’s health?
Rivas: No, sir.
Q: Did John David Jackson in any way express concern about Mago’s medical condition, his well being?
Rivas: Not that I recall.
Q: Did anybody from Mago’s team say you should go to the hospital?
Rivas’s testimony conforms to that of Dr. Gerard Varlotta, one of two NYSAC doctors who examined Abdusalamov in the dressing room after the fight:
Q: Did he indicate to you that he had a headache?
Dr. Varlotta. Absolutely not.
Q: Did he say that his head hurt?
Dr. Varlotta: Did not.
After Abdusalamov was examined in his dressing room by Dr. Gerard Varlotta and Dr. Anthony Curreri (who stitched up a cut on the fighter’s left eyelid), Dr. Barry Jordan (who by that time had become chief medical officer for the NYSAC and was sitting at ringside) was handed the relevant medical reports and a suspension notice. Abdulsalamov was suspended for 60 days because of the laceration and indefinitely because of two possible fractures. One of the reports stated, “Possible nasal/zygoma [cheekbone] fracture.” Next to a line that read “final disposition,” Dr. Curreri wrote, “To hospital.”
Whether the examining doctors instructed Abdusalamov to go to the hospital immediately remains unclear. The weight of the evidence suggests that they did not.
Boris Grinburg Jr. testified before the Inspector General’s office as follows.
Q: Just to be clear, did any of the doctors in the locker room say that Mago should go right away to the hospital?
Grinberg: No. They said that, in a day or two – you might have a broken nose – so go and check out the situation.
Q: In other words, go in a day or two and deal with the nose?
Q: Was there any mention, to your recollection, of a doctor saying something about he could even do it when he was back in Florida?
Grinberg: Yes. He said when you go back, make sure you go to the hospital to check out your nose and take out the stitches. But he was talking about the nose. He said you can fly back to Florida.
If Grinburg’s testimony stood alone, one might question it because of his ties to Abdusalamov. But it’s confirmed by Dr. Varlotta.
Varlotta: When I finished with what I needed to do, Dr. Curreri then examined his nose and hand and confirmed that, if they needed to go to the hospital at some point, they could do it. But it wasn’t urgent to do now.
Q: Dr. Curreri said that?
Dr Varlotta: Dr. Curreri said that. Both of us said that.
Q: So neither one of you thought it was an emergent situation?
Dr. Varlotta: No. Absolutely not.
Dr. Jordan’s testimony before the Inspector General’s office was in accord.
Dr. Jordan: I want to just emphasize, these are routine injuries. They gave me an injury report for him. There’s nothing here to suggest there was any neurological problem. This is facial injuries, laceration. Facial injuries are the most common injuries we have in boxing. There was nothing in these reports to suggest any neurological problem. So therefore, it was nothing out of the ordinary in my mind. He didn’t present any symptoms, and it’s very unlikely three experienced doctors [King, Varlotta, and Curreri], all three are going to miss a neurological presentation. They’re some of the best doctors in the country in terms of ringside physicians. I can see if it was one doctor missing a neurological presentation. People do make mistakes. But all three missing a neurological presentation, no. All three of them said he didn’t have any neurological symptoms. And I have faith in those doctors because they’ve been doing it for a very long time. They’re qualified.
And there was more.
Q: When you read this and saw his [Dr. Curreri’s] disposition of the case, which says “to hospital,” what does that mean to you?
Dr. Jordan: That he was going to have his nose checked out. Either it was going to be that night or perhaps when he got back to Florida.
Q: Did you have any discussion with Dr. Curreri as to why he wrote “to hospital”?
Dr. Jordan: Because he was going to have it evaluated, because eventually he’s going to get X-rays. Often, people don’t do anything about nose fractures until after the swelling has gone down. Some boxers might not even get it repaired until after they finish their boxing career because they may just break it again. A nose injury is not an emergency.
Q: What about the zygoma?
Dr. Jordan: What about it?
Q: Is that an emergency?
Dr. Jordan: No. It’s not an emergency. Now, those type of fractures, if it’s up near the orbit, could be a problem in the sense that, if it’s affecting the eye muscles – and you can tell that clinically because they’ll have double vision – their eye movements won’t be intact. But this was lower down.
Q: Should he have gone to the hospital immediately?
Dr. Jordan: No. Because there was no indication that he had any neurological problems. He did not become symptomatic neurologically inside the arena. That’s the important thing. Now you’re going to say, “Well, weren’t there symptoms?” He didn’t have any confusion, dizziness, headaches, double vision. He didn’t have any neurological symptoms while he was in the arena.
