Seven Women Warriors tell their #metoo boxing moments
It’s been so easy for so long to look the other way. All the while, it’s been going on, under our observant eyes.
We read and hear about it in Hollywood, in the business world, in politics.
But rarely in boxing.
Well, actually, never in boxing.
Though it does go on—and it has gone on.
In recent years, women around the world have gone public about the widespread sexual harassment, sexual abuse, ignorance and overall cruelty they have had to endure in the work place.
Guess what, it happens in boxing, too.
Yes, #metoo exists in the red-light district of sports.
These women had to endure it.
Next summer, hopefully, Kathy Duva will be among the group of first living women to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Duva will join a historic class that also includes Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker and Barbara Buttrick.
In 2019, for the first time in over three decades, women were included on the HOF ballots.
This prestigious assembly will have to wait until 2021—if the COVID-19 pandemic obliges—to have their moment in the sun, but it’s a moment and a time that should have come long before 2021 arrives.
And it isn’t an indictment by any means on the HOF.
It’s an indictment on boxing.
Boxing has long looked the other way when it comes to women in the sport—in and out of the ring.
Today, women hold powerful positions throughout boxing that were previously closed to them.
Still, they’ve endured ridicule and derision in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Duva, Cynthia Conte, Brittany Goossen, Jeandra LeBeauf, Jolene Mizzone, Nancy Rodriguez and Kelly Swanson relayed stories to The Ring about what they confronted, what they overcame and gave their opinions as to what could be done to prevent what happened to them, so future generations of women won’t have to endure what they did.
What these women had to say you don’t want to believe, yet they are still happening in 2020. Ignorance is alive and thriving.
Whereas men on equal footing had to climb their share of hills to success, these women had to climb mountains.
That’s why they’re samurai.
Cynthia Conte is a 41-year-old boxing journalist for RingTV.com based in Los Angeles who has been in the business for the last five years. She does a bi-weekly podcast show called “The Real Fight with Cynthia Conte,” that appears on RingTV.com, and previously she worked for KTLA in Los Angeles as a producer. She was one of the motivating factors for this project. Cynthia is hardcore in the sense that if someone breaches a boundary, she’s not afraid to tell them to f__k off.
“The first fight I worked was the Gennadiy Golovkin-Danny Jacobs fight at Madison Square Garden in 2017. I’ll admit I felt self-conscious, because I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anyone. I sat there and luckily when I went to the press day, I was able to hang out with guys and they told me what to do. I also honestly felt self-conscious because I’m a woman, and most men don’t think women know anything about boxing. I was the new kid on the block, and no one knew me or ever saw my work.
“In the time I’ve been working in the sport, I’ve come across a lot of ignorance. At a media day one time in Los Angeles, I was with a camera man and I remember this person came up to me and said hello. He was a little too friendly with me. As this person was climbing into the ring, he grabbed the back of my thigh. As sparring was going on, this same person grabbed my hip, and it was weird, because I was in shock. I didn’t want to make a scene. This happened in front of a bunch of people. Everyone around the ring saw the expression on my face. I remember interviewing this person, they were saying cheeky things to me. I won’t say who this person was, but it was disgusting, and I don’t even want to see or be around this person again. He’s a piece of s__t in my opinion.
“If I was a man, I’m not being grabbed on the thigh and the hip. That was the worst for me, and I remember going to my camera man and telling him to edit the part out where this person who I won’t name was saying suggestive things to me in a joking matter. There was nothing funny about it. But I laughed it off. Inside, I was pissed off.
“Before this #metoo movement, women used to roll with it and men used to get away with it under the guise that they’re joking around. I expect people, I mean media, fighters, people in the boxing business that I’m interviewing, to respect my space. Some don’t. They think because I’m a woman that they can push past boundaries.
“They have the wrong one with me. I would say if a guy was thinking about putting their hands on someone, they should think of them as their sister or their mom. Would any guy allow anyone to grope their sister or their mother the way I was touched? Hell no! So, why did that happen to me? I’m someone’s daughter. I’m someone’s sister. If I ever was grabbed like that again, I’m raising holy hell. Looking back, shame on me for not saying anything right there at the time. I was new. I didn’t know. What do I say? Who do I tell? I get the fear of not saying anything, because I was new. People know me now. They’re going to get a f______g piece of my mind. I think I was more shocked that it happened, and especially where it happened, in front of people, than anything else.
