Notebook > Sports

Deadly ring

Sports | The death of a female boxer during a sanctioned event comes at a time when women's boxing has taken off in popularity

Issue: "Who will be the next pope?," April 16, 2005

Even those in the inherently dangerous and violent boxing world weren't ready for this. Becky Zerlentes had made it to the third round of an April 2 amateur women's bout. But when her opponent's right cross caught her cleanly above the left eye, Zerlentes slumped to the ground. Somehow the punch found its way through Zerlentes's head protection. And though paramedics were swiftly called into the ring, she never woke up.

Zerlentes's death, the first of a female boxer during a sanctioned event, certainly harms boxing's reputation and comes at a time when women's boxing has taken off in popularity. Muhammad Ali's daughter, Laila, has become one of the world's best-known boxers. The sport also has received a boost from the Hollywood film Million Dollar Baby.

And while boxing officials note that amateur boxing statistically is safer than horse racing, scuba diving, and college football, the accident doesn't help the sport's bloody reputation. In 2001, heavyweight Quinton Grier died in the ring after suffering a heart ailment. One year before, Juan Silva III died from injuries sustained in the ring. Boxing experts say there have been deaths in unsanctioned women's bouts. And with the growing popularity of women's boxing, there figure to be more.

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In the mega-wattage of an emerging steroid scandal, baseball's first official steroids perpetrator turned out to be nothing but a dim bulb. Hours before the Boston Red Sox faced off against the New York Yankees, the controversy had a new face: a banjo-hitting centerfielder from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The first steroids culprit, Alex Sanchez, never has had much power. In fact when the season started he had only four home runs in his first four seasons.

So far, Mr. Sanchez has denied steroid use, saying the positive test must have been caused by over-the-counter supplements. But union bosses, distancing themselves from the first caught juicer, said that baseball's urine test wouldn't catch such supplements, and Mr. Sanchez started serving his suspension on opening day.

Columnists treated the news as a joke: For all the talk of juiced home-run hitters, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Punch-and-Judy outfielder sure seemed like an ironic first culprit. "Way to clean up the game," Orlando Sentinel columnist Jerry Greene wrote. "Alex Sanchez is not a monster. He's not even a hitter. He's a punchline." Baseball fans now just have to figure out exactly who the joke is on.

Around the Horn

· 15-year-old Hawaiian golfer Michelle Wie knows where she wants to compete next: Pinehurst No. 2. "The golfing phenom said she would attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open-something no woman has ever done, let alone a teenage girl. To make the list for the U.S. Open, she'll have to finish first or second in a qualifying round in Hawaii in May. Next, she'll have to excel in an even larger 36-hole tournament. Michelle's father, B.J. Wie, dismissed critics who say his daughter should stick to playing girls her own age. Mr. Wie said she's not interested in stockpiling trophies, but rather competing against the world's best golfers.

· Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz's return to the starting rotation didn't exactly go as planned. After spending three full seasons as the Braves closer, Mr. Smoltz could only get five outs in his return as a starting pitcher. "It's the worst feeling in the world," said the 1996 Cy Young award winner. "Obviously I wouldn't have thought this was possible. It's numbing. You want a mulligan."

· Someone's upset with the proposed New York Jets stadium to be built in Manhattan. The operators of Madison Square Garden filed suit against New York City, the Jets, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, saying the Jets conducted a sham bid facilitated by the city. New York officials say that MSG executives just don't want a competing stadium nearby.

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