Athletics and Pugilism in the Ancient and Modern World
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 4 Mar 1948, p. 277-284
Runney, Commander James Joseph (Gene), Speaker
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Item Type
Some history of athletics and civilization. The importance of athletics. Origins of boxing. Acknowledging the contributions of the Greeks to making the athlete immortal in stone and bronze. The modern Olympics. The unfortunate battles between the athletes in Olympic Games. The influence of athletics upon the civilization of our modern times. Sportsmanship in modern athletics from England. A look at 1890, when John L. Sullivan visited England. Details and anecdotes of that visit. Sullivan bringing American culture to England. Another Sullivan story from 1896 in Nevada. More stories of famous names in boxing: Jack Johnson; Tommy Burns; Jess Willard; Jack Dempsey; Joe Louis. Raising the standing of boxing. A discussion comparing Dempsey and Louis.
Date of Original
4 Mar 1948
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
Chairman: The President, Tracy E. Lloyd
March 4th, 1948

Reverend Sirs, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce to the Empire Club of Canada a distinguished visitor from the United States--Mr. James Joseph Tunney, familiarly known to the world as "Gene Tunney."

Mr. Tunney was born in New York, attending Lasalle Academy and for five years was with an Ocean Steamship Company in New York. Mr. Tunney served with the United States Marines in the Frst World War and in 1919 won the Light Heavyweight Championship of the American expeditionary forces at Paris and on September 23, 1926 won the Heavyweight World Championship from which he retired as undefeated world champion.

For the next twelve years Mr. Tunney was engaged in various business enterprises but resigned in 1940 to reenter the service of his country and was appointed Lt.-Commander in the United States Navv to direct the Athletic and Physical programe and in 1942 was promoted to Commander.

Commander Tunney is a Director of the First Stamtor to Magazines--His articles featuring the building of sound bodies and clear minds in the youth of his country. It is also interesting to note that Commander Tunney wrote the article on boxing for the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Our Guest of Honour is interested in the classics and was granted an Honorary Degree by Arnold College in 1942.

Commander Tunney is a Director of the First Stamford National Bank and Trust Company, Stamford, Conn., Industrial Bank of Commerce, New York City, Eversharp Inc., Denman Tire & Rubber Company, Michigan Chemical Corporation, St. Louis and as President of the Gold-Uranium Exploration Limited in Canada I would remind him of a quotation from one of his own articles-"Success is Won, Not Found".

Mr. President, Reverend Father, Members of The Empire Club of Canada: It is indeed a great pleasure for me to have this privilege to address you men. It is a great honour that you pay me. I am quite certain that those of my countrymen who are here feel as proud of it as I do.

It has been said by enthusiasts of athletics that you can measure the development of a civilization by its athletic programmes. Now, I am not as enthusiastic as that. But, I want to say that from the research that I have made on_athletics that if I had to make a decision one way or the other I would have to say, on the basis of what I know, yes.

I never will forget my surprise, on going up the Nile, to find engravings on the temples of the 15th century B.C. of wrestling matches, boxing matches and cross sword games, also races of every kind, and then going back to the year 15 B.C. and comparing that civilization with civilizations of the times before and since. That is outstanding for that civilization produced the first monotheist known to history. Akhnaton, who as you fellows who know Egyptology will understand, was the father-in-law of Tut-ahnk-amen; was the first man to say "One God"; and the first man in the history of the world to pray to one God. He wrote songs and poems, many of which were picked up by subsequent poets and psalm writers of Judaism.

Then to go back to the Golden Age of Greece and before the Golden Age and back to the beginnings of the Olympic era, 770 B.C.: An athletic carnival was looked upon, at that time, as a religious festival and no man could participate in the carnival or in the games who had any blemish on his escutcheon in the way of immorality or a bad reputation for unlawful acts. As a matter of fact, before a participant was accepted by the Committee to represent the town in the Olympic Games a crier would go out and ask whether there was anyone, somewhat as we do now in the case of a church marriage, who had any knowledge that would reflect upon the athlete's character because that individual was to take over a great responsibility which might bring dishonour upon the town or village. The man who had no marks against his record was the only kind of person acceptable to the Olympic Committee. That was in 776 B.C. and the practise continued for four or five centuries. History tells us that boxing was adopted a period known as the third Carnival. Carnivals being every four years. That would be about 668 B.C., and they continued boxing in the Olympics up to the time of its demise during the Roman period.

Boxing started with leather thongs and stayed that way among the Greeks until the sport was picked up by the Romans. They were even more blood-thirsty and, accordingly, studded the leather thongs with pieces of brass, iron or nickel. In the days of Roman games one blow was quite sufficient. You had no more interest in life after receiving it.

