Virginia DPOR Finally Issues Prichard Colon “Investigation Report”
by Marc Londo & Mohamad Elmahmoud
Pictured: One of Terrel Williams rabbit punches landing to the base of Prichard Colon’s head in their bout on October 17, 2015.Photo Credit: NBC/Premier Boxing Champions.
The timing of their press release couldn’t have been more interesting. Just one day prior to the 5 month Anniversary of Prichard Colon’s subdural hematoma, the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) issued an “Investigation Report,” absolving Program Administrator (the state of Virginia’s language for boxing commissioner) David Holland, referee Joe Cooper, ringside doctor Richard Ashby, and boxer Terrel Williams, stating “no one action can be identified that is so apparent or egregious to justify holding accountable any one person.” The language of that statement reflected the ambiguous terminology they use in all their communication. While it’s technically correct that no ‘one person’ is accountable, the Virginia DPOR’s narrowly-focused findings disregarded the constellation of reckless behavior between those individuals and the profound danger it posed to Prichard Colon in the aggregate.
Fresh on the heels of the WBC’s “zero tolerance” policy on rabbit punching, this report was a significant step backwards for boxing. If this were any other professional sport, there would be a public inquisition. How many times have we seen Ndamukong Suh put on blast in the media for illegal hits? In football, like boxing, athletes are putting their health on the line each time they perform, and the only thing stopping a player from rabbit punching in the clinch (or targeting a defenseless wide receiver) is the watchful eye of the referee. Nevertheless, in football there is an apparatus beyond the officials on the field that are dedicated to protecting health of the players. If there is even a question of helmet to helmet contact, instant replay will rat out the culprit. In boxing, the apparatus failed to protect Prichard Colon. All the checks, in and out of the ring, went ignored.
Pictured: Prichard Colon-Terrel Williams stare down the weigh-in. Photo Credit: Paul Jones
In fact, ‘the apparatus’ just cleared themselves of failing Prichard Colon, making him twice their victim. This head-in-the-sand mentality is not at all unlike the NFL’s failure to acknowledge the impact of concussions on their player’s well-being. Who will ever forget Charles Martin’s devastating late illegal hit from behind on Jim McMahon? Today, McMahon’s life is marked by severe dementia. Nevertheless, for months after that shot, there was intense media outrage about what happened. Conversely, in Prichard Colon’s case, it has been 5 months and the outrage has been contained to a smaller segment of media that report on boxing. This is significant because the lighter scrutiny propagates an illusion that boxers aren’t as bound by the rules that separate it from common street fighting. Furthermore, there are class issues attached to the sport that open up the door to more troubling questions of coverage.
Mohamad Elmahmoud: The DPOR can benefit by incorporating Kaizen into their culture.
I am a big advocate of the Japanese business phrase Kaizen, meaning ‘continuous improvement of working practices’. In his latest article titled “Boxing in D.C.: A Litany of Bizarre Behavior,” Ted Sares highlighted the Colon-Williams bout as one of the more recent incidents in a timeline of bizarre behavior that has characterized the northern Virginia/DC boxing culture. In fact, the referee for Colon’s bout, Joe Cooper, is conspicuous by his appearance twice on that list (listed previously for his outrageous handling of the Khan-Peterson bout). The first thing that went through my mind upon reading the DPOR’s press release they titled “Investigation Report” (and I put it in quotes because their lead investigator told Main Course the day before its release that it wasn’t an “investigation” but an internal review), is that there wasn’t anything they learned from the tragedy, through the 5 months that it took to conclude. It doesn’t appear that they have learned from any of their previous faux pas either.
Pictured: Terrel Williams and referee Joseph Cooper stand over Prichard Colon. Also Pictured: Program Administrator David Holland of the DPOR. Photo Credits: Suzanne Teresa/Premier Boxing Champions and Linda Siadys Photography
Ted Sares timeline is just a demonstration of the giant gap between the Virginia DPOR’s ability to critically assess their own behavior and effectively regulate this sport. One the worst kept secrets in sports that (bad) refereeing is the great equalizer. We see it a lot in ‘March Madness’ college basketball, when a disproportionate amount of fouls and free throws can render a more talented team ineffective. Boxing is no different. When you really pay attention to the complex interaction between a referee and the boxers, it becomes clear that a referees attention or inattention towards one boxer versus the other creates both vulnerability and opportunity.
