Boxing is a combat and martial art sport where two people are engaged in a contest of speed, strength, reflexes, and endurance by directing punches at each other with the use of gloves on their hands. The determinant in winning the contest is through weakening and having t knock down the opposing counterpart during the process. From an age-old sport into the modern sophisticated contest, boxing has witnessed numerous changes historically as well as dominant figure in the process. Notable legends, champions, and popular figures of the sport include Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis to mention but a few. The personality issues of some of the big names have had a tremendous impact towards depiction of the sport. With the controversies surrounding Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, and Joe Louis, boxing has a negative connotation developed by the society.


Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson was regarded as the first American heavyweight-boxing champion during the Jim Crow era. During the fight against James Jefferies, it marked one of the most significant moments of history especially at the time of racial upheaval in America. During the fifteen-round duel between the two, Johnson easily outmaneuvered his opponent and the opposing side threw in the towel (Oates 260). However, it sparked racial animosity. Johnson, being black and unheralded as boxing great, faced an onslaught from the white race. They had sought a white champion in order to oust his position de to his confident nature. The black contingent was impressed with the victory as it propelled the struggle for racial advancement in the society. In addition, the Mann Act controversy surrounded him.

            Johnson was wrongfully accused of interstate commercial transportation of a woman with the purpose of prostitution. It was the society’s intended accusation towards Johnson since he was African American. In stark circumstances, the mother to the female representative in the case swore that she was insane while the second wife to be refused to establish cooperation and the case fell apart in the process. The motive was racially inspired especially with the unclear circumstances into charging Johnson on the offence. The felony conviction established a negative image of Johnson to the society since he did not represent their alleged values, ye it was their undoing. In addition, the first heavyweight-boxing champion as an African American did little to help his cause in the process especially with racism being rife at the time.

 Joe Louis

Joe Louis was synonymous between the years 1937 to 1949. According to the historical accounts, he is considered as one of the all time greats of the sport. His status as the first African American individual to achieve the status of being a national hero was surrounded by the racial undertone when he enlisted in the United States Army. During the bout pre match, he stated that America would win since it was on God’s side (Kindred 136). When the media reported the comment, a surge of popularity was witnessed in favor of Jack Louis. Immediately, controversy was instigated especially driven by racial undertones. He was regarded as an unqualified hero of the sport. He was segregated to the cavalry unit base for training. He was also the anti Nazi sentiment during the Second World War. Society viewed him as a bargaining tool in the lead up to the battles, using his celebrity status before dethroning him and controversially making his life miserable.

            Between Joe Louis and Jack Johnson, their controversies were quite different. Despite the racial similarity ion the two cases since they were African Americans, one was instigated for purposes of defaming him wile the other was taken advantage. In Joe Louis, the racial differences between the whites and minority races, the society viewed him as controversial since he was not white. They used the excuse of gaining white dominance to enable the riots and call for the influence. In the latter’s case, Jack Johnson faced the controversy from his actions. By stating the patriotic and national hero status, the society took advantage in making him controversial. In drumming ups support for America during the world war, they used it as an anti Nazi defamation in the process. The controversial view was to discredit Jack Johnson through his mannerisms while Joe Louis had no part in any of it.   

Muhammad Ali

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay junior, Muhammad Ali, is regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time. His boxing career was marred by controversies from the onset into the latter year of his mainstay. After his retirement and gaining of the status symbol, society then changed its stance on him. Since his inception into the sport, society saw him as an arrogant and over-confident competitor. He was termed as provocative especially in the events leading to the mini bouts of his career to his opponents. He changed the rules on public relations. Muhammad Ali was renowned of his strict fitness regime and his style of offensive weaponry (Early 1). In most cases, he wore own his opponents by limited engagement and counter punches. Society labeled him as defensive rather than offensive. After denying his involvement with being enlisted in the American Army due to his religious beliefs and anti-war sentiments towards America’s participation in Vietnam, society seized the opportunity. He was courted as being non-patriotic enough. In addition, his conversion to Islam and embrace of racial pride was also controversial especially in antagonizing the establishment of whites.    

            The controversies surrounding Muhammad Ali was similar and different in many ways to both Jack Johnson and Joe Louis. One of the significant similarities was the issue of racial based assumption and entitlement by the society. The majority of whites did not support his antagonizing sentiments especially aimed at them. Society therefore saw him as an enemy within the social ranks. Another similarity was the involvement with the American Army. He too did not participate in the wars despite the public pressure just as the other two boxers, while there were lawsuits and use of the judicial means to discredit his reputation as shown by the Supreme Court at the time. However, his controversies were more different in comparison. His fighting technique was brought into question as well as his attitude. In addition, his use of religion did not comply with the society’s expectation since he converted into Islam. He was therefore not recognized with Christianity value and this helped propel the controversies as opposed to the other two.  


With the controversies surrounding Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, and Joe Louis, boxing has a negative connotation developed by the society. The three boxers, being Africa Americans faced life controversies based from the racial denotations and struggles at the time, while their legacies were tainted. Majority of the controversies were aimed at diminishing the value of the greats despite their input towards the sport. The role of boxing shown is that it can be an important tool for driving national agenda whilst increasing patriotism and addressing social struggles like equality and discrimination.

Works Cited:

Early, Gerald. “Rebel of the Progressive Era.” Unforgivable Blackness. Web. June 6, 2015. <  >  

Kindred, Dave. “Joe Louis Biggest Knockout.” Sports Talk. Ed. Lisa Beckelhimer. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 136-139. Print.

Oates, Joyce Carol. “The avenger.” On Boxing. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. 259-271. Print. 

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