Remembering the Goldfather Emanuel Steward
The only thing more ferocious than the 110 degree Kronk heat was the intensity of Kronk sparring matches, and I was mesmerized right away…
I was a troubled teenager when I first met Emanuel Steward at the legendary Kronk Gym on McGraw Street in Detroit in 1977. My older brother Doug, who was studying journalism at the University of Michigan, was then writing for the now defunct Ann Arbor News. I tagged along with him to watch Emanuel train the great Thomas “Hitman” Hearns and a group of future Golden Gloves champions with an equal amount of enthusiasm.
I was used to the excitement of being among 110,000 fans for a University of Michigan Big Ten football game, but it was a little more difficult to get used to the 110 degree heat inside the Kronk. The only thing more ferocious than the Kronk heat was the intensity of Kronk sparring matches, and I was mesmerized right away. The toughness and durability of Kronk boxers made the seemingly rugged football players seem like spoiled frat boys.
Emanuel had a way of sizing people up, and he sized me up pretty quickly. He threw some compliments my way and made me feel like I belonged at the gym. I left the gym that day thinking of Emanuel as a sort of father figure, even though there was not all that much interaction between us. He had a way of making everyone he came in contact with feel like a very lucky person.
He was a great man.
Emanuel would often travel with his young boxers to tournaments, including the Ohio State Fair. One or more always came home with a trophy, and Emanuel always looked as proud as the kid who won the award. He developed future professional champions and contenders like Hearns, Gerald McClellan, Milton and Steve McCrory, Frank Tate, Hilmer Kenty and Ricky Womack from the ground up. As amateurs they wore Kronk red and gold with great pride. Emanuel had devised the color scheme from the United States Marine Corps.
Although Emanuel would go on to have great success as a trainer of professional champions, he never looked happier than when he was working with the amateurs. I don’t believe any single team ever dominated amateur boxing the way the Kronk did in the 1970s and 1980s.
Emanuel’s interests went beyond boxing. He loved to cook, play softball, and serve as a father figure to his many fighters. No one loved boxing, and boxers, more than he did. Hearns, and many others, were often quoted as saying that Emanuel was like the dad they never had.
The Goldfather always took the time to talk to me whenever I would skip school and drive or hitchhike to the Kronk. He offered me great support during my short-lived amateur boxing career, where I lost to future USBA light heavyweight champion Booker Word. When my mother died years later, he called and urged me to come see him in Miami where he was training Lennox Lewis.
I was back in my hometown of Ann Arbor last July 4th, so naturally I sent Emanuel a text. It was not unusual for me to visit him at his home or at the gym or a training camp during my 25 years as a boxing photographer.
“Come over for a BBQ,” he wrote. “The the ribs are cooking.”
I will keep those words on my phone forever. In my heart and on my office bulletin board, I will always keep the cherished photo of Emanuel and me during that holiday weekend. I will look at it every day for inspiration and joy. There are no words to describe how much I will miss Emanuel. He was my friend, and truly a man of the people and a citizen of the world.
Rest in peace, Emanuel. You will always be my best friend forever in boxing.