The Sporting Life

A weekly newspaper can’t cover sports the way the dailies do, focusing on teams and scores and events. But in the cracks ignored by the mainstream press, the Weekly found a wealth of material. A few excerpts:

Writer Big Boy Medlin captured the spirit of the Olympic Auditorium in his April 6, 1979, article "Thursday Night Anachronism."

The Olympic is another place and another era. It is Philadelphia during the Depression. It is New York in the La Guardia years. It is the Irish versus the Italians. The Olympic is a time and space warp . . .

The walls of the . . . lobby are covered with faded photographs. Many wrestlers are displayed. Names like Crusher, Giant, the Battler and Terre Haute Terror leap out at you.

You wonder whatever happened to the Terre Haute Terror. Did he make any money? Did he take the final count from the Big Referee in the sky? Or is he selling pencils outside the Terre Haute Safeway?

And yet, the Olympic is alive. Thousands of fight fans flock there every Thursday night. Most of them are Latinos, very partial to the fighters they feel represent them. Chicanos living in L.A. are heavy favorites. Fighters from Mexico are accepted graciously. Puerto Ricans are tolerated. Blacks are booed mercilessly. And white fighters don’t exist.

Former Weekly sports editor David Davis is a boxing fan. But he felt that what happened to Jerry Quarry — and others like him — was wrong. From that sense of outrage came an award-winning profile of the boxer, "The Thirteenth Round," March 17, 1995.

Almost 30 years to the night since he made his professional boxing debut, Jerry Quarry is damaged goods. At 49, he suffers from pugilistica dementia, or chronic brain damage, caused by the accumulation of head blows he took in the ring. Neurologists estimate that up to 60 percent of all professional boxers eventually suffer from pugilistica dementia, but until now, only a handful of fighters have publicly acknowledged their disabilities.

In its early stages, the symptoms of pugilistica dementia resemble those of Alzheimer’s disease. Quarry suffers acute short-term memory loss. He has difficulty with his equilibrium, he can’t follow directions, and he can’t perform even simple chores. Because he has problems with depth perception and gets lost easily, he can’t drive a car or live alone. With no source of income other than a $614-a-month Social Security check and little chance of finding a decent job, he lives with his older brother, Jimmy, who pays for Jerry’s medical treatment; Medi-Cal underwrites therapy to help Jerry learn to live with his injury. There is no other option. Despite his extremely successful 13-year career as a professional fighter, Jerry Quarry has no pension and receives no health-care benefits.

Jimmy, who speaks for his younger brother much of the time, is bitter that his brother literally boxed his brains out — and made a lot of people a lot of money — and has nothing to show for it. Through fund-raisers and corporate donations, he hopes to raise enough money to fund the Jerry Quarry Foundation, a nonprofit organization that will pay pensions and provide health-care coverage to disabled fighters. The foundation would also retrain those ex-fighters who can still hold down a job.

There’s an irony to it all. In becoming the poster boy for a movement that asks the boxing world to take responsibility for those it has harmed, Jerry Quarry exposes the essential contradiction of the sport: Its heroes are of necessity also its victims.

Writer Greg Burk used to be a baseball fan. Then came the 1994 strike. The following are the final paragraphs of his March 31, 1995, cover story titled "To Hell With Baseball."

I remember that time in fourth grade, when a teacher-coach was trying to show me how to bunt. Hardball. Square up like this, he said, with the bat parallel to the ground. He went out to the mound and pitched one to me. I squared up, but I didn’t do it right. My fingers slid around the outside of the barrel. The ball hit one of my fingers.

I howled and cried. I had never experienced pain like that before. The coach frowned down at me. Quit being such a baby, he said. It can’t hurt that much. It did, though. And it didn’t stop for a long time.

Over the course of a month, my fingernail turned black beneath its bandage and fell off. I can still remember the damp, rotten smell of the yellow undernail flesh. To this day, that fingernail looks different from all my others. It’s on the middle finger of my right hand.

That’s right, baseball. This one.