Throughout the bout, one scenario kept repeating. Terrel William’s would grab Prichard Colon and throw a short hook behind the ear. In response, Colon would either motion to the back of his head or he would look at Joe Cooper. In the report, Cooper acknowledged that he saw this was going on but didn’t feel it was that serious. This false assumption (or excuse) was a factor in the Virginia DPOR ruling on ‘subjectivity’ without addressing an important question. When is a rabbit punch not a rabbit punch? As a body of governance, that is a matter they absolutely had to address in light of Prichard Colon’s 5 month ordeal. In soccer a hand-ball is a hand-ball; and in football, if two helmets even graze it’s a foul. The back of the head is so soft (exposed), that it is extremely problematic to dismiss more than 30 such fouls on a guess, especially when the opponent is heavy handed and his fists are stuffed into Cleto Reyes ‘punchers’ gloves.
Pictured: Prichard Colon holds the back of his head during a fight against Terrel Williams in their super-welterweight bout in Fairfax, Va., on Oct. 17.Photo Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images
Prichard Colon’s body language (his constant motioning to the back of his head) was, perhaps, the most telling piece of evidence they had at their disposal. The problem is, the DPOR employees, both in and around the ring, did not believe him. And, instead of basing their investigation on a quantitative analysis of the visible fouls, the Virginia DPOR whittled away 5 months on an in-house ‘he said/he said’ goose chase, which has since been revealed as little more than window dressing, considering the fact that referee Joseph Cooper and doctor Richard Ashby - as “contract venders” - weren’t even subject to possible Virginia DPOR action. In its clear omissions, the report is a tangled web that fails to mention or acknowledge important facts.
-What did Cooper mean when he told Colon to “take care of it” himself, when Prichard asked the referee, “what about my head?” Resulting from that exchange, two points were deducted for the low blow that Colon threw but repeated rabbit punches went ignored. At this point in the bout, Prichard Colon was leading on the cards and this severe 2 point deduction made the fight too close for Colon to coast. He was drawn in to greater risk and he was already favoring the back of his head (which by that time had absorbed 4-5 rounds of targeting by Williams’ short right behind the ear). -The disparity between taking 2 points from Colon for a low blow in the 5th round, and taking just 1 point from Williams in the 7th. Both of these fouls were ruled intentional, yet one was given a greater penalty. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Colon appeared to throw a low blow because Cooper had been allowing Williams to continue targeting the back of his head, unchecked, from the start of the bout.
Pictured: Prichard Colon taking time to recover.Photo Credit: Suzanne Teresa/Premier Boxing Champions.
-In the investigation, Cooper wasn’t questioned on why he didn’t warn or take corrective action from the rabbit punches thrown by Terrell Williams prior to Colon going down in the 7th. -The DPOR Program Director David Holland was given a free pass in this investigation. While he was critical of Joe Cooper’s control of the bout, no one questioned him about his key influence on the events of October 17. His accusations to the corner of Colon that they were ‘stalling’ and that Prichard Colon was “faking” applied pressure on Colon to re-engage at a time when he was at his weakest. The verbal threat of a DQ, as he tried to clear his head, impacted Colon’s instinct toward self-preservation. -In the aftermath, the Virginia DPOR hedged about David Holland’s role as acting commissioner (which he is often referred to in various media), stating publicly that boxing is a very small part of their department, and that he is merely a “program administrator.” This hedging leaves me with questions regarding his capability to asses that situation and order Colon’s corner to stop “faking.” -In our communication with Nick Christner, it was made clear to Main Course on the day before the report came out that he hasn’t analyzed any raw audio or video footage from the bout. In light of what David Holland is reported to have said to Colon and his corner, shouldn’t that tape be a central piece of this investigation? While Cooper and Ashby were venders, Holland works for the DPOR and he’ll conceivably be serving in the capacity of a commissioner (Administrator) in the future.
