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tv   Book TV After Words  CSPAN  November 30, 2009 12:00am-1:00am EST

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to be traveling. that isn't at all unlike bloggers today to send home news. so, they're used to be up until recently one sort of model but a foreign correspondent ought to be like in the last 50, 60 years but now we are going to see multiple models and it's important to understand what that's about because it will help us understand what news we want to read and how we should read the news. >> the author is john maxwell hamilton, the book is journalisms roving eye. ..
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>> better-known as the sugar ray robinson and the author
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is wil haygood. >> >> guest: agreed to be here. >> host: it is a worthy of sugar ray robbins said tremendous achievement. you are not a sports bar for her by trade why did you decide to spend five years of your life right to about sugar ray robinson? >> guest: i had two previous batteries when a big congressmen and the other was sammy davis, jr. part by thought if i could find another subject that interested me, i would have a trilogy three major biographies and one is a politician one is the entertainer i wanted a sports figure but i wanted an athlete who transcended
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their sport and as someone who had a life vest fascinating in the ring because we talk about a boxer equally a fascinating life outside of the ring and i wanted somebody who was known by have a lot of mystery around his life and 4b common that was sugar ray robinson and. >> he is one of the most underwritten boxers of the 20th century considering every major boxing writer would consider him to have the greatest battle of pound for pound fighter of the 20th century. that is quite a title to have. >> it seems there are very interesting common threads of people that you focus on in the biographical career career, made davis, jr., sugar ray robinson, and there are not
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just very smooth characters but three people who challenged institutional racism with a great deal of style and personal player. why do you think about when you think of these three men? what do see that attracts you to their stories? >> they were all fighters in their own way. they were hungry for success and all had harlem routes in a way come adam paul more so than the other two but all three of them lived in harlem so they all sort of took the smoke from the harlem risen not -- run is
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on to each man had a sense of poetry, music, a grace and that induced their respective lives. music was important to all three and i same golf three sort of achieved a great deal of notoriety in the so-called quiet 1950. >> is it fair to say all three also represent what is not normally talk about with raise history or popular culture or the adm of being caught somewhere between the ideals of the civil-rights movement or the renaissance or booker t. washington to make it on the basis of your own individual greatness and the ideals of seeing a collective responsibility? i keep thinking of the three of them as belonging almost
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in that middle passage. >> yes. that is a great observation. i think because they were caught between those two areas, before the 1964 civil-rights act, they were already engaged in their own personal civil-rights and i think all three had a hell bent energy to make themselves successful with the backdrop of segregation in america and i think they thought they could fight their way into the headlines from adam clayton powell and church politics around america with the u.s. congress and sammy davis, jr., nightclubs in
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the forties and fifties and sugar ray robinson as a peer championship vacillate. >> host: we are very bad teaching history and the civil-rights movement is taught as if it sprung fully from tastefully formed from dr. king as if there was no groundwork laid before that but in all three men the use the evidence of that groundwork and california idea that we will challenge racism in ways that maybe will inspire people with a lot of unintended consequences and with sugar ray robinson there is a brilliant chapter about his experience in the u.s. army and comparing and contrasting his demeanor as a corporal in the u.s. army with the experience of his running buddy joe louis. can you speak about his army
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experience? he was a young fighter but very famous. what was his experience in the army and how did he bought convention? >> a fascinating experiment the first lady eleanor roosevelt wanted to convey to the american people that racial harmony can exist on the u.s. army base. so she came up with the plan her and the secretary of the army to have to, high-profile blacks core around the u.s. army bases and a engage in physical training with the soldiers. the first person she picked was the heavyweight champion of the world, joe louis and he had a young cat to was a friend of his whom he had known and you had actually
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road in a boat with joe louis and his girlfriend lee no horn and that person growing the boat was sugar ray robinson and the war comes in there are riots in seven cities of blacks who say they're being asked to go to war to die but can i get equal treatment in the u.s. >> host: democracy abroad fighting for being treated horribly where they are being trained. >> guest: right. joe louis and sugar ray robinson lead this physical training troops from more rebates to army base. up north they are fine and everything goes okay. then they go below the mason-dixon line alabama and mississimississi ppi where all hell breaks loose. one day joe louis is using the telephone to replace 10
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alabama and a white guard tells him he should be at the phone booth for black soldiers. lewis gets upset to and young sugar ray known as walker smith in the army thinks officer is going to hit joe louis and sugar ray, like a panther jumped on the white army guard and there is a tussle. why anybody would want to tango with joe louis and sugar ray robinson. >> host: that says something about the times. >> guest: they're both taken to an officer to be disciplined but now the army has a pr nightmare on his
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throat with two black public-relations figures were engaged to tour the south but the army backed off and did not press charges but it cut to the bone of who each man was. joe louis was willing to accept the sugar ray robinson came from a different era and was not willing to accept it. joe louis could not keep emotional control of sugar ray robinson. he was more theory and more prone to react very quickly if his pride was insulted.
