To the editor:
Most historians are cultural detectives, too. They are constantly observing the beginning and end of trends – fads - cultural and social movements - popular music, art, theater and film etc.
Which trend will be the next to rise? Which fall? For me, I would add trends found in the world of sports. I love to read sports biographies, and being a history teacher, too, I love to read about the history of sports.
You can learn a lot about our culture through reading extensively in the field of sports biographies - a few writers became masters of it - David Halberstam, Jonathan Eig and Leigh Montville are just a few.
One trend I have noticed in recent decades is a gradual diminution of interest in boxing, heavyweight boxing, in particular. Mixed martial arts have taken its place to some extent, but it is a larger trend than that. It is not confined to the sports world. It is a trend we can see in our general culture, our cultural history.
The heavyweight champion of the world from John L. Sullivan through Muhammad Ali was a cultural touchstone, a symbol of manliness, strength, endurance and courage. It went beyond the sports world and into our general culture.
The heavyweight champion was a celebrity around the world, and even a perfunctory glance at the history of the heavyweight division from 1910 to 1980 is a primer in the history of race relations in America.
So what am I getting at? An omission! A simple omission that is bothering me a lot lately.
There is only one heavyweight boxing champion of the world who retired undefeated, and he died in a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield 50 years ago on Aug. 31, 1969. His name is Rocky Marciano - and he has been barely mentioned in all the retrospectives I have seen in recent weeks.
Moon landing? Of course! Woodstock? You bet! Miracle Mets, Joe Namath? Both have been consistently mentioned and are consistently mentioned. But Rocky Marciano? Not much.
I ran into the mother of a former student of mine in the post office the other day. She is a real estate agent and also a great mom to three sons. She has lived here many years. Not a sports fan really but she was interested to know about Rocky’s unfortunate demise 50 years ago. So I am hoping that many of my other fellow Iowans will be interested to know this, too. Rocky Marciano deserves to be remembered, and so does the era in American cultural history he represents so well.
- Jim Turner, Fairfield