Brain-damaged boxer lives with
Toronto Globe and Mail
Gerald McClellan should not be forgotten. It is easy enough to let the name fade from memory, the incident merge with others, to wonder for a moment just what happened to that boxer who was hurt so badly in the ring, and then to drift off to other things.
Remember him now, not as Exhibit A in the case to ban boxing, or as so me kind of fallen warrior who knew the risks and went down fighting. Remember him as a 28-year-old man. Consider that he can talk again, that he is learning again to walk, but that he is blind. Consider that his brain is damaged in such a way that he doesn't understand that he's blind, that he's hurt, that he's not going to get better. "He doesn't know that he's blind," said his sister, Lisa McClellan. "He always thinks that he's in the dark. That it's night time. That the lights are turned out. He won't admit that he has trouble walking. He thinks he's going to
train. He wonders why he's not training. He thinks he's going to fight again."
McClellan fought for the last time on Feb. 25, 1995, when he traveled to London to face World Boxing Council super middleweight champion Nigel Benn. Both men were regarded as ferocious punchers and both, directly or indirectly, were under the promotional control of Don King. There was talk in the boxing world that King wanted to be done with Benn, who was difficult to deal with, and so made the match to get him defeated. There was also talk of a prefight contract dispute between King, McClellan and McClellan's "manager" John Horne the same King retainer who now "manages" Mike Tyson. It was that argument over money which has caused some members of McClellan's family to suggest that something fishy went on in London, that somehow the events were not entirely what they seemed.
Even if you don't buy into a conspiracy, the tragedy is plain. What took place in the ring an international television audience knows only too well. After nine savage rounds intense enough to make many believe this was the fight of the year, McClellan fell in the 10th, voluntarily dropping to a knee, appearing confused. The fight was stopped and McClellan collapsed. Because of a recent history of severe boxing injuries, Britain has instituted the best ringside medical care in the world. Had the bout happened anywhere else, McClellan, his brain deprived of oxygen, would have died that night. As it is he survived, with massive damage.
McClellan was flown back to the United States by King (though the family says that King tried to pay the $90,000 (U.S.) cost out of McClellan's $100,000 insurance policy) and left in the care of his father, Emmitt, who has acknowledged receiving money from King. But according to McClellan's three sisters, who along with an aunt were given legal guardianship last fall, King simply bought the father's silence and hasn't contributed a dime to McClellan's care, though the promoter has said again and again in public that he is "taking care of Gerald." "Don has no knowledge of anything going on with Gerald, nor has he tried to find out," Lisa McClellan said.
The family also confirms that out of what was supposed to be a $400,000 purse for the Benn fight, McClellan was actually paid only $250,000. Of that, all but $54,000 was scooped up by promoter John Davimos and trainer Emanuel Steward, money that McClellan owed to escape from a previous contract. With his insurance money exhausted, the family is dissolving McClellan's assets several cars and a couple of houses, the legacy of what the sport gave him before it took everything away to pay for his care. His three sisters, all nurses, each work one eight-hour shift a day, seven days a week, handling his care.
Of course there will be lawsuits against King and his British partner, Frank Warren; against the hospital in England where McClellan was treated; against the WBC. But none of those will change Gerald McClellan's life. Last month, the sisters took McClellan to the Mayo Clinic, to confirm for themselves that there was no way to reverse his blindness. Gerald wouldn't let the doctor examine him, since in his mind there is nothing wrong with him. They took him back to their motel room and tried to make him understand the terrible truth. "He went from being combative to almost crying," Lisa McClellan said. "Now we try not to let him get in a state where he's depressed, so we just don't deal with it....
"He laughs. He talks. He's happy. And then he has these days when he says he feels like something bad has happened to him and he wants to die. We have those days, but not often." Lisa McClellan was asked how she feels now about boxing. "That's a hard question to answer," she said. "When I found out that Gerald would never see again, I was very angry at
boxing and blamed boxing for Gerald's injury. But at other times ... at other times I feel different."
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