Pictured: Dr Richard Ashby examines Prichard Colon, who is heard saying he feels “dizzy.”Photo Credit: NBC/Premier Boxing Champions.
While some may say professional boxers risk more than professional football players, they do so with the expectation that the referees and doctors will protect them when they are either too brave, or too mentally impaired, to protect themselves. No boxer goes into a bout thinking that a referee, doctor, and program administrator, will put them at greater risk by allowing their opponent to take liberties, as they push the action to continue through obvious breakdowns. It is alarming that these three officials were so oblivious to Colon’s verbal and physical cues, and even got combative about allowing him time to recover; especially in the wake of Magomed Abdusalamov’s brain injury.
Ring Magazine’s Mitch Abramson’s recent piece, titled “Virginia Spokesperson admits flaws in Prichard Colon investigation” delves further into the special relationship involving referee Joe Cooper and the Ringside Doctor Richard Ashby. The admission they can’t hold their employees “accountable” for any wrongdoing, or ineffectual performance of job duties, shows a serious breach in the checks a boxer relies on to govern the bout. It also makes their ruling after the fact highly suspect.
Pictured: Referee Joseph Cooper signals a Terrel Williams rabbit punch in round 7.Photo Credit: Suzanne Teresa/Premier Boxing Champions
Imagine if you didn’t have to answer to your boss for your job performance. This is just another example of a culture run amok. The World Boxing Council’s (WBC) recent declaration of no-tolerance for rabbit punching gave me hope that the Virginia DPOR would adopt a similar attitude of Kaizen. However, even with a cultural shift in focusing on the dangers of head trauma in sports, the Virginia DPOR swept the in-ring testimony of Prichard Colon under the carpet. Rather than conduct a critical inquiry into how the collective actions of Williams, Cooper, Ashby, and Holland created an unmanageable situation for Colon (which was made progressively worse as he felt pressured to fight through it) they didn’t touch on their systemic failure to manage their employees, including Holland. This investigation should have served as a springboard for seeking guidance from professionals in the boxing industry, to help in eliminating unnecessary tragedies. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that.
Pictured: Photo montage of rabbit punches from Jackson-Williams and Colon-Williams. Photo Credits: All-Star Boxing and Premier Boxing Champions
Putting the ‘culture of silence’ on blast
Boxing is a very rough sport. But, there is an understated expectation of fairness that goes with handing one’s business mano y mano. It doesn’t always show through in a team game. It states that ‘my best is better than your best’ and that will be put to the test in a squared circle. Adhering to a governing system of rules, which descend from the Marquess of Queensberry, referees and judges are to interact with the action of the fighters through automatic response patterns that reflect those rules. At its very essence, refereeing is like a dance and ‘rabbit punching’ must illicit some kind of response the instant it shows up. If the Virginia DPOR’s investigation was more thorough, they would have discovered that this was not Terrel Williams first time using this tactic to gain an advantage. In his bout with Bernardo Guereca on 6/28/2013, Williams flirted with a disqualification after constantly being warned for rabbit punching. In his bout with Marqus Jackson on 11/17/2012, he KO’d “The Goose” with a blow to the back of the head. In keeping with the culture of silence, referee Wayne Hedgepeth watched Jackson get hit behind the ear, grab the back of his head, and complain about the punch; but he ignored him. The Virginia DPOR had access to Terrel Williams previous fights on Youtube, and they ignored them as well. To date, the Terrel Williams-Prichard Colon fight is officially counted as a DQ win for Williams. And, as Prichard Colon remains comatose in a hospital bed at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia, the irony of having DQ loss on his record is a curious commentary on the integrity of governing organization that contributed to the outcome.
Pictured: Prichard Colon, Pedro Diaz, and Ricardo Colon.Photo Credit: Elsa Garrison
The only way to have a fair investigation is for it to be conducted by someone with no influence. Nevertheless, it seems like fairness and public relations don’t always go hand-in-hand. When the report was released on March 16, the only thing that ran through my mind was “what took so long?” And, “why couldn’t they wait another day?”