'I look for the light': Jack Reiss interview

Luke G. Williams
31/03/2020 3:55pm

Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

As the Coronavirus crisis rages, Luke G. Williams finds the positive mindset of leading referee Jack Reiss an example to us all...

These are surreal, disorientating and disquieting times.

'Self isolation' and 'social distancing' are terms which a few weeks ago very few of us had heard of - now they are linguistic mainstays, phrases we will never forget, and which will for evermore remind us all of the year that the earth stood unnervingly still.

The effect that these concepts have had on all of our daily lives is difficult to quantify with any degree of accuracy.

But they certainly seem to have amplified certain emotions, leaving us - the human detritus of the Coronavirus crisis - feeling insecure and as if we are inhabiting some form of collective dystopian njghtmare.

At times like this, the value of friendly words, sentiments and conversations also become amplified, as well as immeasurably important for the survival of the human spirit.

When I spoke to referee Jack Reiss on the phone a few days ago it was at a time of great personal and professional stress, and no little anxiety.

After half an hour in Jack's kind and considerate company on the telephone, my spirits felt renewed.

It was a conversation I will never forget

"You guys staying safe out there?" arguably the greatest fight referee in the world begins, before answering my slightly world weary reply with a heartfelt: "God bless you and protect yourself at all times!"

Reiss' career and reputation require little restating - my previous interview with him from the June 2019 edition of BM covers all the biographical bases - but what makes him one of the special ones is his formidably positive mindset. A mindset that I begin to comprehend and appreciate ever more clearly as he ponders how the Coronavirus crisis has affected him, his family and his sport.

"My mindset comes from my experiences," he explains. "I was a fireman for 31 years here. So I’ve been through quite a few things. And the thing about it is - they always come to an end. The sun always shines the next morning and things get back to normal. Hopefully before too long. I look for the light and try to stay positive.

"And you know what, whenever anything bad happens there’s always something good that comes out of it. The good thing about all this is I’ve been spending a lot of time at home with my wife. We’ve been cooking together, walking together, exercising and stuff like that. Something good always comes out of something bad.

"I have to look after myself as well as my wife and also make sure my kids are ok remotely - one is in Hawaii and one's about 50 miles from us. We’re constantly FaceTiming them. They’re young so trying to tell them anything is tough because they know it all! But we’re trying to tell them to keep safe."

Boxing may have shut down right now, but Reiss stresses he is determined to keep busy.

"Lately I’ve kinda backed off from my [real estate] business. I’ve chosen to go a more full time path with boxing. I’m preparing for a class right now. So I’m busy. The money’s not coming in but I’m happy.

"The last fight I referred was in Tennessee a month or a month and a half ago. I've lost six refereeing assignments and one teaching assignment already and May is still iffy right now, because we don’t know what is going to happen.

"I’m very fortunate to live in California, because we are the busiest state in the United States in terms of professional boxing shows. We have over 100 shows a year. So we have a lot of guys and gals that are missing boxing right now and are itching to get some boxing going.

"Our executive officer started something this week where he is using a programme called Zoom to create conference calls. So we kept busy with a conference call training session. A few of us picked videos and discussed them. Some of them we scored some of them we had to interpret what happened, what should or could have been done and what could have been better. We're preparing for another one of these next week.

"I’m also getting together with [fellow referee] Pat Russell and we’re putting together a training class that could benefit people in the amateurs that want to be a pro, someone in the pros that wants to increase their level of expertise and pump it up a level, or even for people in the media who want to understand more about referees and their decision making process.

"So I’m very busy doing that looking at videos and so on. It’s great. It’s going to be a hands on class here in California. We are currently preparing the website and more information will come out soon. Hopefully we can take this show on the road if there’s a demand for it."

As well as keeping busy, Reiss is also keeping in his prayers those who are on the frontline of the battle against the Coronavirus.

"After 9/11 I was asked to go to Ground Zero," he recalls. "I spent 15 days there and I can’t tell you many guys I know and don’t know have had related injuries from being rescuers from the air we were breathing.

"So on a personal level I worry about the rescuers right now - the doctors, the police, the military, the nurses who are doing unbelievable jobs. But also the grocery store workers, the mail men who are still going out and working. People who in their day help but also come into contact with surfaces that might have the virus or people. So I’m saying God bless them. God bless all those people - I hope they’re going to be safe."

When I tell Reiss about the pre-planned applause for NHS workers in the UK which took place last Thursday at 8pm he is genuinely touched.

"Wow, you got me choked up," he says. "That’s amazing. My wife is in the medical industry and has been for many years. She was going on a few rotas a month but now isn’t allowed to because of her age. But we are still very connected to a lot of people in the healthcare, fire and police communities and we are just praying that everyone stays safe."

As Jack and I end our conversation I share with him a personal worry. It's not something I would usually do in an interview but these are unusual times.

His reply radiates the warmth, compassion and comradeship our world needs right now.

"It's funny, man. My mother, God rest her, she would have been 100 last week. And I still remember when I was a kid growing up and I had some problems which at the time seemed like they were the end of the world. She would always put her hand on my shoulder and say: 'son, things have a way of working out if you give them time'.

"It kind of carried me through, you know what I mean, Luke?

"I'll pray for you and it'll be ok."