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>> that is an interesting comment to all ground breaking american athletes that they tend to not come from the south of the united states where they tend to be refugees and jackie robinson going to california were coming from california i was talking about that the other day the way mark miller was looking someone to challenge a reserve clause he was a few for the african-american athlete who was influenced by the broader 10 or of the times and sugar ray robinson was very influenced and harlem is in very wade -- menu is a character this is not a typical biography. also may not a typical sports biography. you have marvelous personifications of harlem, a jazz music, "esquire" magazine and they become characters
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in the story. why is it important to understand harlem to understand a sugar ray robinson? >> guest: people always said they had such style. what does that mean? what is style? i just did not want to write a book and tell "the reader" that without giving an explanation of how i grew within him and he grew up in detroit when he was 12 years old and his mother moved him to harlem. the father stayed behind they were always estranged but that is a good point*
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but the hem and walker smith looked for father figures in both of them found father figures in the jazzmen who were flowing in and out of harlem. >> host: harlem itself almost becomes a father figure to sugar ray. >> guest: right. is that one place in america at the time where there was black political hustle and a great pride left over from the harlem renaissance that was still flowing up and down the streets and black owned nightclubs and they may not have been welcome downtown but they could come up town and come to the all nightclubs in joe louis phoned a nightclub, louis
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armstrong and later sugar ray robinson owned a nightclubs so they all felt very comfortable in harlem. it was the black mecca were you could go and meet langston hughes, wallace thurman, all of the poets and writers of the harlem renaissance. if they were not still around, their friends were. it was in mecca and i think it informed sugar ray robinson in great the. >> host: and gave him a certain confidence not to mention style which she carried into the ring and popularized in the way people have not seen before. do you think style is a former resistance in the right setting? >> guest: that is a great point*. yes. i do. the style that sugar ray robinson loved flowed out of
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a "esquire" magazine and there was a jazz book that was printed in 1944 and it was huge amongst the harlem harlem -- harlemites the first time musicians were side by side on the printed page and it was a huge success in harlem and to sugar ray robinson and his mindset was i will win in the rain but i seem to be more than just an athlete and i will let style and class and greece and form how i conduct myself as an
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athlete. that was a huge two him to get to new-line know hampton -- final hampton and langston hughes and those people gave him a sense of self. >> host: and that gave him a sense of some things that few boxers historic we add as a desire to not be screwed where was that informed by? and how successful was the in the district of boxing carving out a space where he was not exploited because that is not excuse but less than a typical fighter. >> guest: yes. it was very difficult because when robinson turned
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pro, he was feared because of his left hook. he was absolutely feared he was in new york golden gloves champion and his reputation had grown east coast to the west coast. yet to if you were a fighter in the early forties many of the box saying organizations had a shadowy figures like frankie car broke and you had to navigate that terrain and it upset sugar ray robinson and he had a reputation if he did not like his contract he would pull out of the fight after it had already been announced in the newspaper and that was his way of saying i do not want to play with the mob katz.
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>> host: and then that brings its own cost. did she think she could dance that dance successfully? >> guest: later not in their early years. remember, it took him from 1940 through 1946 to get his championship bout even though he was winning all of his fights and the powers that be never gave him a title shot until six years into his career as a new professional. >> host: that he had a difficult time getting the title shot. do you think some of these circumstances by which he left the army played a role in his inability to get traction or public support? >> guest: yes.
