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Joe Frazier: Why Tears Are Not Enough

Posted: 09/11/11 09:28

There has been something inherently nauseating about the outpouring of tribute that has taken place in response to the death of Joe Frazier over the past few days.

A who's who of boxing has taken to the airwaves, Twitter, the sports pages, websites and television channels to air their profound sadness over the loss of such a great fighter, legend of the ring, and all the rest.

Men whose bank accounts are verily bursting at the seams - current and former champions, promoters and others who've made their fortune out of the sport - have outdone themselves in proffering words of tribute, admiration and sadness over his death.

The truth is that while he was alive, Joe Frazier was treated disgracefully by the sport he loved and represented with such dignity and courage throughout his life.

But the fact that at the end of that life he was reduced to sleeping in a small room above a rundown gym in the heart of a rundown section of Philadelphia, stands as an indictment of the sport and all those boxing multimillionaires who've come out upon his death to say the right things.

Where were they when the man was struggling to make ends meet? Where was their admiration and concern then? Where is the fund for ex-champions who fall on hard times? Where is the healthcare and pension plan set up on behalf of these guys, warriors who carry with them the physical effects of years in the ring giving everything and taking the risks involved?

It has emerged that Frazier only realised he had cancer when it was too late to be treated. If he'd had decent healthcare coverage and the luxury of regular health checks, there is little doubt that it would have been detected at an early stage and that he may have survived.

The brutal truth is that Joe Frazier was allowed to wither on the vine, reduced to living like a bum above a gym. Yes, the man made some bad business and financial decisions after he retired from the sport. But is that any reason to let him suffer as he did?

Joe Frazier's death, and the poverty and straitened circumstances of his later years, should give professional boxing a wake-up call. It is high time that it stops devouring its own. The accolades and plaudits which the sport's champions and top contenders receive in their prime is all well and good. However, it is when their careers end and they are no longer fit for purpose as fighters that boxing's dark underbelly is exposed.

Joe Frazier was a great champion. But he was also a human being. When he required more than a pat on the back or memories to live on the sport turned its back on him.

More than any other, this is the abiding tragedy of his life and passing.