Late Breaking

How I overcame Low V

We must learn to see in boxing’s story the energy and cruelty our rapturous drive demands, like the drum and swish and smack and scuff and grunt of a boxing gym. The faintest frown of fortune sends some boys back to well-paid labor, but those of us enraptured by the dulcet art, we who are beastly creatures in whom all the horror of sex is blatant, must overcome what dilettantism is rife in boxing, because an ox without a rope can lick himself just fine.

What’s above is a paragraph I wrote in November. It was part of a column that elevated me from a workaday boxing writer to a champion sportswriter. Before I attended any awards dinners to see the work honored, though, I voluntarily submitted my work to a readability test because I want to see the craft of sportswriting cleaned up. Last week, my column came under scrutiny after a writing laboratory at UCLA found the following:

WRITER: BART BARRY
RESULTS: PLAGIARISM; CONSISTENT WITH THE USE OF OTHERS’ WORDS.

The lab results, which I do not dispute, found in that paragraph elements of Philip Roth, Hugh McIlvanney, A. J. Liebling, Somerset Maugham and Miguel de Cervantes, a compound known in writing laboratories as “RMLMC-Identical Letters.”

I want to state unequivocally that I did not plagiarize. I look forward to the day when my side of the story, and its requisite obfuscation, overwhelms what information currently circulates about me. To that end, I am assembling a team of lawyers and publicists to ensure the actions I took are forever misunderstood. In the interim, though, I’d like to provide a self-serving and confidentiality-protected version of events:

After failing to meet my potential in a number of important columns over the years, I noticed, last November, while readying for the most important column of my career, that I was unable to form sentences with the speed or élan employed by a great writer. This concerned me deeply because I am unable to make money doing anything but writing. I spoke to my editor, and he recommended a writing workshop in Las Vegas called Desert Mirage. I submitted numerous samples of my work, and Desert Mirage returned with a diagnosis of Low Vocabulary, commonly known as “Low V,” and prescribed the RMLMC-Identical Letters treatment mentioned above.

(I would encourage you to visit the Desert Mirage website and read about this for yourself, but the page that describes the revolutionary treatment is coincidentally now under construction.)

My workshop leader, a “conventionally trained” linguist “who also has extensive knowledge and experience with less traditional yet highly effective approaches,” assured me he had worked with a vast number of student essays and ghostwritten white papers in the past. After reading a blog about the treatment, I was satisfied that RMLMC-Identical Letters is completely different from the “representing of another author’s work as one’s own” that readability tests were created to detect. Just to be on the safe side, though, my workshop leader injected others’ words in my column at a ratio about six percent below the threshold used in Nevada plagiarism tests.

I wish to reiterate that no part of this treatment made me a better writer. Instead, this was a treatment necessary to my regular employment in any professional field, not just writing. In fact, when my workshop leader reviewed the samples I submitted to Desert Mirage, he was “literally shocked” – not figuratively, mind you; a charge of electricity shot through his body – that my vocabulary was so low. In routinely treating both illiterates and folks who’ve not read a full-length book in 50 years, he had never seen a vocabulary low as mine.

This was not a case of writer’s block brought on by deadlines, as happens naturally to both writers and non-writers alike. This was an incidence of Low V and part of a trend my workshop leader has seen accelerate in the last few years, one he successfully cures with his literary-based treatment. Again, these words were taken from actual literary works. They were not words created by lexicographers manipulating letters into artificial patterns. Using others’ naturally occurring words to help reestablish my vocabulary at normal levels didn’t make me Shakespeare by any means; it merely allowed me to use my innate ability to write a championship column.

I applaud readability tests and all they are doing. I am, of course, sorry they so misunderstood what I was doing. I’m confident that once my side of this story is parsed, processed and repackaged by my legal and publicity team, there will be reasonable doubt enough in your mind about my culpability in this matter that further analysis of my previous work will represent for you such a needless loss of time that you will forget this happened and consider paying to read me in the future.

(To underscore the seriousness of my commitment to using my own words, I admit my legal team helped with that last sentence.)

*

That is satire, yes, but barely more absurd than the explanations athletes’ spokespersons now regularly feed us. Lamont Peterson’s case, of which we began to learn Tuesday, is but another lamentable example. How cognizant Peterson was about the legality of what “Bio-Identical Hormone” treatment he underwent in November is debatable.

This is not: Testosterone is a hormone that causes the development of male sex characteristics such as facial hair and musculature and when taken in excess leads to increased aggressiveness.

A person who suffers from low testosterone may be capable of many things, but professional fighting is not one of them. If today Lamont Peterson – fully bearded and rather muscular – does not have even normal levels of naturally occurring testosterone, that is life speaking to him in one word: Retire.

A prizefighter without testosterone, after all, makes no more sense than a writer without a vocabulary.

Author’s note: Special thanks to Lem Satterfield’s extensive reporting on the matter, and a special recommendation of Gabriel Montoya’s exhaustive “Floyd Mayweather and the new wave of drug testing in boxing.”

Bart Barry can be reached at bart.barrys.email (at) gmail.com