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>> host: can you talk about what it did follow him why a gray cloud the shadow we circumstances how he left the armed forces. >> guest: sugar ray robinson was very, very afraid of dying. he imagined in his mind even if he went overseas on a goodwill mission that he could be killed. on the eve of him and joe louis on a goodwill mission mission, robinson left the barracks in and long island and disappeared. and he woke up in a hospital in new york and he claimed
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am mischa -- and the shipper, army officials thought it was laughable and thought he had gone a wall just two vicks vaporub staying in the army but robinson wanted to get out of the army he wanted to fight again he thought if he stayed in the army much longer you could lose his skills which we now know certainly did not happen but there were been the sports writers in new york teenine newspapers and many of those had gone to war and when robinson was honorably discharged there were stories about him leaving
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the very sin been taken to hospital and telling the doctors he did not know what happened. the sports writers came after him and called him a coward and absolutely thought he was faking and lying and that did haunt him four years. >> host: did that have to do with the low frequency hysteria that did exist about africa and americans and patriotism? there is that tradition of african american resistance that existed during world war ii, refusing to fight and that was the origin of the goodwill mission to begin with with louis and robinson and. do think they were particularly hard on him or were they too hard and what do you think happen the? >> i think robinson
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federally fought to get a championship fight he was upset at the powers that be in this for and he felt if he did not get back out there and back into the limelight winning again, he feared he would end up a broken down has been fighter. i just think he became very paranoid and he saw the army after that experience in the south as an unfair place so he sought as a way to escape. >> they are vivid scenes of what it is like for robinson to be in the american south that that time rite aid of
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the line that said he did not know he was black until he visited the american south. it is a sense of not being -- being sugar ray but walker smith hall you feel that insecurity bubbling within him. >> guest: especially coming from eight championship fighter doors are always opened. realty in new york city, and now he is in the south, places you can to go even the u.s. army. he looks around and sees his friend joe louis who he looked up to greatly and sees joe louis treated almost like a second class citizen did something to his psyche. >> host: robinson becomes a champion and becomes a
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kind of fighter that is praised from coast to coast as being the best in the business pound for pound. what type of fan base did he have? this is a little story for you by my grandfather wrote an essay about the time he siop day she saw sure ray robinson fight. my grandfather, a first-generation american antonovich self english, there is an almost lee on the page of my grandfather's s.a. which has a ratio a rich undeniably coming a pride in that in madrid and the underdog as being a black fighter from rural georgia does not make use the underdog it is interesting. but is there something about that s.a. and fights that tell us something about
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robinson's acceptance or lack there of? was the always the guy that the white finns wanted knocked off the postal? >> guest: so many of the fighters in the 20th century were immigrants ethnic fighters and then you have plaque fighters who automatically seem to be fighting not only for themselves but for the race as a whole. so with robinson, there was great jealousy because he looked good and was a very handsome man, a suave, and dressed elegantly and gave you the impression that he
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did not have to box he did so by choice and gave you a feeling he could go to "esquire" and be a fashion model that is why at that time there was no fashion models but gave you the sense that he was doing more for boxing ban boxing was doing for him and that made some folks jealous. and he won with something approaching beauty in the ring. hebrew is very sharp, and after his punches his crowd was horn players come up writers, lena horne, he attracted another crowd.
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>> host: there is always a cultural disconnect with you have in the black community that you saw with the young cassius clay, a willingness to speak of yourself as being pretty and look pretty and look stylish. where it is a broad generalization among the white man you almost get to a homophobia results and in the black community is seen as you are pretty but the white community is suspect and something to keep at arm's length. you hear why can't they be more like joe louis and a more humble? there is that disconnect which also makes sugar ray robinson and a very fascinating man of his time. >> guest: right to. he had vanity as well. it takes day in vain person to purchase a pink cadillac.
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he had a nightclub and his wife had a lingerie business and a hair salon. these are things that robinson said to the world i looked good. >> host: we will go to daybreak. to have been listening to this interview the first is sugar ray robinson is an absolutely fascinating figure and a second come a we have not said the words of jay gould body at. we will talk about that after the break.
