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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, March 13, 1959

March 13, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Troubled Boxer Finds Glory Faded

Paul_coatesA year and a half ago I received a letter from a badly confused kid.

He was 22. But his life was behind him.

Mentally -- well, he never graduated from grammar school.

Physically, he was maimed, chewed up and probably incapable of a full day's work.

In his letter he admitted he was a washout. A bum. Broke. Just about friendless. And it hurt a little extra, he said, because he knew what it was like to live big.

He'd had half a dozen years of it. Big paychecks. Big friends. Big following. Big write-ups in the newspapers.

In his set, the little guy had been a big man.

There was a lot of bitterness in the kid's letter. It was scatter-gunned bitterness, aimed at everybody and nobody at the same time.

1959_0313_abby At everybody but himself, that is. He couldn't quite figure out how he could have been, in part, to blame.

The kid's name, if you haven't already guessed, is Bobby Woods. As a boxer, he was once the 10th-ranked lightweight of the world. He fought against the best -- Jimmy Carter, Sandy Saddler, Joey Lopes, Willie Pep, Cisco Andrade.

Sports writers kept the public informed on him in those days.

But yesterday, this town's police reporters took over the job. Bobby made Page 1 the hard way.

Jobless and broke, he was picked up and booked on suspicion of robbery after bungling an attempt to hold up a 60-year-old woman clerk in a liquor store.

I remember a year and a half ago, that I answered Bobby's letter. I suggested that he drop by some time.

I remember that he did. We sat, and we talked for quite a while.

He told me about how he grew up in boxing, in CYO gyms. One of his buddies was a kid named Kenny Teran.

I asked him what was the difference between him and Kenny. How he'd managed to stay straight.

Bobby couldn't put his finger on the answer.

"There was some bad in my crowd. Plenty of temptation," he said. "Maybe I was just too busy."

Bobby told be about his last fight, in July of '56, and about his eyes -- how a detached retina in the right one and a cataract on the left on had forced him out of the ring.

Boxing Damages Sight

He said he'd fought with his bad eyes for quite a while, that most states didn't bother to examine them before a match. As a result, when I talked with him, he was almost blind.

He also admitted that when he was through and broke, nobody in boxing offered him so much as a cup of coffee. But he wouldn't blame them completely. The memories were still too near and too sweet. There was a lot of glory.

I told Bobby that I'd like to interview him on my television show, to let him tell his story.

"Do you think I might get a job offer out of it?" he asked. "I need work. I'm not doing anything."

I said maybe. People do call up after shows sometimes.

Bobby went on the program, and told his story. And there were some calls, about three or for of them job offers.

I passed them along to Bobby to check out. I remember there was one which interested him especially. An automobile dealer was willing to take the young, washed-up ex-fighter and teach him the ropes of selling cars.

"I can make a topflight salesman out of that kid," the dealer told me.

I haven't seen Bobby since the day I told him about the offer. But I'm sorry -- damned sorry -- it didn't work out.