But we know that the Greeks contributed a great deal to the culture of the world. They certainly contributed a great deal to the thought of the world when we remember the great philosophers. That was the era of Pericles, Socrates, Aristotle and Plato--all about the same generation. They gave to the world ideas that are still good, logic that is acceptable to the highest form of intellectuality. They gave beautiful art. Unfortunately many paintings have been completely destroyed. Has anyone ever seen a poor piece of Greek sculpture? I never have in any part of the world where I have travelled. And I can think of no other civilization having done so much for the athlete by making him immortal in stone and bronze. No other generation did so much for the development of the intelleect and spirit as the Golden Age of Greece under Pericles.

Today, the modern world has the Olympics back--I think it was 1888 that a Frenchman revived the idea of the old Olympic Games. His thought was to bring peace into the world, and instead of people combatting each other with munitions, that they would combat on the athletic field.

It was a grand and noble ideal that hasn't worked out quite that way. As a matter of actual fact,--you will find more battles between the athletes in Olympic Games these days than you will between statesmen. I just was reading what some vandals did to our bobsleds in Switzerland. I know the Swiss are very sportsmanlike people. I dare say every group of athletes, no matter what nationality, that I have met in my travels around the world have been great sportsmen. But some vicious vandals get in somewhere and do dirty work at crossroads. That, however, cannot be attributed to the ideal sportsman. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite holds true.

Now, we come to the influence of athletics upon the civilization of our modern times. I am always reminded that the real spirit of the athleticism of the Greek era was picked up by England, and that England was the cradle of modern athletics and is, certainly, the cradle of modern boxing. All that we know about- sportsmanship in modern athletics we gained from England. All that we know of the amateur approach to the sporting field also, came from England.

One of the things that encourages me about the eternal life of England is the spirit that the English people put into athletics, boxing, and even statesmanship. Their approach is always the approach of fairness and sportsmanship and I, who am American of pure Irish extraction, am perfectly to be first to say so.

I go back now for a moment to the year 1890, when one of the noblest figures-well, one of the most notorious figures-of our sporting world, a man whose name is magic even today, though he has been dead many years since--thirty years to be exact--John L. Sullivan, visited England. It was Sullivan's first trip over. Arthur Brisbane was a young reporter in, London for the New York Herald at that time. Having a great sense of news Brisbane cultivated Sullivan and attached himself to him.

On the afternoon of the arrival of Sullivan, James Smith, who was then heavyweight champion of England was giving an exhibition at St. James Palace for the then, Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII. The Prince was a great sportsman.

Sullivan was invited. The invitation had been sent to the hotel by the Equerry of the Prince of Wales. Sullivan went. But at the instigation of Arthur Brisbane, he said, "I have a friend with me and unless he come in I don't go in." He was most imperious. There was a conference inside the Palace. Presently word was sent out that it was perfectly all right: "If you have a friend, that is fine, bring him in."

So, in went Arthur Brisbane with John L. Sullivan. (This is Brisbane's story, told me by that great newspaperman personally.) The first thing that happened was that Sullivan was taken over to the box in which sat the Prince of Wales. Brisbane right along with him. He was presented to the Prince of Wales, who very graciously stood up and said: "Mr. Sullivan, I am delighted to welcome you to England, and I am particularly delighted to welcome you to St. James Palace. You know, Mr. Sullivan, your fame has gone before you. You are a very famous man and we hope you find our England all you expect."

Sullivan said, "Why, Prince, that's all right. You're famous, too. I've heard of you many times."

When Sullivan was introduced to the crowd he was expected to take a bow graciously and get out of the ring. But getting into the ring he yelled out--he had a very deep voice--he yelled out, "I just got off a boat . . . . . . If I don't lay out your Jim Smith . . . . . I will go back on the first boat."

That was John L. Sullivan bringing American culture to England.

There is another story about John L. Sullivan which I think you would enjoy hearing. Subsequent to his losing the championship to Jim Corbett in New Orleans in 1882, Fitzsimmons and Corbett were matched to fight in Reno or Carson City, Nevada, on March 17, 1896. A newspaper man who was Editor of the old Neu, York Morning World at that time, got the idea it would be nice to have Sullivan go out to Nevada and cover the activities of the training camps for the sports enthusiasts and boxing fans of New York. So he wired Sullivan in Boston to come down to New York. There he told him the proposition and Sullivan agreed:-"Yes, I will take it." Transportation was arranged and the Editor thought that this being the first time this had ever been done it was important enough for him to go with Sullivan. He would go out and see that Sullivan landed there safely and then come back. In those days when you left New York for Carson City, Nevada, you changed trains maybe six or seven times. Always at these stations there would be a crowd around, because the great John L. Sullivan was coming through, and some vulgar person would yell "Speech".

