Boxing


Remembering Our Heroes

By Paul Strauss: The most recent of the celebrity losses suffered by fans is the death of Arturo Gatti. The facts are still out concerning the cause of death, which Brazilian Police speculate could be murder, an accident or suicide! They have clearly demonstrated why it is necessary for police departments to offer "no comment" while a death is under investigation. But, that is another story. Another hugely publicized death is that of Michael Jackson. Before him, it was the strange demise of David Carradine. We are also forced to re-experience the deaths of some of those idolized individuals that occurred many years ago. They are kept current with conspiracy theories and fanaticism, such as with JFK, Marilyn Monroe, MLK, Elvis and James Dean..

The deceased are often times elevated to unbelievable god/goddess- like status, and of course these individuals are no longer around to enjoy or refute the adulation.

One exception was Mickey Mantle. He lived long enough to set the record straight. He offered a very public and poiqnant confession about his failings as a husband, parent and role model. He wanted desperately to let the youth of America know they should not aspire to be like him. He did not want them to waste their lives, as he felt he had done. Once again he gave us cause to admire him.

There is definitely a connection with the timing of our heroes’ deaths and the status to which they are elevated. It seems the younger the age and more tragic the death of our heroes, the greater the danger of romanticizing them and elevating them. For example, Jimmy Dean made four motion pictures, but due in a big way to his tragic death, he is considered one of the all time best actors.........at least one of the most popular icons.

Elvis is another obvious example. Certainly he already enjoyed tremendous popularity while still with us, but his early departure inflated his status to a kind of god like status. Is there a danger in such exercises of devotion? Do such displays symbolize a weakness on the part of some, a distortion of reality or clouding of focus on what is really important?

The opposite is also true. There are muckrakers who like nothing more than to destroy the reputations of celebrities........alive or dead. They take particular joy in deflating the public appreciation for heroes. They claim to be doing a public service by humanizing our heroes, often times justifying the damage they inflict as exposure of hypocrisy. These sleeze-balls constantly search for evidence of human frailties. They take perverted joy in uncovering evidence of excessive drinking, addiction, infidelity, the spanking of a child, or possibly neglecting an elderly parent. We're told these tarnished heroes shouldn't be admired but ridiculed, ostracized from society, or at least publicly disgraced.

As usual, common sense rules out, and well grounded fans (at least boxing fans) remain some where in the middle. They manage to keep a handle on reality, and not be so eager to move one way or the other.

NBA basketball star Charles Barkley, after once getting himself into trouble, commented that he did not want to be a role model and therefore wasn't one. He didn't then and probably doesn't now feel any responsibility for the behavior (or misbehavior) of kids who look up to him as a star. He believes the responsibility rests solely with the child's parents.

Well, that's another story that can be argued at a different date. In the meantime, boxing fans have their heroes, and they’ve always been willing to look the other way when it comes to their heroes. Start with the 1st bare-knuckle champion John L. (whiskey guzzling) Sullivan and move quickly up the line........Jack Johnson, Stanley Ketchel, Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb, Mickey Walker, Joe Louis, Henry Armstrong, Barney Ross, Sugar Ray, Rocky Graziano, and on and on. All of these flawed heroes provide evidence of our willingness to overlook and accept, maybe even embrace them all the more for their sometimes flawed and even unsavory behavior. The muckrakers lose out here.

Some of the difficulty with picking heroes might rest with the word "hero" itself, because it not only includes figures admired for their achievements, but also includes individuals who have noble qualities......... i.e. superiority of mind, ideals and morality. We would have trouble pinning that part of the definition on our many of our heroes....... most recently Diego Corrales, Alexis Arquello, and now Arturo Gatti. All three unquestionably had their demons.

However, this seeming contradiction doesn't bother boxing fans, because although these flawed heroes might not be noble in one sense, they are certainly notable in another. They all sacrificed much and accomplished great things, and they all possessed a common denominator boxing fans greatly admire ....... courage.

These heroes weren't necessarily the most skilled, the prettiest, or the most articulate. In fact, fans often times liked them even more because they didn't have those attributes. They did have what fans hold more important. It's the level of excitement they provided. It's something that has a life of its own and allows fans to get an adrenaline rush watching one of their fights for maybe the 10th time, and still experiencing the same arousal as the first time.

It's still there each and every time, and no amount of human frailness in other areas of their heroic lives seems to diminish it. That's why fans can still eagerly watch Jack Johnson pick Ketchel's teeth from his glove, or watch Dempsey crawl back into the ring to kayo Firpo, or watch and re-watch Corrales vs. Castillo, and the trilogy between Gatti and Ward, or Vasquez and Marquez for the umteenth time and still enjoy the same level of excitement as the first time. We look at them with wonderment. How can they do it, we ask? It's enduring and stable. It's permanent because we make it so. We know these heroes put it all on the line and often times suffered at great cost to their own well-being in giving us what we want.

That's why we continue to fondly remember them and always will no matter what the facts might reveal. There's a quote in the great movie called Who Shot Liberty Valance. A newspaper editor tells his reporter, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend". Well, that's what we boxing fans choose to do. We record in our psyche the legendary accomplishments of these greats and reward them with a level of immortality. We are forever grateful to them. They live on not only through the media, but through our testimonials and fond recollections.

Excuse me now, I've got to go. One of my heroes is being featured on Sports Century, and I don't want to miss it.

Article posted on 19.07.2009



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