Who Killed Benny Paret?
[This article was written about 40 years ago, but it has a frightening intensity that makes it relevant even today. Boxing, perhaps, is no longer the spectacle that it once was, but what about our TV news that includes video-taped beatings, riots, and footage from the battle-lines of all the modern wars?]
Sometime about 1935 or 1936 I had an interview with Mike Jacobs, the prize-fight promoter. I was a fledgling newspaper reporter at that time; my beat was education, but during the vacation season I found myself on varied assignments, all the way from ship news to sports reporting. In this way I found myself sitting opposite the most powerful figure in the boxing world.
There was nothing spectacular in Mr. Jacobs’s manner or appearance; but when he spoke about prize fights, he was no longer a bland little man but a colossus who sounded the way Napoleon must have sounded when he reviewed a battle. You knew you were listening to Number One. His saying something made it true.
We discussed what to him was the only important element in successful promoting—how to please the crowd. So far as he was concerned, there was no mystery to it. You put killers in the ring and the people filled your arena. You hire boxing artists—men who are adroit at feinting, parrying, weaving, jabbing, and dancing, but who don’t pack dynamite in their fists—and you wind up counting your empty seats. So you searched for the killers and sluggers and maulers—fellows who could hit with the force of a baseball bat.
I asked Mr. Jacobs if he was speaking literally when he said people came out to see the killer.
“They don’t come out to see a tea party,” he said evenly. “They come out to see—the knockout. They come out to see a man hurt. If they think anything else, they’re kidding themselves.”
Recently a young man by the name of Benny Paret was killed in the ring. The killing was seen by millions; it was on television. In the...