“Men need to think before acting. They need a level of respect. Today, you can’t say or do certain things. I’ve had boxing guys come up and say right to my face, ‘You’re f_____g hot, I wanna f__k you.’ That’s happened. I was like, ‘Whatever d__k!’ To me, it rolls off my mind. The boxing world is like a high school environment.
“Sports media are tough for women to succeed in. The only one I have to prove anything to is to myself. Women always get a reason why we’re succeeding. We’re constantly judged. We’re judged on how we look, how we dress, how we wear our hair, how we got our jobs. We’re judged on our boobs, or our ass. Are we showing too much cleavage, are we not showing enough cleavage? I get it. I know that it’s out there. Like I know that there will always be the idiots who question whether you’re sleeping with somebody as to the only reason why you have your job. I do my homework. Women have to prove ourselves more. That’s a fact.
“You really can’t win. So, I say get the f__k out of here. Then I get labeled a bitch. It is 2020. A lot of these things are still going on today. At least we’re talking about it, because back then, women were afraid. Today, men need to think more. Your career can go down the drain, if you say something wrong.
“Everyone is speaking up and men are more aware. I’ve even had some guys come up and ask if what they said to me was appropriate or not. Men are more aware of boundaries, where they might not have been before. I had the one occurrence at the gym that one time, and that was it. No one has put their hands on me since then.
“When I started, there were men in the business that looked right through me, and I realize sometimes they’re haters. They’ll smile to your face and stab you in your back. I strive to be the best that I can be, but I think I’ve proven to people by my work that I have earned my position and what I’m doing.
“I remember during the pandemic, there was a boxing panel discussion and I was the only female there and I was the youngest of the group. I thought it was amazing. It reassured me that I’m doing the right thing. Men be better. Think before you speak. That’s all.”
Kathy Duva is the President of Main Events, the only woman in the world who heads a major promotion company. She’ll be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame next June. She’s a 67-year-old cancer survivor who is immensely respected in the business. She’s the matriarch of this prestigious assemblage who had to probably endure more than any of the other women in this group. She’s on the Mount Rushmore of women in boxing.
“I always say the same thing, I really don’t think being a woman in the boxing business is really that different from being a woman in the business world. Most businesses are male-dominated. The world is male-dominated. I find many interesting and talented women in other businesses, some of whom are in much higher stations than myself, all have the same problems that I do.
“When I started in the 1970s, I had to fight my way to get into weigh-ins. Most women in business that are in a position of power run into these same issues. Guys can get mad at each other, yell and scream at other and call each other names, then go out and have a beer. If I do that, they don’t talk to me for years. Literally years. I’ve had it happen. I have to hold my temper and watch what I say. I have to be indirect in order to get things done a lot of the time.
“There’s a story that’s told by Sheila Bair, who was the former chair of the U.S. Treasury, about how you walk into a meeting room and you’re the only woman in the room. You suggest something and nobody pays attention to what you’re saying, then 10 minutes later, some guy says exactly the same thing and everybody’s head turns and they say, ‘What a great idea!’ I don’t know a woman who hasn’t had that happen to her. It drives you crazy.
“The solution I found is to walk into a room with three or four other strong women who will amplify what I say. Things have obviously changed. It may have taken me 30 years (to reach a high level of respect), but I have no complaints at this point.
“Something a lot of women go through, and it’s what happened to me when I went to a fight after Dan (Duva, her husband) died in 1996. I kept running into people that I’ve known my whole life and none of them recognized me. Then I realized, I wasn’t standing next to Dan. They didn’t know who I was.
“When you are part of a couple like that, and the male is more famous, and is someone everyone wants to be with and be around, people will be nice to you because it’s a means to get to them. When that person is no longer there, I realized no one recognized me, they just saw Dan. I had to build an identity, and this happens to widows, so it’s not unusual.
“I was shocked the first time it happened to me. I was saying hello to people that I really thought I knew, and they walked right by me. That took a long time to get over, which was another blow to losing Dan. I went to (Seton Hall) law school and once I got out, things changed again.
“I’m an old lady and I’m perfectly fine with saying that, and I was groped. Me and my daughter were walking out of the Los Angeles Forum and some kid ran up and grabbed both me and my daughter by our backsides. I was shocked. My daughter Nicole chased the guy into the parking lot. That shows you the generational difference.
