Dan Rafael Walks the Plank

By Robert Ecksel on April 15, 2020

Dan Rafael and Steve Farhood rose from their seats to huddle with Tom Hauser. (Twitter)

For Dan Rafael, the much read and little respected senior boxing writer for ESPN, whose contract has not been renewed after 15 years at the cable network’s website, the end came suddenly, if not unexpectedly. Speculation that Bob Arum, ESPN’s promoter of choice, was behind Rafael’s ouster is not unreasonable given their personalities. And while he played nice for several years, in addition to playing inoffensive during that time, Rafael was neither nice nor inoffensive enough to satisfy the suits who decided they’d had enough.

 

My first face-to-face with Rafael occurred when I was a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). I was just getting started and didn’t know the ropes. I was under the impression that the organization stood for something. Although I was soon disabused of that notion, I got to see close up and personal how ambition, toadyism, and lack of principle could be the foundation of a beautiful career.

 

At that meeting, an issue some importance was discussed. The BWAA president who preceded Bernard Fernandez, Chris Thorne, had allegedly stolen money from the BWAA treasury to pay for his wife’s cancer treatments. He had already been unceremoniously booted from his position, but two questions remained. The first was whether or not to erase any mention of his every having been part of the organization. The second was whether or not to turn him over to the authorities. Although a dozen BWAA members were involved in the discussion, the decision-making took place off to the side, where Tom Hauser sat apart from the great unwashed.

 

Dan Rafael and Steve Farhood rose from their seats to huddle with Hauser. While other BWAA members, no doubt used to that sort of thing, began fussing with their phones, I watched the trio whispering conspiratorially amongst themselves. It was as if a king and his courtiers were considering grave matters of state, rather than determining which of them was more punitive. When Rafael and Farhood returned, the propositions were put to a vote. The majority agreed that the former BWAA president would be disappeared; for all intents and purposes, it was as if he had never existed. But filing criminal charges, which was what Hauser was pushing for, was defeated by a show of hands.

 

Rafael has been the generic voice of boxing since 2005. He won the Nat Fleischer Award in 2013, but was a polarizing figure with an ego as big as his appetite, neither of which, by all appearances, was ever sated. Despite having a rolodex crammed with anybody who was anybody in the industry at his disposal, Rafael failed to break a single significant story. He could roll out the verbiage, however indifferently, at record speed, a prerequisite of the job, but never asked hard questions or had a discernible point of view or memorable insight to counter his pet peeves. Nor could he write an eloquent phrase to save his life.

 

Nevertheless, ESPN released the following statement on his departure:

 

“Dan Rafael has been an important part of our boxing coverage for almost two decades and we thank him for the many contributions he made to the coverage of the sport during that time. We wish him success in his next chapter.”

 

And a yada yada back at you.

 

It’s not over for Dan Rafael. He had a good run. His airtime at ESPN has been steadily decreasing, as his bad conduct and bad writing put his bosses’ noses out of joint, but he will resurface, with presumably more fanfare than his dismissal generated. He will continue to ply his wares on a less distinguished platform. He will earn and presumably write less to even less effect.

 

A changing of the guard is always welcome. But even more welcome would be a meaningful changing of the guard, not a Dan Rafael 2.0, someone who embraced being both top dog and lapdog with such relish.