To this day, when an athlete (of any race, in any sport) behaves badly, my father says “It’s a shame they can’t all be like Joe Louis.”
Many professional athletes were known, through their careers and after, for their high standards of graciousness and sportsmanship—their “class,” if you like: Bart Starr and Willie Davis in football; Sandy Koufax in baseball; Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles in tennis; Bill Russell in basketball; Bob Jones in golf. But Joe Louis, Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World (1937-1949), was uniquely famous for his dignity, humility, patriotism, and integrity.
Louis had faults. He was an unfaithful husband, inattentive father, reckless gambler. He spent the latter half of his life hopelessly in debt, because he couldn’t be bothered to look after his money. In middle age, he developed paranoid schizophrenia, and turned to cocaine and alcohol to ease his anxiety.
On the other hand, he was known for his low-key, gentlemanly behavior, in and out of the ring. The media called him “a credit to his race.” Sportswriter Jimmy Cannon retorted, “He’s a credit to his race—the human race.”
Quietly, Louis crusaded against Jim Crow. He didn’t demonstrate—that wasn’t his way—but he donated the entire purse from his January 9, 1942 title defense against Jacob “Buddy” Baer to the Navy Relief Fund: this, at a time when the Navy only allowed black people to enlist as Steward’s Mates. This gesture went a long way toward shaming the Navy into integration. Louis was frequently a guest of wealthy white friends at “restricted” restaurants and nightclubs. Gradually, he was able to gain entry to these places on his own—and bring his black friends—thus ending the restrictions, one property at a time.
Much of his work for racial equality was under-reported—even criticized by the black press—because Louis was a Republican, and publicly condemned President Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”
Probably nothing illustrates why Joe Louis was so admired better than the statement he made when he joined the U.S. Army—suspending his boxing career, at the peak of his earning power, to be a $21-a-month private soldier: “We’re going to do our part, and we’ll win, because we’re on God’s side.”
A friend told him, “You said it wrong, dummy! You were supposed to say, ‘God’s on our side!’”
Louis replied, “I said it right. Just wait and see.”
“We’re on God’s side” became America’s unofficial slogan for the rest of World War II. Louis never talked much—but he was no dummy.
Louis died penniless, due to a mountainous tax debt. Many people urged the IRS to forgive that debt, due to Louis’ immeasurable services to his country—but Louis never made that request, never complained, never denied responsibility.
Louis is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, in a hero’s grave.
Early in the 2016 season, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting (later kneeling) for the pre-game playing of the National Anthem because, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.”
This, at a time when Jim Crow is more than 50 years dead. This, at a time when affirmative action guarantees that black students will have a better shot at admission to prestigious schools than white students. This, at a time when racial polarization might in some ways be worse than ever—thanks, quite clearly, to professional grievance-grifters such as Kaepernick, whom Nike recently signed to a multi-year, multimillion-dollar endorsement contract, as a reward for “sacrificing everything.”
Kaepernick has the right to protest. Nike has the right to pay him. Anyone has the right to admire him. I have the right to despise him.
Joe Louis was a great American. Joe Louis helped unify our country during the 20th century’s greatest crisis. Joe Louis truly sacrificed.
Joe Louis was a Man.
What a sorry contrast.
Joseph Dobrian is a novelist and member of the Press-Citizen Writers Group.
By Michael Beschloss
Here Joe Louis poses at age 62, in 1977, in the casino of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Although one of the greatest prizefighters in American history, Louis was, by that time, almost as well known for his struggles with the Internal Revenue Service and for the damage he sustained in the ring, before the long-term dangers of brain injury in boxing and other sports were better understood.
The old “Brown Bomber” was merely a vestige of the 24-year-old world heavyweight champion who, at Yankee Stadium in June 1938, had knocked out his German opponent, Max Schmeling, within two minutes and four seconds.
Louis, who had held his title for a year heading into the bout, had told reporters he would not actually feel like a world champion until he disposed of Schmeling, who had knocked him out in the 12th round in 1936.
