Sunday, June 12, 2016

Rename Joe Louis Arena Gordie Howe Arena

Perhaps it's a knee-jerk reaction to Mr. Hockey's recent death, or perhaps it's long past time as just the right thing to do. The Detroit Red Wings are in the process of building a sparkling new arena, so why not name it after Gordie Howe?

Let's compare Gordie and Joe. They were eerily similar in some respects, but vastly different in others.

Louis was born in Alabama. Howe was born in Saskatchewan. Obviously neither qualified as Detroit "natives".

After his parents brought him as a child to Detroit during the depression era, Louis bummed around at various jobs trying to make a buck before he got into boxing. Howe bummed around in various junior leagues in Canada before finally catching on with the Red Wings. Both were major talents waiting to happen.

Louis would go on to become, arguably, one of the best fighters of all time. He held the heavyweight title for over 10 years. Howe would go on to become, arguably, one of the best NHL players of all time. Besides his incredible toughness, Howe's scoring records stood for decades until that pesky Wayne Gretzky came along much later to shatter them.

Louis was semi-literate at best and not the sharpest knife in the drawer. His managers ripped him off for most of his career, stealing the lion's share of his earnings. Though a good man, he just didn't know any better. Likewise, despite his greatness, Howe was too dumb to realize how much he suppressed the earnings of other players in the league. Gordie didn't care about the money so he signed contracts on the cheap. When other great players around the league would rightfully want a "raise", management would ask them if they thought they deserved more than what Gordie Howe was making. End of conversation.

Due to his largess -- and foolishness -- with friends and family -- Louis would wind up owing the IRS a pile of money he could never hope to pay back. With the loan-sharkish tactics of that time (90% interest) the infernal revenuers zapped him with, the Brown Bomber was in a heap of financial trouble. Let's not forget, this was during the Jim Crow era and the powers that were had little sympathy for some "minority" boxer they likely never wanted to see rise to greatness in the first place. They hammered him unmercifully. Finally a deal was struck that if an aging Joe would come out of retirement and forfeit all his future purse money to the IRS, they'd cut him a little slack. Today it would seem outrageous, but such were the times and culture back then. Through necessity, Old Joe would wind up getting in the ring with a rising powerhouse named Rocky Marciano -- and promptly beaten to a pulp.

Due to his loyalty -- and naivete -- Howe would continue to play for the Red Wings for well over 20 years -- always underpaid -- which effected others -- as mentioned above. While he had brought the franchise great glory during his career, when they finally deemed him expendable, Howe was given a small office with, evidently, no job.

In desperation, Louis would go on to try his hand at pro wrestling, and then even a referee at such spectacles. Anything for a buck. How far the once mighty had fallen.

Conversely, after the Red Wings gave their best player ever the "bum's rush", Howe would catch on -- with his two sons -- in the fledgling American Hockey League. It would merge with the NHL within a few years. Throughout his 40s, and even after 50, Gordie Howe remained a very productive player at the highest level of hockey.

Sadly, Louis would die just short of his 67th birthday in 1981. He was broke and very much old news in the boxing world. Whether he still had the mental faculties to realize the then brand new Joe Louis Arena for the Red Wings was named after him is a matter of speculation.

Howe would live to be the ripe old age of 88, and remained active in the Detroit area helping out various worthwhile causes all along until just recently when his health would no longer permit it.

Which former athlete gave more to Detroit over his career is not even a close call.

So here's the question(s) ----- Why did the Red Wings name a hockey arena after a boxer in the first place? Joe Louis was fond of golf in his spare time, but he likely never put on a pair of skates in his life. Wouldn't that have been a little bit like naming a new NFL football stadium after a bygone great tennis player? It made no sense then -- or now.

Pizza baron Mike Ilitch owns the Detroit Red Wings and he can name the new arena anything he wants.

With all due respect to the Brown Bomber and what he accomplished in the boxing ring many years ago, it's high time he and the Red Wings come to their senses and give the new facility a more fitting title.

Gordie Howe Arena. No, he didn't live to see it, but it should have borne his name all along.

Here's a little irony. The current Joe Louis Arena has a big statue of a black fist in front of it. Evidently, this was a throwback tribute to Louis' punching power back in the day. But in the end, he wound up getting pummeled. Meanwhile, besides his skill, Gordie Howe was likely the most formidable fighter the NHL has ever seen -- and that takes in a lot of tough guys. So keep the fist, but dye it a more neutral color.

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