Ernie Weiner is lacing up his boxing gloves and returning to the ring — but Mike Tyson needn't worry.
Weiner won't exactly be duking it out in satin boxers in some sweaty, smoke-filled arena. The executive director of the regional American Jewish Committee has been appointed to the State Athletic Commission, which regulates professional and amateur boxing, kick boxing and martial arts throughout California.
"We have as prime concerns the health and welfare of the athletes," says the 70-year-old Weiner, who boxed on the amateur level as a teen in Bayonne, N.J., and later during a mid-1940s stint in the Army.
Back then, it was the "pure challenge" of the sport that got Weiner's adrenaline going.
"It takes tremendous concentration and constant training and practice," he says. "You're challenged constantly to be as fast and as skillful as possible in avoiding the punches of your opponent."
Weiner must have been pretty adept, given that he avoided the in-the-ring nose jobs and dental disasters that so many pugilists endure. Even so, he jokes, "you take enough punches and you're no longer the pristine face of a Hollywood matinee idol."
Weiner, whose recent fights have mostly been waged against anti-Semitism and racism, will never go down in history as a Muhammed Ali. But the former welterweight does know a thing or two about the sweet science.
That's why Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him to the eight-member State Athletic Commission, which meets every six to seven weeks in various parts of the state. Installed into the volunteer position last month in Los Angeles, Weiner is proud to be the only Jewish member of an ethically diverse group that includes African Americans, Latinos, Korean Americans and one woman.
"There is a long and rather distinguished group of accomplished boxers who were Jewish," he says, citing such legendary landsmen as Benny Leonard, Barney Ross and Kingfish Levinsky. And "Jewish people have always been involved in it as promoters and managers and referees, as well as supporters of the boxing world."
That world has been sharply criticized for its seamier side — mob connections and fixed fights, for example. Weiner says the commission keeps an eye on those aspects of boxing, as well. "The commission has a responsibility to monitor the sport at all levels, which is what we do," he says.
Meanwhile, now that Tyson has finished serving time on a rape conviction, the sport of boxing could well see a boost in popularity. Fans, of course, hope Tyson's upcoming fights will be more pulse-pounding than his recent bout in Las Vegas against the painfully overmatched Peter McNeeley. The fight was stopped by McNeeley's manager after just 89 seconds. It was "to say the least a scandal," because it was a virtual non-fight, Weiner says. "Episodes like that tarnish the entire sport."