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Jack Johnson

Legacy As A Boxer

Johnson was among the first boxers to be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1954, and he was included in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. In his obituary, the New York Times called Johnson "one of the craftiest boxers known to the ring, recognized by many as one of the five outstanding heavyweight champions of all time."

Jack Johnson's life was fictionalized by Howard Sackler in the play The Great White Hope, performed on Broadway in 1967. The play starred James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, and helped launch their careers. The work focuses on the romance between a black boxer and his white lover, and on his prosecution under the Mann Act. Sackler's play won the Tony Award, the New York Drama Critics' Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. The Great White Hope was released as a film in 1970 starring the Broadway leads.

Johnson was a flamboyant and widely-despised figure, but also a tremendously talented boxer. He was the first African American athlete to raise such controversy and enjoy such success, and his story haunted the careers of later African American boxers like Joe Louis. Throughout his career, Louis worked to prove his modesty and his moral character; he was always combating the public's memories of Johnson's white wives, flashy suits, and golden smile. Louis, often called "a credit to his race," became the second black world heavyweight champion in 1937.

Later world champion Muhammad Ali was tremendously influenced not only by Johnson's boxing technique, but also by his relentless self-promotion and "trash talk." Ali would watch tapes of Johnson's bouts before his own fights, and was inspired by the African American boxing pioneer. Johnson's flamboyance presaged the later antics not just of Ali, but also of star athletes like Dennis Rodman. The controversy Johnson stirred up in the American public reflected the racism of the time, and gave other black sports heroes an idea of what they, too, would face.

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Famous Sports StarsBoxingJack Johnson Biography - Early Training, Success In The Ring, Chronology, Controversial Figure, Legacy As A Boxer