MAX SCHMELING PASSES AWAY AT 99

He KOd Joe Louis, defied Adolf Hitler

04/02/2005

MAX SCHMELING PASSES AWAY AT 99

The entire world, not just the sport of boxing, suffered a great loss this week when former heavyweight champion of the world Max Schmeling passed away at the age of 99 at his home in Germany.  Not only did Schmeling defeat Joe Louis in his prime, he defied Adolf Hitler and the murderous Nazi party and went on to have the kind of fairy tale happy ending that every boxer dreams of but precious few actually achieve.  Seventy years ago, Schmeling became the first (and still the only) German to hold the world heavyweight championship by taking the vacant title from Jack Sharkey.  He lost the title by controversial decision to Sharkey in 1932 but rebounded with a 1936 stoppage of a young then-unbeaten propsect named Joe Louis. When Louis went on to win the championship, a rematch was arranged that was viewed by the world almost as a referendum on Hitler's claims that Germans were racially superior to other humans.  In 1938 in New York City, Schmeling was destroyed in less than a round by Louis, but through it all he refused to be drawn into a racist debate.  Later in life, when Louis fell on hard times, he befriended and helped financially support Louis.  Back in the 1930s, Schmeling was an early friend of Hitler, but when the Nazi dictator asked Schmeling to fire his Jewish manager, Schmeling refused. He also hid two Jewish boys in his hotel room to save them from anti-Semitic violence that was sweeping the streets of Germany. As penalty for failing to embrace Nazism, Hitler assigned Schmeling to the Nazi army during World War II and gave him dangerous assignments. But Schmeling survived, became a millionaire Coca-Cola executive, and lived a long and prosperous life in which he was adored by the German public.  The world will miss the great Max Schmeling.  --Scott Shaffer