When the white boxer Tyson Fury (at left in photo) defeated African American rival Deontay Wilder (at right) Saturday, ESPN writer David Dennis saw the WBC heavyweight championship bout purely in racial terms. MLK’s call to judge people by the content of their characer — and not the color of their skin — went by the wayside.
The adjunct professor of journalism at Morehouse College and contributing writer for The Undefeated blog saw Jim Crow converging on all 116 punches landed Saturday. He read way too much into the fight, including racial inequality and voter suppression.
It was yet another “example of how we impose racial politics onto sports, fairly or not. There was real angst in black America over Wilder’s loss and a lot of that consternation came from the ways we grapple with race in this country.”
Dennis alleges that sports events pitting black athletes against white athletes elicit black pride and, sometimes, white antagonism. Yet he had to go all the way back to 1980s Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird to find an illustration of this.
“When black fighters and white fighters meet in the center of the ring, American history converges on each blow,” writes Dennis, landing a haymaker blow for sensationalism.
That may have been true in 1910 when black boxer Jack Johnson beat the racist James J. Jeffries in the “Fight of the Century.” Jeffries said, “I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.” Jeffries lost and riots erupted across America. Like a good race-baiter, Dennis thinks century-old racial attitudes are still present today, which does nothing to further journalism or race relations.
Dennis then crawls within 50 years of the present when he cites the first Rocky movie, released in 1970, to prove that “America is fascinated by these battles between races.”
“The sadness and frustration were palpable,” Dennis laments on the Wilder loss. “As much as we argue that we as black folks don’t need to prove our excellence to white people, we hung on every second of the fight as a source of black pride. We didn’t cry in the streets or give the fight as much weight as, say, a Joe Louis loss. But we still cared.”
Dennis blames this frustration on the “fact” that we black people “are so used to overcoming inequalities and systemic obstacles to reach success. We have to fight unequal access to education to make it to the same colleges as white people. We have to fight through hiring injustices to be in the same offices as our white coworkers. We have to battle housing discrimination to have houses that are as nice as white counterparts. We have to overcome voter suppression to get people who look like us in elected positions. And so on. In 2020, these inequalities are as magnified as ever.”
With an impossible load like that riding on his back, it’s no wonder Fury lost.
Dennis also admitted that watching a black man lose to a white man in the even playing field of a boxing ring “stripped of privilege and supremacy” was frustrating.
We can’t just let this go. The history of race, particularly in boxing, makes no allowances for Wilder and Fury to have fought a meaningless battle, Dennis writes. “(W)e know we have to face a reality that is inescapable and far more painful than the downfall of our rooting sports interests,” he concludes.