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>> host: we are back on after words with wil haygood and the author of "sweet thunder" the life and times of sugar ray robinson." however you? >> guest: i am excellent. >> host: there are a couple of characters we have not mentioned miles davis and lena horne those are one of those that makes the book
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so interesting it is about sugar ray robinson but also about a point* and a cultural and political era. is terrific stuff why you feel it is important to make miles davis and lena horne so much a part of the story? >> guest: for several reasons because when i started to do this but i started to come across the interconnected people in sugar ray's life. when the first came he wanted to get off drugs and find somebody that could help him physically train and so he introduced himself to sugar ray robinson and they became friends up until
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his death. be no more and would always be at joe louis training camp and that is where she met sugar ray robinson. langston hughes, the poet lived right down the street from sugar ray's nightclub and in the fifties he started to write plays with the hope in mind that sugar ray could take apart some of those plays. there were friendships forged with those people and they were steady customers that sugar ray robinson's nightclub. i thought it was fascinating to keep coming across links of all four of them a and i decided to write it as a group portrait.
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it is not just a book about fighters but also a book about langston hughes and lena horne and miles davis and other artists and other fighters who have links to sugar ray robinson in. it is about to culture. keeping your dreams. it is a book about the unknown america that did not always make it into the headlines of that mainstream newspapers or did not always make it into the art scene in the forties and fifties. >> host: how do i explain to young people how important jazz music was to that area -- era? how do explain that? jazz was its own language
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was one of the first hour forms you might say accepted on a racially integrated level and i think the jazz that's came out of the renaissance had sex shade picture like kansas city and seattle, i think it had such a day staying power and it was its own art form it had its own language that lee in the horn, langston hughes could speak to, miles davis lived that sugar ray loved. let's get to to the brutal act we cash to spend considerable time in the book about the fights between sugar ray robinson
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and j. . why have they entered the imagination and? >> i want to make one correction it is wil haygood just so readers don't think i am changing my name. >> host: as soon as i said it. i even wrote that down. [laughter] i am so embarrassed. i am sorry that i misspoke. >> guest: those fights between robinson and jake it sees a the american populace because they fight and they
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go into the administration of eisenhower so that is amazing one was i tell yen, jake lamotta and one was black. there were street gains that had ethnic rivalries there were two titanic figures but had different responsibilities. robinson thought jake lamotta was a roughhouse ex-convict. jake lamotta thought robinson was more playboy than 537 and there is the issue again because he had style. >> guest: ride to.
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slicked back her and a pink cadillac, the color of a flower. not black or blue. those fights became to be, importuned and i was confused how to write about them because i did not want them to keep taking "the reader" back and forth back and forth. so i decided to put all of the fights into one chapter and i think that it works. >> host: it is a very intense experience because you do a great job in the book to spread the fight through the cultural tableaus and that chapter hits you like a punch because it is all about the fights and you almost forget it when you read about robinson howl violent his
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trade is and jake lamotta reminds us it is not a dandy who was a model but also a fighter and loves jazz with the nightclubs coming he has to engage in the brutal arts of boxing. >> guest: for some reason it is seared into the american mindset that they split those fights. there was the martin scorsese movie raging dole and it did not leave the with the impression that sugar ray robinson end of one of five out of six of those fights and they were tough. and mr. jake lamotta who might interviewed contends to this day that to of the fights were stolen. even in his mind it breaks down three/three but in reality sugar ray 155 and
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jake lamotta 11 of them. >> host: there is a famous scene where dinero says you never knock me down. you never knocked me down as if that is his victory through the charismatic person lynch-- bourse on age and he is almost a figure where there is air marcion's you cannot see his face but the smoke. what does that say about hollywood the you have a movie of jake lamotta but no movie of ray robinson? >> one film critic wrote to on the 20th anniversary of the re-release of raging
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bull, he said and i write about this coming he says something very funny has gone on in that movie. scorsese missed the sugar ray robinson and storey. that is true. people watching the movie movie, you leave with the feeling that jake lamotta got the best of sugar ray robinson but that is partly 77 in a weird way has affected hour of memory and a cultural impact of that movie that he is more spectral they and he should be as a person he was one of the best fighters of the 20th century. and is such an interesting subject matter and so many questions to keep coming back to but the tableau
