OK, Bernard Hopkins, play the race card. Go ahead…do it, man. Maybe that’ll get you the media attention your boxing skills never did.
Yet who wants to listen to a boxer, who fights Saturday night even as he stands on the edge of turning 50, whine about how his career inside the ring never got the attention that fighters whose last names were “Stern,” Marciano” or “Augustine” did?
"If I was any of those names … I'd be on every billboard and every milk carton and every place to be,” Hopkins said in an ESPN article. “If we're talking 'American Dream.’ Here's a guy who almost threw his life away and he took this great country's great attributes and used it – do for self, work hard and be a law-abiding citizen. I've done that for 26 years."
The Hopkins story is a saga of perseverance, determination and resilience. His is the face of the American Dream, and Hopkins might well have been that face had he decided to pursue a sport other than boxing.
The names from boxing’s halcyon days are already in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and Hopkins would surely be there too had he hung up his boxing gloves.
Hopkins won’t. He’ll just stand in the low lights of a sport that is fading faster than Kobe Bryant’s career.
But Hopkins isn’t about to go down for the count without a fight. He’s been trying to stir up public adulation for a career that doesn’t need someone else to validate it.
On Saturday, he’ll be fighting to retain his light-heavyweight title. His opponent is Sergey Kovalev, an unbeaten fighter whose reputation … well, Kovalev has no reputation that anybody would recognize. He might not be a tomato can, but he’s not someone whose name can fill an arena.
Hopkins doesn’t have that name either – not anymore. It has little to do with his color and more to do with boxing and its reliance on fighters who are into their twilight years.
He has long complained that people never gave him his due. That’s what Larry Holmes used to claim when he lorded over the heavyweight division in life after Muhammad Ali.
Holmes made his claim when boxing mattered. Hopkins has made his when the sport is stumbling along on fumes. Nobody cares much about boxing or Hopkins, a fact that seems to trouble him.
It isn’t his race that’s the real issue here; it’s the sport itself. Boxing and Hopkins are moving in the same direction: toward a sorry ending.
Color, however, has little to do with either.
Whether Hopkins, the oldest champion in boxing history, wins Saturday night won’t alter his place in boxing history. Nor will a victory bring him the adulation he’s sought. His career has been brilliant, and if Hopkins doesn’t understand that fact, he isn’t a man easily satisfied.
He’ll get no satisfaction from talking about his color. He’ll get none from winning another fight. For Hopkins, his satisfaction will only come when he looks at what he has achieved and celebrates it. He can’t measure his worth on what others think of him.
To do so is to ask for the kind of acknowledgement a Black man ought never to beg for when his deeds haven’t been enough to earn it.
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(Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)