The Weight of a Country. Last year the Masters was delayed until the fall due to COVID. This year it was held at the normal time and the azaleas were spectacular as was the golf excitement.
Even if you are not a golf fan or a psychologist, you should be impressed by the accomplishment of Hideki Matsuyama. Playing golf under the pressure of being in the Masters is extremely difficult. I am very impressed with his win because not only was he facing the pressure of the Masters, he also carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders.
Golf is enormously popular in Japan and he is currently the best Japanese golfer. No Japanese golfer had ever won a major tournament. To step on the first tee and play four rounds under that pressure is an amazing accomplishment. Good to celebrate in a time of Asian prejudice.
Louis vs. Schmeling. A similar situation is an important part of American history and pertinent for us today. Joe Louis was born in Alabama but raised in Detroit. He became a great heavyweight boxer. In 1936 he was a hero for blacks in America. When he fought, he carried the weight of the minority culture into the ring.
In 1936 he fought Max Schmeling in Yankee stadium. Schmeling., a white German, had been the Heavyweight Champion of the World, but had lost his title and was considered by many people to be on the decline. One of those who believed he was on the decline was Joe Louis. Louis was 24-0, very confident and did not train hard.
His training camp was in Lakewood, New Jersey. He was introduced to golf at Lakewood. He fell in love with the game and spent more time at his training camp learning to play golf than preparing for a fight. His love for golf was life-long but never again did it interfere with training.
Schmeling on the other hand, trained hard and found a flaw he thought he could exploit and exploit he did. Through 12 rounds he pummeled Louis until he achieved a knockout in the 12th round. Louis’s first loss and the weight of African-American culture came crashing down hard.
The following quote by Langston Hughes, a leading black intellectual says it all: “I walked down Seventh Avenue and saw grown men weeping like children, and women sitting in the curbs with their head in their hands. All across the country that night when the news came that Joe was knocked out, people cried.
Rematch. The return bout was fought two years later. In the interim Joe Louis knocked out James Braddock, the reigning champion. Louis said he would not accept the belt as World’s Heavyweight Champion until he beat Max Schmeling in a rematch.
Also, in the interim Hitler had risen in power in Germany. His propaganda machine portrayed Schmeling as a national champion for the Aryan way. They did not believe a black man could beat a white man. Meanwhile at the White House, Franklin Roosevelt told Louis that America needed his muscle to defeat Germany. Thus, Schmeling entered the ring with the weight of Nazi Germany on his back and Louis with the weight of his culture and America on his back.
The fight was held in Yankee Stadium in 1938. The seats were full and the rich and famous were in attendance. Louis destroyed Schmeling in the first round. The United States won, the black community won and Nazi propaganda was defeated in a manner similar to the success of Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics.
Heartwarming Story. As Paul Harvey used to say – “Here is the rest of the story.” Schmeling was hated by many people because they believed he represented white supremacy. However, Max was never a Nazi. His manager was Jewish and he is reported to have protected Jewish young people from the Gestapo. He refused an award from Hitler. He was not happy being the face of the Nazi’s. His defeat removed him from the limelight and was a relief for him.
Louis still had to face racist rhetoric even by sports writers reporting in the mainstream American press. While positive toward Louis’s victory, Lewis F. Atchison of the Washington Post began his story: “Joe Louis, the lethargic, chicken-eating young colored boy, reverted to his dreaded role of the ‘brown bomber’ tonight”; and Henry McLemore of the United Press called Louis “a jungle man, completely primitive as any savage, out to destroy the thing he hates.”
The amazing development was that despite claims of white supremacy for Schmeling and the racist culture Louis lived in, the two men became close friends. Schmeling took his earnings and became a successful businessman. Unfortunately. Louis succumbed to the excesses of money and ended up poor. In his latter years, he was a greeter at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Schmeling visited Louis annually, gave him money, helped pay for his funeral and was a pall bearer. What a great credit to both men that they found friendship above and beyond their cultures. We need more of those relationships today.
Gratitude. Jeny had a surgical procedure for female issues and was out of commission for a couple of days. As I helped out, I thought about all she has done for me over the years and a modification of JFY’s famous quote came to mind — Ask not what your mate can do for you but what you can do for your mate. Very good mantra for me.