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going on around it but he enters the end of his fight career as a simple movement movement -- civil-rights movement expose. what is his posture towards the movement and his fighters like muhammed ali that make even more bold challenges to power? where was he? >> guest: first, there was a gap the 195-23-1935 he the best middleweight boxing and becomes of all things, a tap dancer. and travels to nightclubs, goes to europe, and not a very good nightclub act but because he is sure ray robinson he gets on with big names and travels and it is just amazing. he comes back and regains
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his middleweight belt again in the astonishing, astonishing comeback. he tries to move up to heavyweight to take on joey maxim and he loses. and his fighting career is starting to go downhill. the 60s hit and he loses the nightclub. he and his wife to force force -- divorce proposal you have riots in america he moves out to los angeles in 1963 there is a march on washington and he does not go. robinson did not like collects and he saw unwisely that maybe all of the hip people would go to the march
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on washington. if he had it to do over again i think he would have went but he didn't. he was not actively involved in the civil rights he thought that took place in the middle of the ring but he did campaign for robert f. kennedy of course, he was assassinated and that broke his heart. >> host: did the kennedy campaign seek him now or did he volunteer? were they proud? >> guest: yes. yes he did. >> host: this is interesting this occurred to me as we speak come if i knew nothing about boxing and just have a basic knowledge of american history and reading a biography of jack johnson i would think this will not and well he is challenging power at a time when white
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supremacy is beyond by lance. but if i was reading a biography of joe louis i would say this will not end well look at his handlers and the way people are managing him and treating him like a child but if i was reading a biography of sugar ray robinson i would think this could and well. why didn't it? >> guest: i thain ken his mind is that it ended well. he was not broker or in the streets. mind you at one point* he was a poor kid on the streets of harlem hustling pop bottles and spilling for write-off of fruit stands. he went to california and started the sugar ray robinson youth foundation. he no longer have the peak cadillac but a little bread
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pinto going to see movie moguls and asking them to make contributions to the foundation. sell it in no way he went back to the former self to the poor kid. >> host: he became walker smith, jr. again whose lives -- eyes lit up again and wanted to recreate that experience. >> guest:. i tell the chapter dissaving all of the walker smith juniors. in his mind he thought his he thought that was saving children giving up on the mountaintop reaching back down pulling the children up
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and that gave him great joy. >> host: you seeing it by the time it was time to pass he was a happy man? >> guest: very much so. i really do. he was living with a woman that he loved and he could walk into the youth center and the children would see him and hopped in his lap and i don't think anything made walker smith, jr. more happy. >> host: we need to explain this. i apologize for the alice's of the fax from the beginning but how did walker smith, jr. become sugar ray robinson? it is a great story. >> guest: sugar ray joe lane to the salem methodist
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church boxing team. i mean walker smith, jr. did and the team manager had them travel upstate new york and they were in upstate in 1937. walker smith, jr. did not even have a uniform. he was trying to get on a team. he was the last man on the football squad only this was like a 10 member a a you boxing program. he had been training and helping at some point* he would get a chance he was 16 one day in watertown york
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one fighter did not show up or make the trip ray robinson and the coach did not want to miss that fight and wanted to have four bouts and ray robinson was not there. the more he thought about it he had young walker smith was harassing him saying. come on. please buckling let me have a chance. i just want to show you what i have been doing in the basement. police. sowed george said okay. go downstairs and put on some gloves. walker smith, jr. came back up and fought and knocked the guy out. of the sports editor, a gentlemen by the name of jack case ast george what is
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that fighter's name? he had the card he had given walker smith, jr. that said ray robinson and he told a box saying it officials his name is ray robinson. won the 80 next to the at sports writer and said that is a sweet fighter by the time he got back to the news room it came as sweet as sugar he wrote to the next day sugar ray robinson and knocked out his opponent last night and he started on the radio saying there is a fighter out of harlem named sugar ray robinson and he is out of sight so dynamic he will be back in a few months. jack case really made the name stick. >> host: there are people who believe names our
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destiny john kennedy would not have been john kennedy if he was more to avert a f. ray robinson indoor walker smith, jr. do things is somehow had a profound effect on his destiny as a fighter? >> guest: yes. he started to live than named sugar ray robinson. >> host: terrific alliteration and style issues that we talked about in the first half-hour it is a way that walker smith, jr. sounds a little country. >> guest: it does. but look at sugar ray. he would walk down the street fifth avenue, harlem, anywhere and women could spot him and say sugar. and sugar ray and real sweet.
