Back in 1985, when I was covering the Larry Holmes-Michael Spinks fight for Newsday — one of my first major fight assignments — Holmes, then the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, got into an argument with Dick Young, the undisputed king of the New York tabloid columnists.
Young had been trying to question Holmes while Holmes was hitting the heavy bag, and Holmes understandably told him to shut up. Nobody told Dick Young to shut up, not even the heavyweight champion, so he shot back, “Larry, you got a fat ass!”
That was the last straw and Holmes ordered his bodyguards to eject Dick Young from the workout. Which they did, forcefully, carrying him out by the arms and legs while the old man — Young must have been close to 70– admirably kept up a running commentary of squawks while furiously scribbling into a notebook.
When we all stopped laughing — honestly, it was funny — there was no question about what the assembled boxing media would do. The senior man on the beat — I believe it was Ed Schuyler of the AP — told Holmes that if Young wasn’t allowed in, we all were walking out. And we did, nearly to a man. Not long afterward, Larry Holmes relented, Young was re-admitted, and the two of them shook hands. As a postscript, Young took a bunch of us out to dinner in a Las Vegas restaurant that night and then slipped out after paying the bill, his way of expressing his appreciation for the show of support from his peers.
Fast forward more than 30 years later to an NFL pressbox in Philadelphia, where a discussion among reporters over a confusing call in the Eagles-Cowboys game apparently got too loud for an Eagles PR staffer, who kicked one of the reporters, Jeff McLane of the Philadephia Inquirer, out of the pressbox. The staffer also threated the rest of the press contingent, saying if anyone objected to her actions they, too, would be thrown out of the box. From what I understand, no one said a word, fearing a similar fate. Ironically, or disturbingly, the ejector, Anne Gordon, was formerly the managing editor of the Philly Inquirer.
Not having been at the scene, I can’t accurately comment on who was at fault here. But the difference in the way the situation with Larry Holmes and Dick Young was handled as compared to what went down in Philadelphia shows not only how much journalism as changed over three decades, but how much journalists have changed, as well.
There is little good will between journalists and their subjects these days, and even less respect. And as this incident shows, there is pretty much no solidarity among the men and women who perform a job of the utmost importance to a free society, even if it is only covering fistfights or football games.
We in the media are supposed to be adversarial with those that we cover — afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, remember? — but it serves no one’s purpose to be enemies. What happened in that Philadelphia pressbox is either an omen of a frightening and destructive new era about to unfold in our country, or hopefully, the first step in the mending of a relationship that is vital to all of us.