That was all John needed. He would say: "Ladies and Gentlemen: It is fine of you people to come down here and greet me in this fair town of yours today. I hope I will be as deserving of your approbation in the future as in the past. Yours truly, John L. Sullivan."

When the Editor got back to New York he went over to a luncheon club that only newspaper men attended, the Park Row, and they started ribbing him about Sullivan. They said, "Just how did he act?" The Editor had a dry sense of humour said, "Oh, as was his wont, after the manner of a Roman Emperor, worried with the adulation but willing to bear it for the people's sake."

Boxing has come along a great way since those days. Fortunately, we have had some very fine examples of manhood to claim and win the heavyweight championships. I know that you--I think it was from Calgary, Alberta--sent a young man I believe named Noel Brusseau who later was know as Tommy Burns to claim the heavyweight championship of the world. I heard all about this in Sidney, Australia, the last time I was, there. It took place in Sidney. Jack Johnson defeated Tommy Burns in fourteen rounds. Burns made a very creditable showing. It was almost certain that Johnson was going to win. The police stopped the contest to save Burns from further punishment.

Johnson was a rather poor example of a great athlete in his personal conduct, but then Jess Willard came along and defeated him, honestly and fairly in Havana.

And don't let anybody tell you the story that Johnson laid down. Nobody goes twenty-six rounds in the open air in, the hot Cuban sun of summertime if he intends to lie down. He will decide a little earlier in the match. Johnson fell from exhaustion. He was an old man. He had been wined and dined in every capital of Europe. It was said that he never went to bed without two quarts of wine in his system. You can't do that and be a heavyweight champion. Willard was a fair champion.

He met a young man named Jack Dempsey in Toledo. I was in France at the time and I was pulling for Dempsey even then. Dempsey, I think on that occasion displayed the greatest destructive exhibition of prize fighting ever seen.

Next to that comes Joe Louis' annihilation of Primo Carnero who was 260 pounds against his 198.

After Dempsey came this fellow who goes around talking about athletics in ancient and modern times.

Then we have had a series of other fighters, all of whom gave good accounts of themselves, each and everyone. So they raised the standing of boxing as a social avocation. And now we have Joe Louis who, in my opinion, is the greatest fighter of his time, probably the greatest fighter of all time. He is a credit to his race. He is a credit to his country and has deported himself creditably in his profession and as a patriot.

There is a question in my mind--I must say mine is the professional attitude--whether Louis could have beaten Dempsey. Frankly, I don't think so. I think that Dempsey would have won from Louis because of his style. I think Louis' record is far better than Dempsey's but Dempsey was fast and when he hit, instead of becoming confused he was a ferocious tiger. When Joe Louis is hit and hurt he gets confused. That is what would have decided the contest. Dempsey would be sure to hit Louis. Dempsey's blow would have a most telling effect on Louis. Dempsey could take more, and when Louis got confused that would be all Dempsey needed because he never lost a second in ending a fight as fast and as quickly as possible.

Now, there is so much more I could talk about, and I could go on and on, meandering along, but before it gets too late I want to again say to you people that I am complimented, and how sincerely I appreciate your invitation to talk to you today. Some time again I hope to have an opportunity to tell you about the things that go to make an athlete and a fighter, a boxer, with those qualities of the spirit called courage, gameness and sportsmanship, but that is another long talk that I will give another time if you invite me back. Thank you. (Applause.)

The thanks of the meeting was expressed by Mr. H. B. Greenway, Executive Commissioner of the Boy Scouts.

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Athletics and Pugilism in the Ancient and Modern World

Some history of athletics and civilization. The importance of athletics. Origins of boxing. Acknowledging the contributions of the Greeks to making the athlete immortal in stone and bronze. The modern Olympics. The unfortunate battles between the athletes in Olympic Games. The influence of athletics upon the civilization of our modern times. Sportsmanship in modern athletics from England. A look at 1890, when John L. Sullivan visited England. Details and anecdotes of that visit. Sullivan bringing American culture to England. Another Sullivan story from 1896 in Nevada. More stories of famous names in boxing: Jack Johnson; Tommy Burns; Jess Willard; Jack Dempsey; Joe Louis. Raising the standing of boxing. A discussion comparing Dempsey and Louis.