The Crusade Against Toughman

Eric Crow couldn’t move. He couldn’t speak and couldn’t rise up from his bed. His wife, Paula, had never seen him like this. A former high school wrestling champion, Crow lifted weights and kept himself in excellent shape. But now, hours after being beaten in a Toughman Contest in Kansas City, KS, the 23-year-old pipe fitter was helpless, incoherent.

When the fight ended, he’d seemed okay. But then Crow went to the men’s room and didn’t come back. His father found him standing in the hall, looking dazed. Thinking all his son needed was rest, the elder Crow sent his son home.

“Eric!” Paula screamed. He just moaned. On the way to Bethany Medical Center, Crow slipped into a coma that surgeons later said was caused by repeated blows to the head. His condition never improved, and four days later, on December 13, 1995, he died.

Friends and family remember Crow as a warm, funny, hardworking young man devoted to Paula, his high school sweetheart, and their 17-month-old daughter, Jordan. At the time of his death, he was going to night school and was only months away from a degree in mechanical engineering. He told friends he was entering the Toughman Contest for the same reason most men do–to earn some quick cash. Family members tried to talk him out of it. But Crow was convinced he could win and dreamed of using the one-thousand-dollar prize to make the family’s basement apartment more homey. He never got the chance.

Now his mother, Marilyn Jarczyk, is in a fight of her own, trying to KO the event that took her son’s life. “My entire motivation is Eric and his wasted life,” she says. “It’s over at the age of twenty-three, for no reason at all. So many others have died or been injured in these fights, but no one ever stood up and said anything. If they had, maybe Eric would be here today.”

The Toughman Contest, Jarczyk says, is the most dangerous boxing event in the world, featuring fighters of very different skill levels–including many, like Crow, who have never boxed at all. Crow’s opponent, on the other hand, was a veteran looking to turn pro. Also, though Toughman rules require a medical doctor to be present at ringside, for Crow’s match, only a chiropractor was on hand.

That Eric Crow had nearly been killed once before made his death even more horrific. At age 6, he was mauled by dogs and had to undergo 23 operations. Although the incident left him partly disfigured, he never gave up, according to his mother.

Jarczyk, too, is a survivor, having endured both uterine and breast cancer and a near-fatal car crash. After her son’s death, though, she sank into a deep depression. For more than a month, she spent most of her days staring out the window. Then, in the spring of 1996, she received a call from the Brain Injury Association of Missouri, asking if she would help fight for a bill to outlaw Toughman and similar events in the state.

“Would I?” she remembers saying. “You bet.” Jarczyk made several trips to Jefferson City, MO, to address legislators. Once she even buttonholed Governor Mel Carnahan after pushing her way through a crowd to introduce herself. “This so-called contest is unfair, deceitful, and deadly,” she told members of one Missouri House committee. Her impassioned stories about her son’s death helped get the bill passed.

Today, Jarczyk is a national crusader, appearing on TV, making speeches, and testifying before other state legislative committees. Her efforts have spurred a new law banning these events in New York, and similar bills have been introduced in other states.

Jarczyk says she can document 14 deaths and many disabling brain in juries that have resulted from these contest. But Art dove who promotes Toughman throughout the United States, has insisted that no one has died in a Toughman fight, noting that all participants sign releases saying they accept the risks of injury and death. And he maintains that what happened to Eric Crow is unclear.

Dore’s statements enrage Jarczyk. “You’re not supposed to enter a contest and come lout dead!” she says. “They know it’s wrong. And if it’s with the last breath I take, I’m going to wipe it out.

“I don’t want praise,” she adds. “I don’t want pity. I’d rather have people look at me and say, `Lord help her. I hope she makes a difference.”‘

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