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It has been said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. This is true, but it is rarely said that in the hurry to write down history, you have to take occasion to enlighten the truth while doing so. A negative symptom of rushing to place history in its proper light is the footnote—a quick and easy stamp that is applied to a person, place or thing simply for the objective of note, without depth or proper explanation.

In the annals of boxing history, this mistake is a commonplace one. For example, you might be told to believe that Max Schmeling was a Nazi sympathizer; an explanation that seems valid simply from glancing at a photograph of a courteous Schmeling sharing a peaceful cup of tea in the audience of Adolph Hitler. Care wasn't taken to give note to the fact that in the 1930's, being the Heavyweight Champion of the World was like being the biggest rock star in the world.

You were the epitome of what makes a man, as a bastion of strength and masculinity, and it was very common for heads of state to command your company; Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the United States was known to talk stamp collecting with Schmeling when visiting Max's training camp.

Being a natural born German, Schmeling of course met with the wildly popular Nazi leader, simply because in the climate of the times, to ignore Hitler was a dangerous thing. Why this aspect of history is so easily ignored can of course be applied to the principle being that the annals are dotted with the most basic of human opinions: Good vs. Evil.

In the haste to sell newspapers or play to the sullen ears of the audience, Schmeling had no choice but to be the Evil German to Joe Louis' Good American. This made it easy to pick rooting interests, and in those times, it was easy to make the mark stick. Long before the internet provided a means to any and all to seek the truth for themselves (however you choose to believe it), the boxing public simply had to rely upon the reputable (sic) newsmen to report the facts.

The "facts" were that Max Schmeling was a German, which in the late 30's, was not a good thing outside of a few specific places splattered across the globe. The "facts" were that everybody was given an opportunity to see Schmeling in the company of the German fuhrer; but never really given the chance to see Max and FDR sharing a good laugh and a strong handshake. Nobody was informed, after Schmeling's career was done, that he protected Jewish children during World War II or that he pressured Hitler into leaving the black American athletes alone during the 36' Olympics in Berlin—by the time Joe Louis knocked out Schmeling in their rematch, the cast had been set on the most mentionable aspect of Max's place in the books of remembrance.

Neither, were the good people of the boxing public, given chance to see a rival of Max Schmeling's, Max Baer, as anything other than a jocular giant and a fierce punching machine. Always aware of the cameras, and never afraid to preen for them, Baer was most notable for two things—having two fighters (directly and indirectly) die from the savage power of his right hand, and losing to James J. Braddock.

Braddock, of course, was the 'Cinderella Man'; a once highly rated light heavyweight, who through injury and the effects of the American Great Depression of the 1930's, dropped off the face of the sport, out of it, until chance found him surprising the experts on his way to defeating the mighty Baer for the World Title. He was the proverbial Phoenix who rose above the ashes, to defeat the wildly feared champion; a happening that sits well within the pages of history.

Usually marked by the worst natures of men, history's pages need the occasional weight of a good story (with a happy ending) to keep the reader interested, and a down and out rise from the shadows, as Braddock accomplished, is certainly more interesting than a physical specimen who was part clown/part ring destroyer.

Because he did become Heavyweight champion of the world (defeating Primo Carnera by virtue of near-slaughter), Baer was destined to be given a place in the pages of history, but also, he was destined to be overshadowed by Braddock's easy to love story. To the point, that it was Braddock's life that was given the treatment of a major motion picture in 2005, not Baer.

Of course, considering it was Baer's title that Braddock took, it was necessary to peruse the history of the fight, and it's two combatants, to give the story its weight. Not so surprisingly, Max Baer's footnote was sketchily drawn, and not entirely true. Yes, he was the Heavyweight champion; yes, two of his opponents died in the ring because of his punches; and yes, Max was no shrinking violet around the new boys who trailed him and Braddock in the ensuing weeks leading up to the title fight. But, as I have aforementioned, the pages of history are not always so remarkable in their treatment of the individuals it notes; so it's expected that Baer, never as good a story as Braddock, is detailed in the movie as a vain, discompassionate man who taunted Braddock and felt no pause about possibly making him the third victim to die at his hands in the squared circle.

The hero of the little man versus the happy, power punching Champion isn't nearly as exciting as the "Hero vs. the Unrepentant Killer". So, it's clear that a movie about the first, isn't as memorable (or profitable) as the latter; which is exactly why the image of Baer, becomes even more negated from the truth than ever before. After all, humanity is stricken by the syndrome of short memory, the negligible art of letting out of sight, out of mind, become the means by which history relegates the vagaries which round out the truth, as opposed to just the cold hard facts.

Once the new big thing had eclipsed Baer's reign in the public spotlight, he immediately became a figure of the past. At that point, once the die is cast, it's hard to reshape it. The little moments or the inconsequential but imporant tics and colors of the person are what shape the truth, yet they are soon lost if they remain undocumented—only the brief summary of a life remains, especially once time creates distance and lack of interest in seeking out those little mannerisms for history's sake.

Therefore, it's quickly forgotten that Max Baer, who so thoroughly battered Primo Carnera to take the Heavyweight title, pleaded for the referee in that fight to stop it, as the senseless Carnera was sprawled across the ropes. Forgotten, is the fact that when Baer died decades later, Carnera went out of his way to visit his friend’s grave, climbing over a fence to do so. The pages of history ignore that Baer wanted to give up fighting, after the fight where Frankie Campbell lost his life, directly because of Baer's power, but the times of day (the Great Depression) and his lacking the skill to do much of anything else, essentially forced him to keep fighting. That Baer suffered nightmares and cried over what he'd done to Campbell for the rest of his living days has been skipped over.

Instead, the most famous mark of Max Baer's life remains the improper depiction of him in "Cinderella Man"; the pieces of film footage of him losing to Braddock or the deaths of Frankie Campbell and Ernie Schaff. Combined, these things paint the picture of a brutal, angry animal who never cared who suffered at the hands of his gifted fists - the hallmarks of a remorseless killer. That Max Baer was anything but that, or that Max Schmeling was anything other than a German (by connection, a Nazi sympathizer) boxer, is far from the true measure of either man.

That the pages of history so easily demand that their memories be dominated by these false caricatures is true. This is what happens, when people deny the essential truth that nobody is what they seem and that a book cannot be judged by its cover. However, it's also true that those who ignore history are deemed to repeat it, so the possibility still exists that today's historians can right the wrong's of the past. They can take the "known" and give it true weight, not just the casual place of being a minor footnote; but only if we remember that it's in the details, not just the fairly obvious to most, that we learn the true shape of a person's life and of their being.

We just have to think, before we act, and ask, "Is that all there is to it? Or could there be more?" It's in the search for the little things, that the truth becomes whole.
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