Behind the Facade at the New York State Athletic Commission: Part Three
At present, the point person for the New York State Athletic Commission is executive director Kim Sumbler. Prior to joining the NYSAC, Sumbler oversaw combat sports for the Seneca Nation of Indians Athletic Commission in western New York.
Sumbler is adept at forming alliances. Early in her tenure, she prevailed over then-commissioner John Signorile in a messy power struggle.
There are good people at the NYSAC who support Sumbler. Among other things, they say, “I like Kim . . . I trust Kim . . . We’re moving in the right direction . . . So far, I think Kim is doing a good job.”
Others believe that Sumbler is “sloppy on details.” They complain that, too often, she instructs the commission staff to be at the venue on fight night at a specific hour but doesn’t arrive herself until later. They also say that she doesn’t spend enough time at the NYSAC office at 123 William Street in New York City (the only commission office) and doesn’t understand the nuances of the sport and business of boxing.
Sumbler labors under two particular handicaps. First, at the Seneca Nation of Indians Athletic Commission, she had free reign to do her job. But at the NYSAC, her hands are sometimes tied by
political imperatives. And second, overseeing the NYSAC workforce is a challenge.
“It’s a difficult agency to run,” one insider says. “For most people who work at the commission, it’s not their primary job. It’s something they fit in around other commitments. That’s for starters. Some of the commission personnel are dedicated and talented. Others are well-intentioned but simply don’t have the tools to do the job right. Things that are common sense to you and me aren’t common sense to them. You have team players and you have prima donnas. It’s not easy.”
Matt Delaglio (who once worked for Main Events) is the commission’s director of boxing. Most matters that require expertise in the sweet science are steered to him.
At present, Sumbler is deeply involved in day-to-day decision-making with regard to mixed martial arts. But on February 19, the Department of State posted a job listing for an “athletic activities assistant” who will assume the position of director of mixed martial arts.
Theresa D’Andrea is assigned by the Department of State to work fulltime as counsel for the NYSAC, a position she has held since September 2018. D’Andrea replaced Ryan Sakacs, a former assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorneys Office, who was employed by the commission on an hourly basis.
D’Andrea’s profile on LinkedIn states that she spent two years in private practice at a law firm where she specialized in consumer finance litigation. Prior to that, she was in the New York City Law Department for 27 months, the last ten of which were spent in its Division of Labor & Employment Law. She might be a good lawyer but she has no apparent legal expertise relating to combat sports. This means she has to feel her way through the nuts-and-bolts issues inherent in her job on a day-to-day basis.
As previously mentioned, the Department of State refused to make D’Andrea available for an interview in conjunction with this series. Thus, it’s impossible to gauge her understanding of the larger issues that affect the sport and business of boxing in New York and her ability to handle them.
D’Andrea’s precise duties at the NYSAC are unclear. Several commission employees report that she was responsible for recording RSVPs for a January 4, 2019, office holiday party that were sent to almost one hundred commission personnel. At an annual salary of $123,000 a year (as reported by seethroughny.net/payrolls/state-government) this seems like an inefficient use of state resources. However, given D’Andrea’s background in labor and employment law, there’s one issue that she might want to address.
At present, the minimum wage in New York City is $13.30 per hour. For businesses in New York City with eleven or more employees, it’s fifteen dollars per hour. The New York State Department of Labor website states, “The Minimum Wage Act requires that all employees in New York State receive at least the applicable hourly minimum wage rate.”
NYSAC inspectors are paid one hundred dollars per show. They’re frequently ordered to report to fights at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center at 2:30 PM. Many of them are on the job until 12:30 AM or later. This comes to ten dollars an hour, five dollars per hour below New York’s legal minimum wage. Multiple sources say that, as a matter of course, administrators fill out false time sheets for the inspectors to cover up the infraction. Moreover, there are no scheduled breaks for NYSAC employees on fight night as required by state law.
If a factory had sixty employees, paid them below minimum wage, and filed false paperwork with the state to cover up the shortfall, there would be a criminal investigation.
As earlier noted, many commission employees work for the NYSAC on a per diem basis.
At present, the New York State Athletic Commission has eleven deputy commissioners, as many as nine of whom have been assigned to work on a given night.
…the groping for the spotlight that some deputy commissioners and inspectors engage in (and which at times results in members of a fighter’s team being pushed aside) pisses some fighters’ camps off.
Deputy commissioners are responsible for coordinating what transpires in the technical area at ringside and in the back of the house on fight night. Some NYSAC deputy commissioners are conscientious, capable, hardworking public servants. Others leave fighter urine samples unattended (a violation of medical protocols) and refuse simple requests such as helping to move a table on fight night (“It’s not my job”). One deputy commissioner needs training with regard to sexual harassment (although removal from his position would be more appropriate).
