Throughout my career as a journalist, I’ve made concerted efforts not to get especially close to those I cover. I chalk it up to old-fashioned conflict of interestâ€”the inability to cover someone you also have dinner with. In this decade, it seems that philosophy has been ushered out the window by many in the field. But I consider it extremely important.
Truth be told, I have only maintained four real friendships with athletes. One is Ed Hearn, the former Mets catcher. One is Sal Fasano, the major league journeyman who was just hired to manage Class-A Lansing next year. One is Brian Johnson, another journeyman catcher who now works as a scout with the Giants.
And the last is Dmitriy Salita, the Brooklyn-based boxer.
I first profiled Salita for Sports Illustrated six years ago, and found him to be cool, impressiveâ€”and fascinating. He was a Russian-born Orthodox Jew who attended synagogue daily and refused to fight on Friday nights or Saturdays. It was one of those interviews that morphed into genuine conversation. We proceeded to keep in touch over the years, and I wrote a few other pieces about his career. Like this. And this.
Anyhow, I watched with pride as Salita racked up wins, but also heard the he-never-fights-anyone-good skepticism. Salita told me repeatedly that he was desperate to prove himself; to fight a top guy.
Well, this past weekend he got his chance, facing Amir Khan in Newcastle for the World Boxing Association light-welterweight title.
It didn’t go well.
Salita lost. In 96 seconds. He was knocked down three times, and the ref finally (wisely) ended things. I watched the fight one time, and it was very painful. Dmitriy Salita is a wonderful guy, and I hurt for him. I hope he realizes that athletes come and go with the wind. Literally, not a day goes by that one doesn’t arrive and another fades. They rarely last in name or legacy.
But goodness and decency last.