“My worst experience came at my husband’s wake, when all of these old men were grabbing me and I stood there shell shocked. I think it’s wonderful young women will give people hell right now. My generation didn’t do that.
“I do have to say people from this generation are much better. Women raised their sons to be more mindful. We don’t have overt sexism coming from the younger generation. But it’s still there.
“It was much harder for me when I was younger. It’s easier now. Getting older has made that easier. They’re going to grab young girls not me. I couldn’t believe that kid grabbed me in LA.
“When I started out, people thought I got things handed to me. I was the boss’s wife, and I was young. I have no problem with women using looks to get in the door. If you get mad, get mad at the people in power making the choices on who is out in front of the cameras. The people who are making the decisions are the ones looking for an attractive package. It’s the way the world is. That’s the problem. I wouldn’t have a problem with a beautiful woman getting a job based on her looks, as long as she has the talent to back it up.
“You use what you can to get you in the door. Being good looking is also a curse. My daughter is stunningly beautiful and she’s a film writer. When she was first coming up, there were several times she called me in tears because some guy literally sent her messages that if she gave him a blowjob, he would give her the job.
“She, of course, was very upset. So, she started to wear blousy clothes and stopped wearing makeup. She had to ugly herself up to get a job. Being young and attractive is also a liability. It’s why I say it’s still going on now. She still has some of those nasty emails from people in the business. My daughter shouldn’t feel bad because of her looks.
“Women are focused much more on appearance than men are, and I’ve personally squelched that attitude. If a woman knows her stuff, I would be more than willing to give them an opportunity. I know plenty of guys that cover boxing who don’t know what they’re talking about.
“I’m always amazed by the women who come into boxing out of nowhere. We’ve seen so much change in the last 30 years. We have women who are stars in the ring. You have women today who are promoting and managing, and in real positions of power. I have a staff full of women. I had a great mentor in Dan, and I want to mentor other women who want to get into the business.
“My advice is to be passionate about what you’re doing, and I recognize these women need a mentor. I’m just delighted that there are more young women getting involved in sports. I keep telling them not to take ‘no’ for an answer. But I can promise you, any woman in power, regardless of what they do, she had to work five times harder to get where she is. That’s what women have to do to get there. It’s the advantage of male privilege. A woman to get there had to be better than everyone else.
“Boxing is no different.”
Brittany Goossen is a familiar name on the list, since she’s from an esteemed, Hall of Fame boxing family. Brittany is the daughter of promoter Tom Brown and Sandi Goossen, the baby of the 10 Goossen children. Brittany is the niece of Joe Goossen and the late Dan Goossen, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021. She’s the 33-year-old VP of Operations for her family’s boxing promotion company, TGB Promotions. She is, like the rest of these women, a bona fide bad ass. It’s Brittany that does all of the unseen, and underappreciated nitty-gritty that goes into putting on a big-time boxing event. She holds a history and English degree from California State University, Northridge. It takes five people to do the job she does by herself.
“I’ve probably had it easier than some of the other women in this group, since I grew up around boxing. I knew the key players, I knew the ins and outs, and I knew the playbook by the time I got fulltime into the sport. From the bloodline I come from, I was dealt with some respect. I’m not going to say that I haven’t had my run-ins though.
“The level of disrespect that I’ve received may have come from any man who has my role, because I deal with money and people’s livelihoods, their contracts, and we’re constantly making changes last minute. The disrespect would come whether I was a man or a woman.
“I don’t have any children, but I do have 200 children—all of the fighters I deal with (laughs).
“There were people that thought I was handed this position because of my family name, and who my family is. But I remember my first year of doing this. There was a show where a trainer was mad about something, and he was berating me in the middle of the dressing room over a per diem. A damned per diem! I was very offended that no one stepped forward to calm this guy down.
“He called me a ‘dumb bitch.’ I won’t forget that. I wanted to ask the trainer to say what he had to say in front of my dad. I didn’t. I’m happy I didn’t. My dad would have killed him. But I was actually more offended by the guys who held their heads down while the trainer called me a dumb bitch. I will say the fighter came back to apologize for what his trainer said. I respected the fact the kid sought me out to apologize.
