Boxing analyst reflects on race and sports
Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons.
Boxing Hall of Fame inductee and analyst Steve Farhood visited Hofstra on Wednesday, Feb. 28, to present a timeline of racial developments throughout the history of the sport. Farhood, accompanied by a detailed visual presentation, discussed the icons that helped shape the diversity of not only boxing, but society in general; expounding upon the lives and careers of memorable athletes like Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and Muhammed Ali. Farhood’s firsthand experience reporting on the accomplishments and journeys of these individuals gave him unique insight on the progression of the sport.
“People view boxing in a certain light,” Farhood said. “Especially if you’re not a fan, it’s just two guys beating up each other in a ring. But other sports don’t have the social and political impact that boxing has had over the years, so I wanted [the audience] to understand that these larger-than-life athletes were really influential. They were much more than just fighters. In their own way, they told a large part of the story of race in America in the 20th century.”
Farhood, former editor-in-chief of The Ring and KO, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June of 2017 after serving as the first vice president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He now works as an on-air analyst for Showtime Championship Boxing and the syndicated Broadway Boxing series.
Some of the prominent moments that Farhood described in his lecture included Jack “the Galveston Giant” Johnson’s ascent to being the world’s first black heavyweight champion in 1908, Joe “the Brown Bomber” Louis’s iconic rematch against Hitler favorite Max Schmeling in 1938 and Muhammed Ali’s tremendous comeback after losing the “Fight of the Century” against Joe Frazier in 1971.
Through examples like these, Farhood explained how early boxing matches always pitted whites and blacks against each other; a tangible image of the animosity between the two races.
But as black fighters like Johnson, Louis and Ali continuously won titles and proved themselves superior to their white opponents in the ring, it instilled a sense of hope and confidence in the black community that racial inequality could be as easily defeated as Schmeling or Frazier.
Hofstra students, faculty and members of the surrounding community reflected with Farhood as he described how these boxers broke through barriers of racial discrimination and public opinion while earning some of the highest-regarded accomplishments in the history of the sport.
“Think about it. 57 years before a black man played major league baseball, more than 100 years before a black man became president and only 25 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, a black man reigned as a world champion in boxing,” Farhood said of George Dixon, the world’s first black boxing champion.
“This was a statement about sociology more than about boxing,” said Nadine Kagan, a student in Hofstra’s Personal Enrichment in Retirement (PEIR) program. “Boxing was the stage setting for social change, and I think those who look down upon boxing don’t understand how it tells the story of the change of racism in this country.”
While some audience members, like Kagan, connected with Farhood over his message about the social impact of the sport, others relished in the nostalgia elicited by the images of historical and unforgettable boxing matches.
“I’ve been following boxing for 60 years,” said Bob Schwartz, a Long Beach resident. “All of the stuff that he was talking about, I saw. The fights that he mentioned, I saw. And now it feels great to look back and see what a huge impact they really had.”
Freshman undeclared-business major Tristan Georing felt similarly to Shwartz, saying, “As a wrestler, I really appreciate that Farhood is showing people that fighting sports are about more than just knocking each other out. It’s about being a strong and powerful athlete in every sense, and I think we can really learn a lot from the great fighters of the past like the guys he talked about in his presentation. It was really impactful for me.”
When asked about the importance of reflecting on the history of sports like boxing, Farhood said that our racial history has been imperative to the way our nation has developed culturally and socially. He explained that much of that history is mirrored in sports.
“I think boxing and other sports are tools that we can use to begin a discussion about race,” Farhood said. “It’s still a huge issue that needs to be addressed and discussed, and I think this is just a different way of discussing it.”