In publishing the memoirs of the late Jack (Doc) Kearns, which begin on page 48 of this issue, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has a multiple purpose. First, of course, we hope to entertain by recapturing an era in boxing that has yet to be surpassed for gaudy excitement and lightly taxed wealth, an era that was largely the creation of this most flamboyant of fight managers and his even more famous protégé, Jack Dempsey. Then there is the story itself, a story that should be told, a story that Kearns chose to conceal until shortly before his death last year. Not always a pleasant tale, it is a tale of the times, and for every reader chilled by its revelations there will be others whose memories are provoked by the recollections it affords. Which brings us to our final purpose. We would like to suggest that boxing today, despite the evils that persist, is hardly so depraved as in the convoluted days of Doc Kearns.
The problems that beset boxing—and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has been historically concerned with their solution—are, if anything, on the decrease, and the ones that remain bear little resemblance to those of the '20s and early '30s. No longer are fighters accused of entering the ring with their fists enhanced by yards of illegal bicycle tape or, as once happened, pieces of metal. Betting coups of the vast proportions that Kearns arranged are unknown today. And Kearns, who admits to a close working arrangement with Al Capone in Part II of his memoirs next week, personally lived long enough to see gangland control of the fight game begin to wither and die. Today a death in the ring is viewed not with apathy but with alarm; a grossly incompetent decision is a thing to be investigated rather than ignored; a mismatched fighter is often sent home rather than to the morgue. If perfection evades us still, at least we move forward.
The main problem today is to provide opportunities and incentives for boxers—attractive enough ones to bring good athletes into the sport. Whether the boxers now working are better or worse than the oldtimers is a question this magazine is not likely to decide. We know a thousand fans who say that Dempsey could have demolished Sonny Liston; we also know a boxing manager who, having viewed the films of virtually every famous heavyweight fight back to Corbett and Fitzsimmons, insists that only Jack Johnson belongs in Liston's class. But in the end—who knows? It is much more fun to read about Dempsey and Willard, about Mickey Walker and Harry Greb—and then to lean back and reminisce.
For our cover reminiscence of the Dempsey-Willard fight we introduce a new artist in whom we think readers will see something of the tradition of George Bellows (1882-1925) and Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), who were as devoted to watching boxing as to painting it. Baltimorean Joe Sheppard, 33, an instructor at the Maryland Institute of Art, was still unborn when Dempsey whipped Willard in 1919; he painted our cover after study of the jumpy movies of the fight. Sheppard admires Bellows, studied with Marsh and goes both of them one better: his favorite participant sport is boxing. When he isn't painting or teaching, he can be found working out regularly with the welterweights at Mr. Mack Lewis' Gym on Baltimore's Broadway.