“The fighters are good. They’ve always been good to me. My issues have come mostly from the older guys, who were so used to being in the ‘boys club,’ where they weren’t used to women being around.
“There were some bumpy rides in the beginning, but that was more about not knowing what the job was. When I started, the PBC was just taking off. You have to be on top of fighters missing flights, hotel reservations, checks. There was a lot to do. Like anything, you learn the job.
“I come from a family of men. That’s what I grew up around. But there were times when I would answer the phone and someone gave me a really hard time about medicals. The guy passed me off like I was dumb. I told my dad and he put this guy straight. The guy was corrected. But still, I don’t care whether it was me or not, it was how women are treated. Whether I was a receptionist or not, because I was a woman, this guy thought it was okay he could speak to me in a short way.
“Moving forward, women shouldn’t have special treatment just because they’re women. But if it’s a woman who has the same knowledge and the same experience as a man, they should be given the same amount of respect a man would get.
“I see how the lines get blurred with some women hanging out with fighters in certain ways. Women have to up their game and stay on top of their choices, because it sets a tone.
“I probably felt I had to work harder because of my family name, than being a woman. I wanted to prove myself to a point that no matter who the promoter was, they would hire me, based on what I can do. Boxing is what I’ve always known, and women I can see would be held in a different light. You have to watch how you dress, and what you look like.
“It’s a hard balancing act. I want to maintain a certain level of femininity, but I also want to come across as a bad-ass woman who knows what she’s doing. Every once in a while, I’ll still get people saying that they didn’t know that there are women in boxing other than round card girls.
“There are still situations when I’m patronized. Today, I’ll get a little mean back. One of the fighters recently described me as ‘a pistol.’ My defense mechanism kicked in after I was nice. Being too nice can come back to bite you in the ass.
“You can’t play both sides how you dress, and every girl is going to hate me for saying this, but if you dress like a hoochie, then complain that these men don’t respect you, well … you have to put out the image that you want. You use it to your advantage, and then when it isn’t, you complain. If you’re going to be the hoochie woman, then stick to that and wear it. The real victims in the Harvey Weinstein situation were the women that went to his door and didn’t go in when he was wearing a bathrobe. I give credit to those women who walked away. Look at what happened to their careers. Harvey Weinstein is disgusting, and what he did to those women is disgusting, but women sometimes walk that line of what benefits us, and then suddenly when it’s no longer benefitting us, we have an issue with it. If you’re going to dress a certain way, you have to take everything that comes with that, too.
“My advice to any young girl who wants to get into this business, or any business, is to be smart, keep it professional, because as a woman, one mistake and your name is tarnished. Men get away with it. Unfortunately, we don’t. You have to be 10-times more professional than men, and 10-times better on our game than men. You have to be a bad ass. Eventually, it will work out.”
Jeandra LeBeauf has worked for Boxing Insider for the last three years and is 45. Prior to that, she was with BlackSportsOnline. She’s also a media personality who works for various entertainment outlets.
“What always stands out the most to me is that no matter how many years that you commit to a craft, there’s always going to be someone who challenges your knowledge, because you are a woman. Inside of boxing and outside of boxing, I can’t tell you how many times I told someone I worked for a boxing outlet, someone will ask, ‘Boxing, what do you know about boxing?’ That’s how it always begins.
The other challenge is maintaining your femininity in a male-dominated industry. If you’re too feminine, you’ll get, ‘You must be here trying to catch the eye of a fighter.’ If you’re not feminine enough, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, dress it up some. Put some makeup on. Do your hair.’ There is no winning.
“I feel like there are very few men who work in boxing who genuinely respect women and value their opinions. I experience moments all of the time where you’re in a media scrum where you’re firing off questions, and no one will respond to you. That happens. I get it. What’s more disheartening is asking a question and someone will look at you genuinely surprised like, ‘That’s a good question, how do you know that? I didn’t think about that.’ It happens all of the time. Would that happen if I were a man? I don’t think so. You can be in a meeting room waiting for a fighter or a manager, and they’ll walk right past you. Are you the publicist, are you the secretary, are you the girlfriend, the wife, the auntie, they never think immediately that you are the press? No matter if you have a camera or a credential. They keep moving. That happens until the fighter really knows you.
“It’s 2020 and it still happens.
