The 1970s were a time of great upheaval for women. There was Roe v. Wade and the Equal Rights Amendment. There were Gloria Steinem, Billie Jean King, Golda Meir, and Carol Polis. Who is Carol Polis?
In 1971, Carol Polis married a part-time professional boxing referee. Within two years, she went from being a squeamish spectator to a professional boxing judge—the first woman ever to do so. As luck would have it, not only was this period the golden age of women’s rights, it was also the golden age of boxing. Carol Polis had a ringside seat for all of it. Sometimes she was the main event.
From cutting her teeth on three-round undercard fights at the gritty Blue Horizon in Philadelphia to finding herself at the center of a riot at Madison Square Garden; from being schooled in Joe Frazier’s sweat drenched gym on North Broad Street to officiating in a Don King tournament and being investigated by the FBI; from following the careers of local fighters like Boogaloo Watts and Willie the Worm Monroe to becoming a personal guest of Muhammad Ali; from speaking at the nearby Rotary Club to appearing as a contestant on What’s My Line and To Tell the Truth, five-foot-one, 115-pound Carol Polis, for better or for worse, was treated as an ambassador for all women, a novelty, and even a misfit.
Polis was bound by none of these labels. First and foremost, Carol Polis was a mom. When her marriage breaks up in 1977, Polis’s life becomes more a matter of survival than knockouts. It is while keeping a roof over her kids’ heads and later raising her grandson that Polis earns her heavyweight belt. The ultimate challenge, it turns out, comes not from attaining stature as a world class sports figure but from becoming a world class juggler.
Carol Polis outdistances the ‘70s. Then the ‘80s and ‘90s, eventually officiating at a staggering twenty-seven title fights in nine countries. Like the era she leaves behind, she leaves the uncomfortable title of women’s libber in the dust. Polis is, rather, an accidental pioneer—someone who attains greatness not by seeking celebrity or confrontation but rather by being herself. The Lady Is a Champ is a sports story that will inspire women and a woman’s story that will floor boxing fans.
I purchased Carol’s book at one of her book signings and highly recommend it.