For this weeks reading, I read “Sparring in the White House: Theodore Roosevelt, Race, and Boxing”. The article was written by Roberto Jose Andrade Franco, a history Ph.D. student at Southern Methodist University. The article is about how boxing became normalized in society, including information about former President Teddy Roosevelt’s relationship with the sport, as well as the racial bias that ensued when the title was held by an African-American man.
The first quote that stood out to me was at the very beginning of the article: “Boxing has long been a sport for the lower-classes which, for most of its early history was illegal and practiced in secrecy to avoid arrests.”. I found this quote to be interesting as I did not know much about the origins of boxing prior to reading this article. After taking a moment to ponder, it seemed realistic that a sport that consisted of only hand-to-hand combat would only be popular amongst the less fortunate of society as I could easily see wealthy people believing that they were too good to participate in something such as boxing. However, it was a surprise to me originally that boxing was illegal at first. I can understand how it was previously looked down on in the eyes of the law since it could arguably be considered consensual assault.
Later on in the article, two sentences really stood out to me compared to the rest of the paragraph that they are located in: “At one point, Roosevelt even sparred inside the White House. And instead of sparring only as a way to stay physically active, Roosevelt took the sessions seriously, at one point being punched so hard that his left eye’s retina detached, losing sight in that eye.”. I found both of these sentences to be very interesting for different reasons. First, the fact that Roosevelt sparred inside the White House was extremely impressive to me, as I would never expect the President of the United States to engage in such behavior at all, let alone the White House. That being said, Theodore Roosevelt was one unbelievable man, so I should not be too surprised. Secondly, I had no idea that Roosevelt was unable to see out of one of his eyes, especially that it came from sparring. It leads me to ponder if that played a role as to why he wore glasses.
Lastly, the final area of the article that stood out to me was when Franco discussed Roosevelt’s reaction to an African American man winning the boxing title. It irked me to know that a highly-praised man such as Roosevelt would have different reactions simply depending on race. For reference, Roosevelt was highly in favor of boxing before and after Jack Johnson’s victory, but during Johnson’s period of being on top Roosevelt advocated against prize-fighting in the United States. This can all be summarized in a quote from the article: “Once Johnson lost the title, and the supposed proper order of things was reset with a white champion, boxing could once again, help the “right kind” of people overcome their masculine insecurities.”.