“I had a very specific incident with a fighter, and I won’t name names, because the fighter still fights, and this happened when I was working for Boxing Channel. This happened in 2014 at a media day. I was sent to interview a fighter and I had my mic flag, so it was obvious I was with an outlet. As I waited my turn, the fighter’s trainer came up behind me and whispered into my ear ‘I’m going to slip my room key in your purse, you can come by later.’ I said, ‘Excuse me!’ He literally dropped it into the pocket of what I was wearing. When the fighter came around, he was too much on me. Back up. I had a mic. He wouldn’t do that to a male reporter, get out of my personal space. I told the trainer ‘No thank you,’ and I tossed the key in the trash. At the time, I was green. I didn’t know what to do or say.
“There are absolutely no lines drawn. If I dress a certain way, I’ve had a fighter say, ‘I want to drop my mouthpiece in there.’ It has gotten better, and that’s only because boxing people know me now.
“You want to learn something, just treat women equally. We don’t want to be patronized. We don’t want special treatment. I don’t want special treatment. I want to be treated like everyone else. I don’t mind the grind. I don’t mind the hustle. What I do mind is when someone will make a comment about my ass, or someone will try to place their hands between my legs in a media scrum. Don’t do creepy s__t.
“The messages are simple, just respect our space and treat us equally. People cycle in and out of boxing so much, but it has been better. This current crop of media has been good. The boxers have calmed down, but there are always some that act stupid.
“It is hard.
“A lot of male reporters can camp out in the gym, be there all day, and if I did that, it’s I’m sleeping with somebody, or sucking somebody off. I hate it. But that’s the stereotype that’s out there that still hasn’t changed.
“There are a growing number of women in this field that I absolutely love. I admire them for what they’ve put up with. I love Jolene Mizzone, Kelly Swanson, Kathy Duva, Cynthia Conte, Michelle Rosado, all of these women in boxing, because they have worked through so much to get to where they are.
“Jolene will tell you straight to your face what she thinks. Look at Cynthia. She’s a very beautiful woman, but she’s unafraid in her approach and she’s not afraid to get sweaty and she does the work. People that don’t know Cynthia make the mistake she’s where she is based on looks. Kelly is amazing, and puts up with a lot of s__t, a lot of s__t from the media, from fighters, from everybody. She’s strong. She’s the one who has to come down with an iron fist, and she doesn’t get nowhere near the credit she deserves.
“I feel like I’m bonded with all of these women in boxing, because we all go through the same struggles, and I can appreciate what they’ve been through. Hey, if you’re a gorgeous woman, and you have some teeth to your work, I could give a s__t. Good for you. You deserve the job. You can look like John Merrick the elephant man, but if you’re able to do the work, you deserve your place. You worked to get there.”
Jolene Mizzone, like Brittany Goossen, is a bona fide bad ass. She is 45 and rose from taking calls for Main Events to the company’s vice president and matchmaker, one of the few women in the world who hold that role at a championship level. She is fearless and respected. And she has no filter. What’s on her mind comes right out.
“In the beginning when I first started in 1997, I was the receptionist answering phones. I wasn’t really that involved in the business part of it. As time moved on, I began doing more. Once I moved up to matchmaking and vice president, that’s when I began seeing what I was dealing with in a male-dominated sport. The way my personality is, I treat people the way they treat me. A lot of men, when I first started, didn’t take me seriously. I got a lot of ‘Hey babe, hey hon, hey sweetie.’ That’s how people would talk to me when I was trying to make a deal with them. You wouldn’t talk to Todd duBoef (President of Top Rank Boxing) or Joe DeGuardia (President and CEO of Star Boxing) that way. I had to get past that. Then, I came to the point if I wanted to be treated equally, I had to think and act like a man. A lot of people would say ‘Jolene is difficult to deal with, she doesn’t take any s__t,’ and I was okay with that. Don’t pacify me. Don’t patronize me.
“Through time, the respect came. Don’t get me wrong, because this is a small business, it still comes back to me that I’m such a bitch, and I’m tough to deal with. But if you know me, I’m not really difficult to deal with. A negotiation is two-sided. If you’re good to me, you’ll get one side of me. I go into a negotiation, and it’s a give-and-take situation. I know what I want and what I need, but being a female in a male-dominated sport, I look at it differently than most women.
