Welterweight Champ Crawford Calls For Professional Boxers Union

He sees a need for major-league-style group healthcare insurance and retirement plans. 

(Bloomberg) — Terence “Bud” Crawford, one of the the biggest names in boxing, wants to make life better for his fellow fighters.

Crawford, the first welterweight boxer to take the top prize in all four professional championships in his weight class, has set out to create a professional boxing union.

“There are a lot of great fights that have been happening but as a whole there is a lot of cleaning up to be done for boxing to be where it needs to be,” said Crawford in an interview. “We don’t have a union but there needs to be one.”

At a moment when organized labor movements are notching some big wins or waging pitched battles for better contracts  — from UPS drivers to Hollywood actors — Crawford envisions a union that would guarantee the same types of benefits that big league baseball, basketball and football players have in the US.

Fresh off a decisive victory in the biggest fight of his career against Errol Spence Jr., Crawford said in an interview in New York that boxers should be entitled to standard benefits such as 401k and pension plans as well as group health insurance.

“A lot of fighters go broke after they finish fighting and that shouldn’t happen,” Crawford said. “If a fighter gets seriously damaged or hurt, he or she should have something backing them so they don’t have to look for money to help pay for their medical bills.”

Negotiating collectively could help boxers reap the benefits that other professional sports players have long enjoyed, said Catherine Fisk, an employment and labor law professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law.

“They would get what every other unionized worker gets, which is employers contribute money to a pension plan, a retirement plan and then you are eligible for benefits,” Fisk said. “It is so much easier to run a health insurance program and a retirement program on a group basis rather than an individual basis.”

Crawford said he’s especially concerned about fighters who haven’t made it as far as he has in their careers. “It just takes unity,” he said. “If all of the top fighters with a name and a brand behind them came together, we could make change.”

Crawford has put together a list of other top-ranked fighters he believes could join with him to jump start the process, though he hasn’t yet reached out to them. “We have different races, different ages, different countries — it’s everyone from all walks of life coming together,” he said. “I think it can be done.”

The world champion boxer, whose weight class requires him to weigh in at exactly 147 pounds, said the overall lack of business transparency is another reason for creating a union. “The managers, the promoters, the advisors, they sometimes work together and it all works against the fighter,” he said.

The structure of boxing contracts vary depending upon the promotion and the stature of the fighter. Many world champion fighters earn a percentage of pay-per-view sales that can increase their compensation to seven or eight figures. 

Opportunities to earn additional cash can also come from investments, endorsement deals and brands the athletes create themselves. Crawford, for instance, has partnerships with sports equipment company Everlast, sports drink Prime Hydration, Billionaire Boys Club fashion brand and athletic apparel company BoxRaw. Additionally Crawford says his real estate portfolio includes more than 100 properties in Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado.  

For the rest of the professional boxing world, the financial reality is very different. Most fighters receive compensation based on an agreed upon price. After they’re paid, boxers then have to compensate their managers, trainers and reimburse a portion of their cut to pay for promotion. 

Prize fighters need “to look at football, basketball and baseball,” said Fisk. “These were really poorly paid jobs for most people who played until they unionized,” she said. In those sports, even entry-level players “have more control over how they monetize their athletic ability.”

Crawford wants to be at the forefront of that change for boxers. “It’s definitely going to cause conflict and people are not going to want to see it,” he said. “But it is going to be for the best.”

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