Down for the Count?
CAPITOL HEIGHTS, MD.
Here at Round One Gym, just outside Washington, life is measured in three-minute intervals. Every three minutes, a round ends and a buzzer sounds, telling the fighters to either rest or resume their workouts on the heavy bag, on the speed bag, or shadow boxing in one of two elevated rings.Skip to next paragraph
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For Beethavean Scottland, known here as "Bee," those intervals gave definition to a life that might otherwise have lacked purpose. But it was also those intervals that led to his death at age 26.
The story of Bee Scottland in some ways mirrors the story of boxing, a sport that remains enormously popular, but at the same time has reached new depths of disorganization, corruption, and run-ins with the law. Significant efforts are under way to reform the sport through federal legislation, but the path ahead appears bumpy.
Scottland, who grew up in a poor family with eight kids, developed into a moderately successful super-middleweight, with a record of 20-6-2.
On June 26, he filled in at the last minute to box in New York City against a slightly bigger and more accomplished opponent, George "Khalid" Jones.
For Scottland, it was the most important fight of his life, a chance for an $8,000 payday and an appearance on ESPN2. With a win, he could go somewhere, maybe even get a larger purse down the road so he could support his wife and three children, so he could quit his day job as an exterminator.
It didn't end up that way. Scottland was overmatched from the start, although not enough to overly concern ringside officials from the state boxing commission or veteran referee Arthur Mercante Jr. "I never thought of stopping the fight," Mercante later said.
In the 10th and final round, Scottland was knocked to the canvas, unconscious. He remained in a coma for six days, and then died.
"That kid should never have died," says Aaron Braunstein, a boxing promoter in New York. "He was basically a club fighter. He was too small. The referee should have stopped it."
On one hand, boxing can provide an escape for young men with dead-end futures. Most boxers come from impoverished backgrounds, where jail time and drug addiction are a more common currency than education. Getting in the ring every day gives them purpose. They work hard. They take care of their bodies. They dream of million-dollar purses.
Clarence Vinson, the winner of an Olympic bronze medal in 2000 who recently turned professional, compares his fate with that of his brother, who was killed on the streets at age 14.
"Boxing saved my life," he says after a recent workout. "It saved me from the streets. [Before boxing], I was getting in a lot of trouble and getting locked up a lot."
On the other hand, the sport of boxing is violent by nature, and rife with injustice. Scottland was the first to die from boxing this year; 4 deaths were reported last year. It is a sport in which only a handful of the participants make decent money, and the mediocre often retire either penniless or physically damaged. The unknowns like Bee Scottland are the ones who most frequently pay the price.