There’s also an area where some NYSAC deputy commissioners – including some of the best – should rethink their modus operandi. The job does not require a deputy to get up on the ring apron or into the ring and stand directly beside or behind a fighter during the prefight introductions and reading of the judges’ scorecards before and after a featured television fight. This jockeying for camera time is unnecessary. The same deputy commissioners don’t consider it part of their job description to climb onto the ring apron or into the ring and stand beside or directly behind a fighter in undercard fights.
Sometimes, there are so many deputy commissioners positioning themselves to be close to the action and sit in or near the corner during a fight that it’s difficult for the ring doctors and inspectors to do their job. And this fondness for the camera extends to fighters’ dressing rooms, where some inspectors make a point of standing directly behind a fighter when a television camera cuts to a shot of the fighter warming up.
There are times when it’s inevitable that a commission employee will be seen on camera. But the groping for the spotlight that some deputy commissioners and inspectors engage in (and which at times results in members of a fighter’s team being pushed aside) pisses some fighters’ camps off. People who work at the NYSAC should find their jobs gratifying, but they’re not there for self-gratification.
Inspectors are the eyes and ears of the commission in a fighter’s corner and dressing room on fight night. Some inspectors perform their work in exemplary fashion. Others arrive at the arena on fight night with alcohol on their breath, leave fighters alone without proper supervision after a pre-fight urine sample has been taken, and check their smartphones or scratch off lottery tickets while a fighter’s hands are being taped.
This leads to another issue. Most NYSAC inspectors don’t have a clue as to what constitutes a legal or illegal handwrap. At one point in their training, they were told that, pursuant to commission regulations, a trainer is allowed to use “soft surgical bandage not over two inches wide, held in place by not more than ten feet of surgeon’s adhesive tape for each hand” and that “up to one 20-yard roll of bandage may be used to complete the wrappings for each hand.” But the majority of inspectors have forgotten this information. And they don’t know what constitutes “stacking” or other illegal handwrap practices.
For big fights, NYSAC inspectors rely on a representative of the opposing fighter’s camp to call attention to irregularities in taping. For small fights, in some instances, anything goes.
Most NYSAC inspectors don’t have a clue as to what constitutes a legal or illegal handwrap.
Medical protocols put in place after the Magomed Abdusalamov tragedy provide that, if a fighter has to go the hospital after a fight, the inspector assigned to him (or her) is supposed to escort the fighter to the ambulance with an EMT and give the fighter his paycheck in the ambulance. The logic behind this is that (1) the fighter should be carefully monitored at all times and (2) if he receives his paycheck in advance, there’s an increased chance that he might not get in the ambulance and go to the hospital.
On September 8, 2018, Ve Shawn Owens lost to Chordale Booker in a swing bout at Barclays Center that wasn’t contested until well after midnight when the main event was over. The NYSAC medical staff said that Owens should go to the hospital for a more thorough check-up. But it was late and a source says that the inspector assigned to Booker gave him his paycheck and didn’t walk him to the ambulance.
As for in-the-ring and ringside officials, the New York State Athletic Commission has some excellent referees and it has some awful referees.
Refereeing a prizefight is a demanding job. It requires the ability to make sound split-second judgments and then implement them immediately. Among other things, a referee has to be in good enough physical condition to move deftly around the ring and be properly positioned at all times.
Harvey Dock (who plies his trade primarily in New York and New Jersey) is widely recognized as one of the best referees in the country. But at the other end of the spectrum, the NYSAC has referees who consistently make mistakes such as ignoring fouls, miscalling knockdowns, and stopping fights too late.
The NYSAC Combative Sports Officials Fee Schedule mandates that the referee for a championship fight receive .13% of the fighters’ combined purses or $3,000 (whichever is greater). This means, for Anthony Joshua vs. Jarrell Miller (which will be contested at Madison Square Garden on June 1 with estimated purses in excess of $30 million), the referee will be paid in the neighborhood of $40,000. That’s a lot of money and, for some referees, a powerful incentive to please a promoter who might influence their appointment.
As with its referees, the NYSAC has some excellent judges and some awful judges. On the positive side, Steve Weisfeld has evolved into one of boxing’s most reliable arbiters. But some NYSAC judges are notorious “A-siders” while others seem to score fights without any comprehensible criteria.
A ring judge can have a bad night. But looking at recent bad decisions in New York, one sees the same judges’ names popping up again and again. It’s not hard to connect the dots.
Judges sit on the ring apron. They have the best seats in the house. The men and women who sit in these seats have a responsibility to turn in accurate scorecards. Fighters’ careers are at stake. Their economic future is on the line.
Hint: When the crowd boos a decision in favor of the hometown favorite, one can assume that the judging was poor.
New York doesn’t have a monopoly on bad decisions. They’re endemic throughout boxing. No sport does less to ensure quality officiating. But the fact that there are poor decisions in other jurisdictions doesn’t justify a cavalier attitude with regard to the problem. If judges render an unjust decision that devastates a young man’s career, the prevailing ethic at the NYSAC seems to be to ignore it and move on. That’s unacceptable.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.