- Modern-day American (female) judge
- Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Lives in upstate New York
- Judge: Officiating record
Pursuing a Boxing Passion, but as a Judge By DONNA GREENE; New York Times Published: May 18, 1997 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9406EEDD1638F93BA25756C0A961958260 MELVINA LATHAN grew up watching the Friday night fights with her father on television, married into boxing and for six years has been one of a small group of women who judge professional boxing matches.
Ms. Lathan, an Ardsley resident, is the mother of three grown children and the wife of Dr. William Lathan, the medical director for the New York State Athletic Commissioner. When she is not at ringside, she may be found pursuing her other passion: needlework. And needlework and boxing come together in a quilt she is currently making, which uses boxing motifs.
Here are excerpts from a recent conversation with Ms. Lathan:
Q. You did not grow up saying, I want to be a boxing judge, did you?
A. No, no, I didn't. Although I did like boxing. I remember, in the late 1950's, when Friday night fights used to come on, I'd watch them with my dad. I guess the whole family watched them. We'd sit around the TV and watch Friday night fights, and I enjoyed it. And I grew up in Philadelphia so I had access to a lot of the gyms. I went to fights and it was very interesting to see guys spar. I didn't know they were big names at that time. I knew there were a lot of people there who I totally admired. I remember also once meeting Sonny Liston. My dad has a photograph of the two of us standing with our palms together. And this guy's hands were the most enormous hands I had ever seen in my life. My hand fit into his palm.
Q. You are also an artist?
A. Yes. I picked up a few genes from my dad; actually, my grandmothers were both artists. I make all of my clothes, or pretty much everything. I hung out with my grandmas a lot and picked up so many things from them. I do some stained glass and some quilts, but not the traditional quilts. I use photographs, which are put on chemically treated paper or fabric that I can sew. So I incorporate these photographs into these quilts. It's a very bizarre combination, but it works.
Q. How did you get to be a boxing judge?
A. Well, my husband, William, was heavily involved with the amateurs, with the Golden Gloves. He was one of the physicians at ringside. From there, he got involved with professional boxing. And I'm always with him. I sort of hung out with my husband at all the fights and met the professionals. And about 15 to 20 years ago, he got involved with the pros. I was at every fight, at every little nook and cranny. They weren't all grand fights at the Garden.
At the time there was a commissioner of the New York Athletic Commission named Randy Gordon. He saw me there at every fight, and he said, Listen, Mel, how would you like to become a judge? That was in the latter part of 1989. After a few times of his saying that, I said, O.K., why don't I give it a try? My children were getting older, and I was beginning to have a little bit more time. And I did love boxing. And he took me under his wing, as did Larry Hazzard Sr., a commissioner for the state of New Jersey. In 1991 I got my license in New York, and within a week I had my first fight.
Q. What makes it fun?
A. I think everything about it is fun. Being at ringside is the best high you can have, one of the greatest certainly. Everything is going on at the same time. It's not just the fight, it's everything around you: the crowd, the air is electric. If it happens to be a televised fight, there is the crew arranging the lights at the last minute. The whole thing is exciting. The fight crowd -- and I'm talking about the people who actually work in the boxing world -- is sort of like an extended family, if you follow me. You run into the same people everywhere. In spite of the fact that it's a man's world, women are a part of it.
But don't get me wrong. While it's fun, I take it very seriously. It's serious for a number of reasons. You have careers on the line and titles on the line. The fighters really deserve to have someone there who will give the fight their total, undivided attention.
Q. How many female judges are there?
A. I would guess 5 to 10 percent. There are three judges for each match. As a matter of fact, New York is the very first place that had three female judges do a fight. And this was Randy Gordon's doing. He was always doing these crazy precedents. And it worked, and it was really wonderful. It was so much fun working with all women.
Q. Do women see a fight differently from men?
A. You know, I think so. But I want to say no, we want to say that everyone -- all the judges -- will tend to see the fight the same way. But if I said I think women make better judges, what would be your response? You'd ask why I think that is so. But women just know how to see fights. They deal with fights between their children every day. It's so natural for us to sit there and judge a fight.
Q. Are judges well paid?
A. No. No, you can't do it for that reason. It's fun, but you don't do it to get rich.
Q. How many fights would you say you do a month?
A. I would say one, but it depends. I had been scheduled to do the recent George Foreman fight against Lou Savarese, but it fell through at the last minute. I was totally devastated, of course. I had just worked myself up into a frenzy.
Q. Would that have been the biggest-name match that you would have done?
A. Yes and no. I guess in terms of the notoriety of George Foreman, yes. His name is much larger, of course, than that of many of the other fighters. But in terms of importance, no, not necessarily. They're all basically important, and I have had some title fights that probably had more weight.
Q. How do you counter a perception that some have that the benefit of the doubt is given to the seasoned veteran?
A. That's a fallacy. If it's done, it shouldn't be done. There are no champions in the ring. Even if you have two supposed champions going into the ring to fight for a title, it's left outside the ring. When you see guys going into the ring, it's the guy with the red shorts and the guy in the green shorts -- period. And that's the way it should be. Generally, I like to say they are not really giving favoritism to the older fighter.
Q. Have you met Muhammad Ali?
A. Yes. He's a wonderful person. He's soft spoken. He's kind. He's everything that everyone says about him.
Q. That leads into the questions about his boxing-related health problems.
A. So you want to talk about boxing being a dangerous sport? Yes, it is. I would say it's actually getting better because of the more stringent medical testing that they have now. These guys are really put through rigorous physical exams and are worked up in every way possible. As far as in the ring, we have the referee to stop the fight if he feels one of the fighters is hurt, and I thoroughly agree that the ref should have that option. I take that very seriously; I'm a family person.
Yes, boxing is dangerous. A head injury is a head injury, and there is no way you're going to get around that. However, the percentages are extremely low when you compare them to other sports. And I know this because I also go to the physician seminars with my husband. When compared to several sports -- everything from horseback riding to football to race-car driving to bungee jumping -- boxing still has the lowest percentage of injuries and fatalities on that scale.
And it draws many young guys. There is a lot of money that can be made, but not everyone is going to make a lot of money. You get the lucky few who can get a big money fight and a name for themselves. The rest of them will be what you call the club fighters. While it's enough for them to make a living, you're not going to get wealthy.
Q. It seems that some fighters -- for example, Sugar Ray Leonard -- just do not know when to quit. Why?
A. You know, that's not a problem just among boxers, but maybe for athletes in general. You're feeding off of this; it's part of your life. It's hard to stop. Especially if you started to make money off of it. You know, the more money you make, the more you spend.