It’s likely that Abdusalamov’s neurological symptoms at the time of his post-fight examination by commission doctors did not warrant sending him immediately to the hospital. His other injuries probably did. That said, going immediately to the hospital appears to have not become an issue until Matt Farrago (the NYSAC inspector assigned to Abdusalamov’s dressing room) took a post-fight urine sample and saw blood in the fighter’s urine.
At that point, Abdusalamov decided to go to the hospital. But Grinberg acknowledged that it was to check out the blood in his urine and possible fractures (including X-rays for a possible broken hand).
Grinburg then asked Farrago how they should get to the hospital. He later told this writer, “I asked Matt, ‘Where do we go, what hospital, how do you get there?’ He [Farrago] thought and said, ‘I don’t really know. Let me go find out.’ So he left to find out and, when he came back, he said, ‘There’s nobody there [in the temporary NYSAC office, which was supposed to be staffed at all times on fight night]. I can’t find anybody, I don’t know.’ So we’re thinking, where should we go, and he said, ‘Just take a taxi, and just tell them to go to the nearest hospital.’”
As Abdusalamov left Madison Square Garden in search of a taxi, his condition worsened. Grinburg told the Inspector General’s office, “I couldn’t find anything, everything was full. I found one guy with a Lincoln Town Car. He pulled up, and he was actually Russian speaking. I told him, ‘We have a boxer who has to go to the hospital. He’s right there. Let me go get him.” And as I went to get Mago, he left, he took off. I was freaking out because I couldn’t get a taxi and I found out that he [Abdusalamov] threw up. I even asked a police officer to help me, and he didn’t do much. But there was a restaurant across the intersection, so I crossed the street and I saw a couple wave down a taxi, and I told them the situation, that we have an emergency situation, we need this taxi. So they let me take the taxi.”
Melvina Lathan, who was chairperson of the New York State Athletic Commission at the time, has been an unreliable source of information with regard to the events of that night.
Executive Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Giardina told the Inspector General’s office, “This did come from Melvina – I don’t think I read this – that he [Abdusalamov] left the ring, he was examined, he took a shower and he came out into the stands to watch the last fight.”
At that point, Phil Foglia (deputy inspector general and chief of investigations), who had studied Madison Square Garden surveillance tapes, responded, “She told us the same thing. She’s wrong, by the way, about where he was after the fight.”
Foglia had a similar exchange with Barry Jordan.
Dr. Jordan: The other thing, as far as what I was told, he [Abdusalamov] actually stayed and watched the final bout.
Foglia: Let me just dispel you. He didn’t stay. That’s just wrong. Whoever told you that is wrong. So let’s get past that.
As for Lathan’s own testimony as to why Abdusalamov went to the hospital by taxi instead of in an ambulance, the following questioning took place.
Q: Just generally speaking in terms of commission policy, if a fighter indicates he wants to go to the hospital irrespective of what the doctor has said, does the athletic commission arrange for him to be transported?
Q: And they would do that by ambulance, I assume?
Q: So if the boxer is indicating I want to go to the hospital, the athletic commission will arrange for that to happen?
Q: Is it the policy of the athletic commission that, if a boxer is to be transported to a hospital, that somebody from the commission should accompany him?
Q: So that’s a policy?
Q: Not to be confrontational about this, but you said you didn’t have any problems with what the inspectors did that night; is that correct?
Q: You subsequently learned that Matt Farrago told Mago and his team to take a cab to the hospital?
Lathan: Oh, I read about that in the newspaper.
Q: So what did you think about that?
Lathan: I think that was horrendous.
More credible testimony with regard to NYSAC policy at that time came from Dr. Jordan.
Q: Dr. Curreri indicated to us that he thought that Magomed should go to the hospital, and that’s why he wrote “to hospital.” Does that change your opinion any?
Dr. Jordan: As to what?
Q: Whether or not he should go to the hospital?
Dr. Jordan: He didn’t say he should go to the hospital in an ambulance.
Q: Are you saying that, if he thought he should go to the hospital immediately, that he should have written “to hospital by ambulance?”
Dr. Jordan: Yes. And if he thought he should have gone to the hospital by ambulance, he would have been put in the ambulance.
Q: So in Magomed’s situation, he might have a broken nose, he might have a broken zygoma, he’s gotten nine stitches, he might have a broken hand, and his camp says, ‘We want to go to the hospital.’ What happens next according to athletic commission policy?