“I never came into this, or dealt with this as woe-is-me, I’m being treated like this, because I’m a female. Was it in the back of my mind? Of course, it was. I would never say it out loud. How do I get that respect, how do I get taken seriously? I don’t think I’m hard to deal with. I know the importance of a business deal. As a female in this sport, I do take people’s feelings into a negotiation. I don’t take s__t. Boxing people know that. If you come at me, I’m going to come right back at them.
“Around 2009 I want to say, we had a fighter we were dealing with, and he wasn’t happy with the deal we were making. It was me, Kathy Duva, Pat English, the fighter and his manager. We were trying to work through things. I noticed that the fighter and the manager were looking at Pat English. They weren’t looking at all at Kathy or myself. We were going back-and-forth and it started to really get to me, and I’m starting to get steamed up, and I’m starting to get steamed up. They’re looking at Pat, they’re looking at Pat, and I stood up and I couldn’t take it anymore. It got a little rough, and I stood up and I finally said, ‘I’m not going to be a part of this f_____g meeting, because I’m not getting any respect because of what’s between my legs and I’m f_____g sick of it.’ Kathy had her head in her heads (laughing) and she’s like, ‘Oh my God.’ I walked out. After that happened, though, everything changed. You could see people’s actions. I wasn’t going to sit there if no one was going to look me in the eyes. Kathy and I balance each other out.
“Kathy is the reasonable one, and I’m more like, ‘What the f__k is your problem?’ I love the fighters. I could never say I was disrespected by a fighter. It was always the people around them. I would come right out and tell the fighters, ‘You’re acting like an ass___e!’ The fighters always came to me and poured their hearts out. I remember after Vernon Forrest, God rest his soul, left us, but I still maintained contact with him. Vernon told me something that I still remember. He told me, ‘Jo, you get us.’
“I don’t think much has really changed in the last 10 years. As a woman, you’re always dealing with an uphill battle. With the newbies coming in, you’re learning and laying down the respect thing. I don’t use the damsel in distress thing. That’s not me. It’s not who I am. If we’re at a show and chairs need to be moved, I’m going to move the chairs. I’m not going to ask a man to do it. If I want to be treated equal, I’m going to act equal. That’s how you get the respect.
“Women are hard on other women. I had to make my place within this sport, and I started from the bottom. I had to work my f_____g ass off to get where I am. You have women in this sport that embarrass me. They haven’t worked hard. They haven’t put in their time. I don’t want to be side-by-side with them. Kathy worked her ass off to get to where she is. Some women have been handed things. I don’t like to be grouped in as we are all one, like we’ve all been through the same struggles.
“We haven’t. I know there is sexual harassment that goes on. I don’t go around woe-is-me. I’ll tell someone to go f__k themselves. If it keeps happening, they’re going to have a problem with me.
“What men can do better, one of my pet peeves, is stop calling me ‘honey, sweetie, babe.’ It does depend on the context in which it’s used. If I’m in the middle of a heated negotiation, and I hear someone, ‘Calm down sweetie, or calm down honey,’ that really pisses me off. If it’s in this context, ‘Hello sweetie,’ and it’s from someone you know, that’s okay.
“I enjoy how I got to my position. I earned it. It was about hustling and working hard. The first seven years, no one knew who I was. I believe in being honest. I don’t believe in playing games. You waste too much energy playing games and lying. It’s not worth it. If I have any advice for young women coming up, be yourself, be who you are. Be who you are and don’t say too much.”
Nancy Rodriguez plays a key underappreciated role by running the Los Angeles office of the WBC, which she’s been associated with for the last five years. She’s 40 and is a WBC supervisor and a member of the WBC ratings board. She got her introduction to boxing as the public relations director for contender Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios. A 2018 inductee of the California State Boxing Hall of Fame, Rodriguez also owns Supreme Boxing, which has 268,000 Instagram followers and hosts a podcast called “10 Rounds with Nancy.” She possesses a communications degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She’s a single mother of four who balances a career and motherhood.
“Boxing has its pros and cons, but I do have to say in the beginning, it was difficult because there were very few women in boxing 10 years ago. I remember the very first person I met was Crystina Poncher from Top Rank. She told me not to look intimidated and get in there and do the job, because some men will not take me seriously.