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and he had been named and he knew that it had a cachet to it and he played on that. he really did. >> host: why do think boxers like muhammed ali khamenei joe louis, joe frazier, why do think boxers particularly african-americans although not solely ensure the american psyche so much as political and cultural symbols in a way that does transcend other sports? >> i think because boxing is still a mystery and a sport where very few can rise to its highest levels. it is violent and in no way
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muhammed ali and got a lot of his style from sugar ray robinson and we tend to follow boxers all lot id is the ultimate one on one support. it is you and your gut and your courage facing somebody across our rainn who is trying to hit you with such fierceness you may think that person is trying to kill you. >> host: in the days before the smoking ban the smoke would rise up from the front row and do you think there's something also about boxing is like a cannon is where the perception of a level playing field is put to the test?
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so people project the political importance like muhammed ali will he get a shot after his belt is stripped? was the rifle to oppose the war? we will find out when he goes against frazier over there is basic biological equality and johnson will answer the question and they become so sharp. >> and joe louis fighting in world war ii. >> robinson had a fight like that? would you think is his most politically symbolic our? was that this tragedy fight with the royal? >> guest: he was killed in the ring. i think robinson had a steady rising art.
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i don't think it was one moment that fascinated the american public. i think he put in their minds that i am your stylish r. ritter. i am the person and use up to four grace and elegance and style in the ring and i will never let you down. by the way i'm on my way to paris and just watch how i carry through and you will see how the people there who love style, both me as well. i don't think robinson look at boxing with the idea is he was compared to other fighters. he really thought he was a solo voyage year. i really think he thought he
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said his own style, his own musical notes. one great sports writer said robinson lived in his own world and he was saved through dean genius. >> and one you call a con artist. where do you fall? >> i am more and the first camper pro i think you he was a genius. there was not a sugar ray robinson before sugar ray
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there was other fighters that tried to exudes style but nobody could approach it like robinson. he believed in style. he wore a suit just right or a hat to just write. >> host: would you like to discuss this book on espn for a modern sports audience to speak about what style can bring to an athlete scheme? there are all kinds of debates recently the idea of having a dress code in the nba and the question of how an athlete projector african-american and should or should not comport themselves from and zone celebrations to the way they interact with coaches. when you see allen iverson
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in do say that man has 21st century style? or do you say would be nice if they knew the history of robinson to know what style really is? >> guest: i will love for athletes today to read the book, read this book, because there is something about sugar ray robinson that was very humble. of the would hurt somebody he would go to the locker room to see how they were doing. he would knock the amount coming he would pick up the mouthpiece. he was a very gracious fighter. he cared what the public thought about. and the way he carried
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himself could really teach athletes. >> host: he showed it. i keep expecting to play young cassius clay yelling about how he is so pretty but he does not have to. >> guest: he did not like rudeness or loudness or vulgarity. he was a very elegant, a gracious champion and i think he has been too long forgotten and not appreciated enough in what he contributed to the cultural swirl of this country. >> host: you use the word genius several times in the last hour to describe sugar
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ray robinson and really do think this book is touched by a genius and you did a brilliant job to bring his life to the page and making his life really seem like something that was living and breathing right in front of you. just a tremendous accomplishment wil haygood. thank you for writing it. a book worthy of the greatest writer of the 20th century. this is after words. i am dave zirin the book is "sweet thunder" you need to buy and buy five copies to give to your friends and it will teach you not only about boxing but also about this country. . .


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