Magazine article American Libraries

Sugar Ray

Magazine article American Libraries

Sugar Ray

Article excerpt

The first program I ever saw on television was a boxing match: Rocky Marciano versus Jersey Joe Walcott, September 23, 1952. My family didn't have a television at the time, but our neighbors across the street did, and my father, mother, and I were all invited over for the fight. Marciano won handily, but what held us transfixed wasn't so much the fight itself as the idea of watching a live event taking place in Philadelphia from a living room in Dallas, Oregon. My dad resisted most new technologies, but Marciano won him over, and soon we had our own TV.

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The peculiar thing about those early years of television was the way the entire family watched whatever was showing, and on Friday nights, we all watched the fights. Quickly, I found my favorite boxer: Sugar Ray Robinson, whose speed, agility, and style set him apart (and would make him a role model for a young boy in Louisville named Cassius Clay). My dad liked the blue-collar brawlers, so as we watched Sugar Ray's classic battles with the likes of Carmen Basilio and Gene Fulmer, it was usually my mother and me in one corner and my dad in the other.

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I had no idea at the time that Robinson was such a powerful force in American pop culture and would continue to be so for decades. As Wil Haygood tells it in his moving and insightful biography Sugar Ray: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson (Knopf, 2009), Robinson refused to be pigeonholed into the narrow slot society assigned to champion boxers--and especially to African-American boxers. …

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