With more than 70,000 spectators, including Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and J. Edgar Hoover, watching from the stands, and an estimated 70 million people following by radio — which some called the largest listening audience of the time — it was a signal night for geopolitics.
Although Schmeling had not joined the Nazi party, Hitler had promoted him as an avatar of Aryan greatness. At the White House, Franklin D. Roosevelt had grasped Louis’s biceps and emboldened him in his duty.
“Yeah, I’m scared,” Louis told a friend. “I’m scared I might kill Schmeling.”
In January 1942, after World War II began, he gave the United States Navy Relief Society a check for $89,092, which was said to represent the profits, including his own, from his bout that month with Buddy Baer. Enlisting in the segregated United States Army as a private, he made morale-building visits to American bases but would brook no discrimination. During an appearance in his birth state of Alabama, the military police accosted him after he refused to sit in a “colored” waiting area.
Although he earned a fortune during his almost 12-year reign as world champion, Louis fell into a deepening chasm of personal debts and I.R.S. demands for back taxes (which included disallowance of deductions he had taken for buying G.I.s tickets to his exhibitions), as well as penalties and compound interest. “I made five million,” he later said, “and wound up broke, owing the government a million.”
The aging Louis declared his retirement in 1949, then concluded that he could not afford to stop boxing. But he failed in comeback attempts against Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano.
“Joe’s not broke,” his wife Martha had insisted during her husband’s financial traumas. “He’s rich — rich with friends. If he said he needed a dollar, a million people would send him a dollar and he’d be a millionaire.” https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/18/upshot/knocked-down-by-life-joe-...
In 1951, Dr. J. M. Houston, the Illinois State Athletic Commission’s medical adviser, who had examined Louis twice during the previous 18 months, told The Associated Press that Louis’s reaction time, reflexes and coordination had deteriorated.
“No one knows at just what point one slips over the line into a mentally impaired condition,” Houston warned, adding that Louis has “now absorbed enough blows on the head so that he could be considered on the threshold of danger.” But, looking to pay his bills, Louis took up wrestling.
The connection between the decades of being pummeled and Louis’s later physical and mental challenges will never be able to be precisely established. But in 1970, reportedly suffering from pneumonia, cocaine dependency and emotional problems, including delusions and paranoia, Louis was removed by a Denver sheriff for five months — at the behest of his third wife Martha and son Joe Jr. — to the local veterans hospital and a Colorado psychiatric hospital.
JOSEPH DOBRAIN'S "THEY"
“They,” I assume refers to African-American athletes. Dobrian is upset because Colin Kaepernick is not patriotic in the mode of Joe Louis, whose abject-poverty caused Max Schmelling (Hitler's champion) to pay for Louis' funeral. However, Emancipated African-American slaves invented the American patriotism Dobrian bemoans.
But I’m sure he will settle for a Kanye West tribute to President Trump.
MY KIND OF “THEY”
Muhammad Ali  born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.; January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016) was an American professional boxer, activist, and philanthropist. He is widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century. From early in his career, Ali was known as an inspiring, controversial, and polarizing figure both inside and outside of the ring.
He was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and began training as an amateur boxer when he was 12 years old. At age 18, he won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, then turned professional later that year, before converting to Islam after 1961. At age 22, in 1964, he won the world heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston in a major upset. He then changed his name from Cassius Clay, which he called his "slave name", to Muhammad Ali. He set an example of racial pride for African Americans and resistance to white domination during the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1966, two years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali further antagonized the white establishment by refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs, and opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. He was eventually arrested, found guilty of draft evasion charges, and stripped of his boxing titles. He successfully appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971, by which time he had not fought for nearly four years and thereby lost a period of peak performance as an athlete. Ali's actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation.
DO "I HAVE A RIGHT" TO DESPISE WHITE AMERICAN BIGOTS?