“I would like to think that it was because I was new, but it was really because I was a woman. The first few years what I heard repeated was, ‘She’s a woman; she doesn’t know anything about boxing.’ That happened within 10 feet of me. The men that said it didn’t seem to care I could hear them. Two guys who always defended me were Lee Samuels and (the late) Ricardo Jimenez. They always backed me.
“I was being trained by Bob Yalen to supervise fights for the WBC. I was co-supervising a Miguel Cotto fight here in Los Angeles, when an officer from a major promotion company actually came up to me and said to my face in Spanish, ‘This is not where you belong. You shouldn’t be running when you can’t even crawl. It takes a while for women to become supervisors.’ I thought to myself, ‘Did he really say that?’ I just kept walking, and I remember Bob ignored him and told me, ‘Get in the ring.’ Bob was a great mentor to me. He was disgusted with what he heard.
“The same person that had a problem with me had problems with other women in the past. It’s funny now, because that same person treats me really nice these days. Mauricio (Sulaiman, WBC President) does not, and will not tolerate disrespect. He’s defended me numerous times. People came at me saying I slept my way to this position.
“Would that happen if I were a man? I don’t think so.
“The whole thing made me really sad. I suffered from anxiety. I handled it through work. I began feeling comfortable being a woman in my role a lot better. I’m not a feminist, but I expect people to treat me with respect. It’s taken some time, almost 10 years, to get it.
“I’ve received great support, but there are a lot of women out there who swing their boobs around and expect things back in return. It makes the legitimate women who do work hard, who do their homework, people like Cynthia Conte, look bad. Cynthia doesn’t have to swing her boobs around to get page views on YouTube. She works for what she gets. It’s why I still think women in boxing are not being taken seriously. That’s because there are a lot of groupies in the sport that give legitimate women in boxing a bad name. I don’t care what anyone says, it does reflect negatively on women in the sport.
“There are many good men in boxing, like Jack Reiss and Raul Caiz Sr., who have mentored and guided me. I wish there were more men like them. Mauricio put his foot down one time when I was receiving harassing emails from another boxing organization. Mauricio basically told them that they were going to respect me, and it had to stop. It was about running a show in California. This organization didn’t want to talk to a woman about it, they wanted to talk to a man. They actually emailed that message. I couldn’t believe it. It’s 2020; not 1020. Sexism is something Mauricio does not tolerate.
“Mauricio defends everyone, whether it is a woman or a man. One time someone was harassing Ray Flores, the PBC announcer, and Mauricio heard about this. Mauricio shut them down.
“There was one gentleman in the industry that groped me, and I pushed him off. The situation froze me. I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to tell Mauricio or his brother, Pepe, who have both been huge blessings in my life. I was afraid to tell anybody, because I was molested when I was a child and it caused me to shut down.
“I have daughters. I don’t want them to go through the same pain that I did. I’m a single mother who is trying to establish a road for them, and trying to make sure my daughters don’t go through what I went through the last 10 years in trying to establish myself.
“Men have to learn to give women a chance. If Cynthia is there, if Kathy Duva is there, if Kelly Swanson is there, if Brittany Goossen is there, if Jolene Mizzone is there, if Jeandra LeBeauf is there, they are there for a reason—that’s because they’re good at their jobs. They’re good at what they do.
“It’s not they’re good, despite the fact that they’re women. No, they’re good. They’re examples to me. More women coming up should look at them and their success, knowing they can do it, too. There are a lot of jobs in boxing. There are jobs that women can do—and do well, in and out of the ring.
“I wish more people in boxing would see that.”
Kelly Swanson may be listed last on this list, because it’s done alphabetically, but she’s certainly not least. The founder of the public relations and marketing firm Swanson Communications, Swanson was a trailblazer in boxing media, representing Hall of Famers Riddick Bowe, Bernard Hopkins and future Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather. She deals with entitled media, who don’t like to hear ‘no.’ She’s the messenger for her clients, and she defends them well. She’s been a respected fixture at ringside of every major fight for the last 25 years. Swanson herself should one day be inducted in Canastota. This is an alpha female list, and Swanson may be the alpha among the alphas.
“When I began, the difficulty was I was young and inexperienced, and consequently, I wasn’t taken as seriously as my male counterparts. I believe that was probably because I was female. It was, ‘Isn’t she a nice girl, but what could she know?’ It was that type of attitude.
