Gordon Marino, in “Boxing Pay is Featherweight Class” (Leisure & Arts, Dec. 12), writes that “the great Joe Louis, so fleeced by his managers…ended his days scrambling for a living as a greeter in a Las Vegas gambling casino.”
Joe Louis may have been fleeced by his managers, but the catastrophe of his last days had another cause. After the second Billy Conn fight, Louis received a check for $1 million. He endorsed it to the Army-Navy Relief Fund. His signature on the check made it income, and the wartime tax probably amounted to more than half of the whole. He should have had the check made out to the beneficiaries. He was never after able to earn enough to meet his tax liability, with the interest accumulating faster than his income.
The Internal Revenue Service was relentless in pursuing him, and it was this that drove him back into the ring, long past his prime. When he no longer could box, he became a professional wrestler, for which he had no training. On one occasion, his ribs were badly crushed, and his heart damaged. He was in severe pain the rest of his life, and turned to alcohol and drugs for relief. But the IRS was pitiless and never relented.
Why a private bill to relieve him was never introduced into Congress is hard to understand. Joe was a national treasure. He deserved to be honored, not persecuted. On being inducted into the Army he was asked why he was willing to fight for a country that treated “his people” the way colored people were treated then. He replied with these immortal words: “There ain’t nothing wrong with this country that Hitler can fix.”
Harry V. Jaffa
December 27, 2002