Dr. Jordan: You instruct them to go to the hospital. You can tell them which hospital they should go to.
Q: And that would be the extent of the athletic commission’s participation post-bout?
Dr. Jordan: Yes.
Dr. Varlotta’s testimony before the Inspector General’s office was similar to Dr. Jordan’s.
Q: Had someone indicated that they wanted to go to the hospital just for his hand injury to be X-rayed, what would be the normal protocol for the athletic Commission? Would he be sent by ambulance?
Dr. Varlotta: For a hand injury, no, he would not be sent by ambulance. He would be instructed to go to a hospital.
Q: On his own?
Dr. Varlotta: On his own.
Q: Would he be told what hospital to go to?
Dr. Varlotta: Yes. We would tell him what are the closest hospitals to go to.
Q: So the fighter for a non-emergent situation would be responsible for his own transport?
Dr. Varlotta: Correct.
Q: Is that the official policy of the athletic commission as far as you know?
Dr. Varlotta: I don’t know the official policy, but that’s what I’ve heard instructed.
Ralph Petrillo (the New York State Athletic Commission director of boxing at that time) was in accord.
Q: In a baseball game, if a pitcher breaks his hand or has some kind of hand problem or a batter gets hit by a ball, they’re taken out of the game and, if they need to go to the hospital, they get taken in an ambulance. Why is it that, in this circumstance, you’re saying, if the boxer just has a broken hand, he has to go by himself. Is that just the way it works?
Petrillo: Just the way it works.
Anthony Giardina conceded that things shouldn’t work that way. Portions of Giardina’s testimony relating to what Lathan said to him about Abdusalamov were redacted from his interview transcript before it was produced. But the following exchange was released:
Giardina: I called the commission, or wrote to the commission, and asked for the reports after the fight.
Q: Now, in looking at that form, it’s a little more than what Melvina said to you about just a broken nose, isn’t it? He received nine stitches, he had a possible broken nose, a possible fracture of the zygoma. And the disposition was to the hospital. We know that he was transported ultimately by a taxicab.
Giardina: On his own.
Q: Yeah. What do you think of that?
Giardina: I think this person should have been transported by ambulance to the hospital. We have ambulances there for a reason. Especially given the fact that, in this particular case, the commission knew, everyone there knew, that he had sustained a beating.
Paul Edelstein, the lead attorney for Abdusalamov’s family, characterizes the ongoing litigation that arose out of that night as follows: “This case is about a lack of proper procedures and a catastrophic failure of communication. The extra time it took to get Magomed to the hospital where he could be properly evaluated and treated destroyed his life.”
In addition to the obvious medical issues involved, Edelstein is keying on the conduct of Matt Farrago.
Farrago, now 54 years old, boxed professionally and had 28 fights over the course of eight years. While fully functional, he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). His memory today is not as good as it was two years ago.
“My recall is questionable,” Farrago says. “I do the best I can.”
Prior to the Nov. 2, 2013, fight card, Farrago arranged with Gennady Golovkin’s trainer to be given Golovkin’s hand wraps after Golovkin fought in the main event (which was contested immediately after Abdusalamov-Perez). Farrago wanted the hand wraps so he could auction them off in support of Ring 10, a charitable organization he’s actively involved with that benefits retired fighters.
It’s against NYSAC rules for an inspector to solicit and/or accept anything of value from a fighter’s camp. Deputy Commissioner Keith Sullivan was in Golovkin’s dressing room after the main event when Farrago picked up the hand wraps and asked Golovkin to sign them. Sullivan reported Farrago’s conduct to the appropriate authorities, and Farrago was placed on suspension by the commission. The wraps were later sold at auction for $350.
Edelstein (and possibly other parties in the litigation) will maintain that Farrago was distracted from his duties and didn’t seek medical help for Abdusalamov as aggressively as he should have because his mind was on Golovkin’s hand wraps. However, Abdusalamov had left Madison Square Garden by the time the Golovkin fight ended and Farrago went to Genandy’s dressing room to secure the hand wraps.
Taking the handwraps was wrong. And it’s seems clear that the delay in getting Abdusalamov to the hospital was crucial. But it’s a stretch to say that Farrago’s conduct interfered with proper medical care for the fighter.
Part III of “NYSAC under fire: The Inspector General’s investigation” will be posted on this site tomorrow. Click here for Part I.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] His most recent book (A Hurting Sport: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press