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Retirement Benefits for ex-Boxers (Part Two): The California Plan

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  • Retirement Benefits for ex-Boxers (Part Two): The California Plan

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    By Ted Sares

    Unlike athletes in sports such as baseball and football, professional boxers have no financial safety net for retirement. In fact, only one state, California, has seen fit to address this issue. In 1980, the state legislature approved a boxer pension fund. The architect of The California Plan was Robert Fellmeth, a distinguished law professor who then chaired the California State Athletic Commission.

    The primary mission of the CSAC is to protect the health and safety of amateur and professional boxers, kickboxers and mixed martial arts athletes. Originally an autonomous agency, it is now an agency within the state Department of Consumer Affairs. When this change was made following the recommendation of a Joint Committee on April 12, 2005, many thought it was unfortunate as much of the governance went into the hands of government workers rather than boxers, fans, and boxing activists. Apparently the Commission members were asleep at the switch although there were plenty of warnings.

    “It takes away our voice and our knowledge”—Alex Ramos, Founder of the Retired Boxers Foundation

    The Crux

    The Professional Boxers’ Pension Plan, which is set out in the California Business and Professions Code (“Code”) and in Title 4 of the California Code of Regulations section 400 through 416 (“Regulations”), was revised in 1996 to make only promoters responsible for contributing to the fund through an assessment on each ticket sold and to make job training early retirement benefits available to some boxers. To qualify, a boxer must be at least 50 years old, have fought at least 10 professional rounds a year in California rings for four years without more than a three-year break, and had a minimum of 75 scheduled professional rounds in California without a break of three years or more.

    There is much, much more but the foregoing pretty much summarizes the platform upon which the Plan is based.


    Unfortunately, a 2012 audit revealed that the Pension Fund and other funds at the disposal of the commission were mismanaged. The audit, requested by Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo, revealed that the agency was nearly bankrupt. Among the findings laid bare in a “scathing” 80-page report was that the commission failed to make any pension payments to eligible boxers or their beneficiaries for the fiscal years 2002-03 through 2008-09.

    "That's just wrong,…They are basically soaking up all the money that is to be used for the boxers. They have wasted that money. It's ridiculous." California State Assemblyman Brian Nestande

    This does not prove that the plan was flawed; merely that there were flaws in the implementation. Commissions in other states can build upon what California has started and learn from California’s mistakes.

    Let’s assume an ex-professional boxer receives a small amount of money each month from the Plan once he or she becomes eligible. It won’t be much and in some cases the boxer might take it in a lump sum. Let’s further assume that the fighter fought in a number of states other than California. If these states had a similar plan, the boxer’s monthly annuity—when combined-- just might amount to something.

    Nevada, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Florida quickly come to mind. If just one of these states used the platform and/or concept started by California and refined it to minimize flaws by safeguarding the funds and ensuring proper administration, it is more than conceivable that other states might follow suit. If New York followed suit, pressure surely would build on other states like Nevada and Texas or vice versa.

    Somehow, somewhere, there is a savior like Marvin Miller (of baseball fame) or maybe even Jacquie Richardson (the Executive Director of the Retired Boxing Foundation) who might step up to the task -- someone who can spark the creation of a sub-committee perhaps composed of an expert on pension matters, a benefits attorney, another expert on health matters as they apply to boxers, and a fourth member with expertise on the business of boxing. Bureaucracy, political hackdom, and egos need to be kept away as a process is developed—and that’s far easier said than done.

    In the meantime, we wait for that spark that will ignite other state commissions to take serious note and then the issue hopefully will find its own legs.

    Postscript: As fellow writers David Avila and Caryn Tate have pointed out, the California Boxers Pension Fund, currently totaling $5.3 million according to the CSAC web site, has remained largely untouched. There is money waiting for retired boxers who fought between 1981 and 1994 and who are at least 50 years old.

    Former fighters who have questions on eligibility should contact the Commission office in Sacramento at (916) 263-2195.

    Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and plans to compete in at least three events in 2019. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    email from boxer friend of mine:

    "Ted, I loved your boxing article supporting pensions for veteran boxers. You are like a voice in the wilderness.
    The story of pro fighter Osuna brought me to tears. I am so mad at the way old pro fighters are kicked to the curb, ignored, forgotten makes me want to fight. If I can do anything to help you go forward with this cause please let me know! Always in Your corner,"