Brizel Editorial: Dangers of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Boxing
By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
The dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, especially cocaine, can affect athletes in boxing, as well as all sports, who fall prey to addiction. The late Pernell Whitaker and the late Rocky Lockridge were known to have had battles with cocaine, which is far more difficult than fighting a battle in the ring. In effect, the person is battling the demons within themselves.
The late former world champion Pernell Whitaker, when I met him at ringside in 2012, appeared to be what some called ‘drug drunk’ on appearance. The late former world champion Rocky Lockridge, who became homeless, also appeared to many, especially in his crying video clip on YouTube, to be ‘drug drunk’. The terminology meant they seemed to be burnt out in visual appearance after using drugs-while also combined with appearing punch drunk from the cumulative effects of blows taken during their boxing careers.
World-famous champions, from Sugar Ray Leonard to Tyson Fury to Oscar De La Hoya, have made no secret of their battles with alcohol and cocaine. The drug and alcohol abuse of the late former world champion Edwin Valero got him into constant trouble and domestic abuse. Despite the cries of his mother-in-law for help, Valero’s domestic abuse went largely unhindered in Venezuela until he killed his wife, then killed himself. Tragic.
The late Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker was named Fighter of the Year by Ring Magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America in 1989. Ring Magazine ranked him the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world from 1993 to 1997, Whitaker was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2002, Ring Magazine rated Whitaker as the tenth greatest boxer of the last 80 years. British heavy Frank Bruno, remembering Whitaker, called Whitaker a defensive genius, one of the all-time greats. Whitaker became a trainer and mentor to young boxers after retirement. So……….what went wrong?
When drug and alcohol abuse crept in, Whitaker lost emotional focus and direction, and quickly disintegrated into a shell of what once was. Of his five children, Pernell Whitaker Jr., his namesake, died of cancer in 2015, which undoubtedly affected Pernell Whitaker’s fall, which began almost immediately after he stopped boxing. According to the Washington Post, Whitaker was convicted of cocaine possession in 2002 for violating terms of a previous conviction by overdosing on cocaine again, which he had done in 2001. When Whitaker evicted his 73-year-old mother from her home in 2014 to satisfy a tax debt with the I.R.S., his fall from grace was complete. When Whitaker got run over and killed several days ago, the tragedy of his life had handwriting on the wall-long before the coup-de-gras.
The late tattooed boxing champion Johnny Tapia, who suffered from bipolar disorder and high blood pressure, overdosed on drugs five times and was revived before he finally died, called alcohol and drugs ‘mi vida loca’. At the beginning of his 2006 autobiography, Mi Vida Loca: The Crazy Life of Johnny Tapia, Tapia wrote: “My name is Johnny Lee Tapia. I was born on Friday the 13th, a Friday in February of 1967. To this day, I don’t know if that makes me lucky or unlucky. When I was eight I saw my mother murdered. I never knew my father. I was raised as a pit bull. Raised to fight to the death. Four times I was declared dead. Four times they wanted to pull life support, and many more times I came close to dying-but-I have lived and had it all. I have been wealthy and lost it all. I have been famous and infamous. Five times I was world champion. You tell me. Am I lucky or unlucky?”
Former World Heavyweight Champion Leon Spinks saw his career go downhill due to the effects of cocaine and marijuana. Former World Heavyweight champion Iron Mike Tyson had issues with marijuana. Former World Heavyweight champion Sonny Liston overdosed on heroin. Former World Welterweight Ricky Hatton saw his career go into a downward spiral and disintegrate due to alcohol and cocaine. According to the British newspaper News of the World, on one occasion, Hatton took cocaine during a 10-hour drinking session, during which he also consumed 11 pints of Guinness, four vodkas, two glasses of wine and several Sambucas. Hatton put himself back together and is involved in his new career as a trainer, a rarity and a blessing in putting himself back together when the effect of alcohol and drugs usually leave individuals as empty souls at the point of no return.