Commentary: Leave Don King’s Past in the Past

NEUBRANDENBURG, GERMANY - DECEMBER 14:  Manager Don King of United States looks on during the WBA light heavyweight title fight between Juergen Braehmer of Germany and Marcus Oliveira of United States at Jahnsportforum on December 14, 2013 in Neubrandenburg, Germany.  (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Commentary: Leave Don King’s Past in the Past

America’s media continue to obsess over boxing icon’s criminality and not on his promotional genius.

Published January 14, 2015

This was the headline on a recent email newsletter I received from Boxing News Today: “Convicted Murderer Don King to Co-Promote WBC Heavyweight Title Fight.”

Maybe the good news for sports fans is that King is back in the fight biz. His boxer Bermane Stiverne – who ever heard of him? – will get into the ring Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas against Deontay Wilder, an unbeaten fighter that Oscar de la Hoya is promoting.

Not that either of these unknown KO artists amount to a major story; Don King does, however. His return to promoting fights feels as if boxing is about to matter anew. Yet instead of trumpeting King’s return, the headline is talking about what King had done during his younger years.

Yes, Don King killed a man. He served time in prison for it, too.

But when can a man put his past behind him? Why does the media continue to dredge up the past when a man’s done so much since then?

The fast-talking King, a onetime numbers racketeer, has done plenty. Almost singlehandedly, he made boxing matter for four decades. He promoted Sugar Ray Leonard, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali and others.

Big-dollar fight after big-dollar fight has had King’s name attached to it.

No one, of course, can dare proclaim King a saint. To even suggest it would be to live in a world of make-believe and daydreams. For as much good as King did to bring marquee fights to fans, he undid with what some people claimed was his almost criminal obsession with squeezing as many dollars from a fighter’s purse as he could.

His carefree accounting of someone else’s money led to lawsuits and allegations that were impossible for King to hide from. Mike Tyson, himself a promoter these days, sued King for millions.  

What Tyson and other boxers who dealt with King never did was paint him as a ruthless killer. They had their issues with him, but those issues were not about King’s criminal past. They were about his loose accounting practices.

The latter criticism of King, a man who draped himself in red, white and blue, can be called fair. What is unfair is to keep looking at his past as if it tells the best story of his life.

Yet the media persists. They have been unable to uncouple what King once was with what he became, which was the Black man who did bring a bit of order into the “hurt business.”

King put his stamp everywhere on a sport that, although practiced in the ring by Black men, was governed and controlled outside it by white men – the same men who control the media.

A man’s life can’t always be told in snapshots, not when trying to put all of it into context. To focus on King the killer, which he was pardoned for in 1983, is to miss King the moneymaker, who earned Black fighters hefty paydays they never would have gotten under white promoters.

A man with big hair and a bigger personality, Don King, 83, might do that for another crop of fighters. They need him; boxing fans need him; the sport needs him. They don’t need King the killer; they need the Black promoter who brought some institutional order to the game.

That ought to be his legacy. What Don King did on the streets of Cleveland in 1966 shouldn’t define him forever. He’s paid his debt there, which should earn him some understanding and not the constant condemnation some media give him.

Media seem unwilling to forgive Black men of crimes, to which King might say, “Only in America.”

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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 (Photo: Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Written by Justice B. Hill


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