To Serve and Protect

By Johnathan Lee Iverson on March 3, 2015
To Serve and Protect
Her skills as an official have been known to charm even the likes of HBO's Larry Merchant.

“Maybe it was meant for me to become a protector of people. That was my job as a police officer, and that’s my job in the ring…”

“Shocked!” is how Sparkle Lee describes her reaction upon receiving the prestigious Ring 8 Referee of the Year 2014 honor. Sparkle is a humble sort, but a mere glance at the trajectory of her career and one would clearly see Ms. Lee has no reason to be shocked. An anomaly she may be in her sport, but in no way is she an oddity. In fact she’s a woman of numerous firsts that include being the first woman to officiate at the New York Golden Gloves in 1998, being the first woman to be licensed by the New York State Athletic Commission in 2001, as well as, being the first woman licensed by the state of New Jersey in 2007.

Her skills as an official have been known to charm even the likes of Larry Merchant. During her 2007 HBO debut in which she officiated Abner Mares vs. Damian Marchiano, Merchant was mesmerized by her strength and ring generalship. “She’s very strong. She doesn’t overuse her authority,” Merchant noted jubilantly; or as Sparkle would put it, “I like to stay out of the mix — let them fight.” She’s clear about who she is in the ring and prepares as such. She’s a consummate student and unapologetic gym junkie.  “When you think you know, you don’t,” says the Harlem native. “You never know when you’re going to get that call, so you have to be ready.” Lee’s is the kind of success that is not only hard-won, but by virtue of the fact that she is one of few women in her profession, she, however unfair, is not afforded the luxury of being judged solely on her merit. “Unfortunately, if I make any mistake in the ring or if someone may not agree with my decision, I am not judged based on just being a referee, I am judged based on being a female first,” she says.

A member of the USA Boxing Federation since 1983, Lee initially entered the sport to become a fighter. However, the obligations of family life made such a commitment close to impossible. Instead she would serve two decades as a police officer for the New York Police Department. But as the great Smokey Robinson would croon, “you really got a hold on me.” The Sweet Science had long seduced Lee, who as a teen despite her girl scout demure was never one to shy away from a scrap, especially in defense of her twin sister. Despite juggling the demands of a career in law enforcement and family, she always found her way back to the game in one capacity or another. Be it as a judge for many an amateur bout or simply lacing up the gloves to maul a heavy bag or sparring partner during one of her intense workouts.

The hold the sport has over Lee is as fascinating as it is deeply personal. “Boxing gave me an escape from the sexual abuse I suffered as a child,” says Sparkle. According to Lee the alleged abuse came at the hands of her brother. Few acts are more heinous and life altering than the violation of one’s innocence at the hands of the very person or persons one assumes should protect them. “In the beginning, I just loved working out at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. But, it became a source of therapy for me. It didn’t just facilitate a place for me to exorcise those memories and fears, but, to actually accept, forgive, and move forward. For me that is priceless!” exclaims Lee.

An ordained Deacon, Lee’s faith has been at the forefront of her journey. It is also what compels her to be a voice for young people and women. She frequents schools and various platforms to divulge nuggets of wisdom to those who have to contend with bullying or low self esteem. “It’s sad that so many kids simply don’t have someone at home to be a role model or remind them, ‘it’s not where you’re from or what you’ve been through, but who God says you are that matters.’” Even with all she’s accomplished Lee questions, and rightfully so, the progress of the sport as it relates to women. “Claressa Shields is my hero! She was the only fighter, male or female to win a Gold medal at the 2012 Olympic games. Where are her sponsorships? We had a Golden Boy, why not a Golden Girl?”

There is a common belief or at least a meme that claims, “Hurt people, hurt people.” The life of referee Sparkle Lee shatters the claim. “I am human and I can say at times I find myself sitting alone and thinking about those days of abuse and it puts me in a place of sadness. But when I really learned about true forgiveness in my heart, that’s when my life started to change and it was not easy, it was a process that I had to go through to be free.” It is a liberty whose irony isn’t lost on her. “The last thing I wanted to be was a cop,” she laughs.  “Maybe it was meant for me to become a protector of people. That was my job as a police officer, and that’s my job in the ring, to serve and protect.”

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Smokey Robinson & The miracles live - You really got a hold on me

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  1. Johnathan Lee Iverson 09:48pm, 03/06/2015

    @Irish Frank…

    Thank you kindly. You are right about the writers on this site. I’m tremendously humbled to be counted as a peer.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:02pm, 03/04/2015

    Johnathan Lee Iverson-This article right here is as good as it gets on and that’s saying a lot because there are some dynamite writers here. I will never look at Sparkle the same way again and I always will be pulling for her can bet on that.

  3. Eric 08:55am, 03/04/2015

    peter…Van Halen came close.

  4. peter 08:47am, 03/04/2015

    Thank you for this excellent article—a small slice of NYC boxing…..Maybe The Kink’s “You Really Got Me” next time? Noone’s rendition of that 1960’s classic will ever be better.

  5. Eric 08:15am, 03/04/2015

    Smokey & the Miracles were good, but a couple or tree other remakes of their hits were actually better than the originals IMO. Linda Ronstadt, the queen of remakes, versions of “Tracks Of My Tears,” “Ooh Baby, Baby” were better than Smokey’s version. And the Rolling Stones remake of “Going To A Go-Go” was better.

  6. Eric 06:59am, 03/04/2015

    I like Eddie Money’s cover version better than the original,“You Really Got A Hold On Me.” I did like the Miracles, “Love Machine,” especially when Cheech was singing it in, “Up In Smoke.”

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