“Fortunately for me, when I entered boxing, I got in at the top level. I came in with Riddick Bowe, and he was fresh off the Olympics and everybody knew his potential. People took us very seriously, and I think that helped. I was able to get my experience, but that didn’t come at the ground floor. There was an opportunity to work immediately with the most important people in boxing.
“Bowe was fighting early and often with the big networks, like HBO, and that gave me an opportunity to see what the top of boxing looked like and yet not be taken seriously because I was a young woman.
“I can remember one meeting that I went to in the HBO offices in New York, where they assumed, ‘Well, Kelly can take the notes.’ Not that I was the PR person, and granted, I didn’t have a lot of experience, but there were probably a number of people in the room that were also juniors. They weren’t asked to take the notes. It was early to mid-1990s when Bowe did his world tour.
“I organized that whole thing. Yet when we met with HBO, I was the one taking the notes. I want to make sure this is clear. No one was mean to me. No one was demeaning to me. It was just, ‘Kelly is going to take the notes.’ If I was a man, no one would have asked me to take the notes of the meeting. There were others in those meetings that were on the same level as me. I was the only woman in the room, and the assumption was whatever something clerical was needed, I was given that task, like a secretary.
“I do feel that because I was able to enter boxing with a champion like Riddick Bowe, who at the time signed the largest, long-term contract in all of sports, that helped to alleviate some of that pressure to prove myself.
“What I experienced more than anything else was jealousy. I felt, ‘Who is she to get that job? Who is she to have that job? Who does she think she is?’ I always tried to maintain my professional position and do my job. People sometimes took for granted what my job entailed, and they didn’t know.
“As Floyd was building toward his success, there were situations when he did every and any interview out in front of him. As he became really successful, after he paid his dues, he set his schedule where once the minute a big fight was announced, he was accessible up until fight night. After the fight, he just didn’t want to do interviews anymore and he became less accessible than he used to be.
“I remember feeling burdened upon by some media why he wasn’t accessible, and questioned if I was trying hard enough to make that happen. That comes with the territory. Overall, in boxing, my experience has been a great one.
“I had nothing handed to me. I can say that. Would my road have been easier if I was a man, I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with champions, and people tend to listen to you, and in a way use you, because they want to try to get what they want. I felt more needed than used though. I felt the climb came a little longer, maybe from my position, you’re only as valuable as the people that you work for.
“I worked with Riddick, and then there was a lull. Coming off the mountain top, I didn’t really know a lot of people in boxing. We were like our own separate island. I had to start over. I had to really dig deep. By then though, I had the experience and the clout. I was fortunate that I was in Washington, D.C., at the time, and there were these young middleweights coming up, so I was given the opportunity to do some work for Don King.
“It was more like a hustle. I used to think at times why I have to hustle so hard, when I’ve proven myself already as a good PR person.
“I’m happy to see so many more women in boxing now than when I started. There are a lot of women in boxing that have very important positions, and that’s a relief. I think it may have taken them less time to reach a level of respect than it took me.
“Today, I would tell women thinking about entering the sport to hold themselves up in a respectable manner. They have to come in with a desire to be respected, and make sure the professionalism stays in a comfortable space. There are a lot of men in boxing, and women coming into boxing want to make sure that they’re respected first.
“Women owe it to ourselves to respect ourselves and be professional sometimes in environments where it might not be so easy. I grew up with three brothers and a sister, but we all had to do the same chores. Everything was equal. I never thought I would be treated differently. The real world is different.
“I tell my female interns to keep their heads down, mind their business, they’re going to know people by default, and if they have questions, come and ask me. Big fights are exciting times. Everyone is happy to be there. There are a lot of different personalities, and they have to be able to maintain all of that.
“My big hope is that women that are getting into boxing today won’t have to go through a lot of the same situations that women had to go through years ago.”
As a personal postscript, I want to thank each and every one of these amazing women for their time and their trust with this project. My only regret is that I should have done this years ago. I also want to commend them for their courage and great patience in dealing with jackasses like myself and my brethren. It was educational, and enlightening. Growing up, I often heard others refer to girls as sweetie or honey. I never did, though I also knew among family and friends that it was never said nor meant maliciously or derisively. There’s a famous last line in the book “Bang the Drum Slowly” that says “From here on in I rag nobody.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.
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