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World Champion Boxer Loses Pension Records in California

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Paul Banke, a former super-bantamweight world champion boxer, found himself in desperate need of the pension he believed California owed him. Battling cancer and forced to sell his car during the pandemic, Banke had repeatedly sought his pension from California’s retirement system for boxers. However, the California State Athletic Commission had denied his eligibility for years.

After numerous inquiries from The Times, it was revealed that the commission had lost Banke’s pension records. As a result, they voted to pay him a lump sum of $21,000, approximating the average payouts over the past three years. Andy Foster, the commission’s executive officer, acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding the amount but deemed it the fairest solution given the circumstances.

While the commission deemed Banke’s case as likely an isolated incident, they could not rule out the possibility of other boxers being affected. The revelation came following The Times’ continuous inquiries into Banke’s denied pension and a previous investigation that exposed shortcomings in the pension program.

The mishandling of Banke’s pension records was traced back to the overhaul of the California Professional Boxers’ Pension Plan in the 1990s, where records like his were not properly transferred. Banke, known for his victory over Daniel Zaragoza in 1990 to clinch a World Boxing Council title, currently resides in Pasadena surviving on Social Security disability insurance. The pension payout will enable him to purchase a much-needed vehicle.

The California retirement system for boxers, funded via an 88-cent-per-ticket fee, was established in 1982 to offer financial security to retired fighters. Over $4.5 million has been disbursed to 265 retired boxers, with an average pension of $17,000. Despite the payout efforts, only a fraction of eligible boxers have claimed their pensions, as revealed by The Times’ analysis of commission documents.

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Following The Times’ investigation, the commission pledged to intensify efforts in locating and informing retired boxers about their pensions. This led to a record number of payouts last year, although the overall uptake remained low among eligible recipients. Banke’s persistence in seeking clarity from the commission, guided by friends and prompted by The Times’ coverage, underscored the systemic issues plaguing the pension program.

Hector Lizarraga, a fellow champion boxer, emphasized Banke’s status as a former world champion and deemed the situation unacceptable. Foster, while acknowledging the possibility of other affected boxers, expressed doubts about similar cases. Despite the commission’s efforts to rectify the situation, concerns linger about the effectiveness of the pension program in fulfilling its mandate.

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Chats and reflections on the present moment.

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Lydia Polgreen

Credit…Will Heath/NBC, via Getty Images

It is a rare thing in our rapidly secularizing country to be confronted with piety and devotion in popular culture. So it was a surprise, and a balm, to watch a man who prays daily and talks openly about his devout faith storm a bastion of earthly godlessness: “Saturday Night Live.”

I am referring, of course, to the comedian Ramy Youssef, who hosted the show on what he described in his opening monologue as “an incredibly spiritual weekend,” noting Ramadan, Easter and the arrival of a new Beyoncé album.

“I’m doing the Ramadan one,” he quipped, to peals of laughter, unspooling a very funny bit about how loving Muslims are. Youssef has mined his experience as a believer among the profane in gentle standup specials and a namesake sitcom. His entire monologue glowed with a welcoming warmth — Muslims, he seemed to say: We’re just like you.

In a country that is supposedly obsessed with diversity and inclusion, it is remarkable how rare it is to hear from a practicing Muslim in America.

Surveys by the Institute for Policy and Understanding, a nonpartisan research organization focused on Muslim Americans, have consistently found that Muslims are the most likely group to report religious discrimination in the United States. According to a Pew survey conducted in 2021, 78 percent of Americans said that there was either a lot or some discrimination against Muslims in our society. Muslims are no more likely to commit crimes than members of any other group, but crimes in which Muslims are suspects get outsized media coverage, research has shown.

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It is no surprise, then, that Islamophobia is perhaps the most tolerated form of religious prejudice. Right now, Senate Republicans appear to have persuaded several Senate Democrats to vote against a Muslim judicial nominee after smearing him, with no evidence at all, as an antisemite.

Many of the skits that toyed with religion on “S.N.L.” on Saturday were funny — Ozempic for Ramadan! Genius. But part of me winced through them as well, because I saw in Youssef something that other members of minority groups have had to do to “earn” their place in the safety of the mainstream: the performance of normalcy, of being nonthreatening and sweet, the requirement to prove that your community belongs in America just like everyone else’s.

I loved Youssef’s monologue, in which he bravely pleaded, “Please, free the people of Palestine. And please, free the hostages. All of the hostages.”

“I am out of ideas,” Youssef declared toward the end of his monologue. “All I have is prayers.”

To which this nonbeliever can only say: Same, Ramy. Same.

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