Should Trump Pardon Jack Johnson?

By Robert Ecksel on April 23, 2018
Should Trump Pardon Jack Johnson?
It’s an impertinent misreading of history to presume that his legacy needs restoration.

Sacrosanct on one hand and counterfeit on the other, symbols both refine and diminish the genuine for a simulation…

“Jack Johnson is a boxing and pioneer whose reputation was wrongly tarnished by a racially motivated conviction more than a century ago. I hope President Trump will seize the opportunity before him to right this historical wrong and restore a great athlete’s legacy.”—Sen. John McCain

Symbols possess a potency all their own. Sacrosanct on one hand and counterfeit on the other, they both refine and diminish the genuine for a simulation, a ritualistic reflection of a specific time and place in which we rewrite history from the periphery of experience imagined and not lived.

There have been many attempts to overturn the racially-motivated conviction of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion and a touchstone of defiance for over a century. Appeals to several presidents over the years to pardon Jack Johnson always seem to fall on deaf ears. But one president, Donald J. Trump, our current president, who doesn’t know irony from a hole in the ground, appears willing to at least consider granting Johnson a pardon, thanks in large part to the efforts of Sylvester Stallone, aka Rocky, who Trump calls a friend and with whom he has spoken about the issue.

“Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson,” Trump tweeted from Mar-a-Lago over the weekend. “His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial. Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!”

It’s impertinent, and a misreading of history, to presume that Johnson’s legacy is in need of restoration. His legacy, in and out of the ring, for good and for ill, is the stuff of legend and the less tampering with that legend the better. Johnson was and continues to be an iconic figure, inspiring books, plays, films, documentaries, and record albums. He also influenced men no less substantial than Muhammad Ali.

The idea of a pardon isn’t insulting on its face, except when it’s abused as is often the case. But since sanitizing Papa Jack doesn’t do much of anything for anybody, except those misguided enough to intercede on what is presumably his behalf, it’s reasonable to assume that by pardoning Johnson we diminish him at the same time as we pardon the United States for its antiquated customs, laws, and mores.

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  1. Jonathan Arouh 09:46am, 04/27/2018

    The man has earned his pardon.

  2. Buster 10:19pm, 04/24/2018

    Doubt this ridiculous, convoluted and almost unreadable column would have been written if it was Obama who was considering a pardon. Obama would be praised. But because it’s Trump the writer condemns a pardon. Hypocrite! Of course Johnson should be pardoned! And it’s another feather in Trump’s cap if he does it. None of his predecessors had the guts to do it.

  3. Brian SCHIFF 09:47am, 04/24/2018

    This is a contender for the dumbest column ever…More African’s have come here since slavery than were brought here during slavery..because America has changed for the better.

  4. Ollie Downtown Brown 08:55am, 04/24/2018

    IF this issue really means that much to you, me, I could care less, with things like false flags in Syria, South Africa, open borders, etc., this is a non-issue as far as I am concerned. Anyhow, you can drop the White House a comment at 202-456-1111, Monday through Friday, during bidness hours. Glad to give ya the dime for all that are concerned with this.

  5. Tommie 05:45am, 04/24/2018

    Trump is a great leader. MAGA

  6. George Louis Otto 05:43am, 04/24/2018

    As a 62 year boxing fan and long time activist to make professional boxing better (especially for the fans and the fighters), I support the pardon.  Mr. Johnson did help the sport and brought needed attention to racial intolerance and injustice in America.  And, in my doing this, I will once again join forces with Senator McCain to right a wrong, especially within the realm of the sweet science.  Without question, this particular elected official has done the most of any politician to make professional boxing better for the fans and the fighters.

  7. peter 04:52pm, 04/23/2018

    Pardon him. What harm is there? He has already been tacitly pardoned by the U.S. government when a U.S. postal stamp was issued with his picture on it.

  8. Your Name 11:45am, 04/23/2018

    Jack Johnson should have never been charged with anything. The man did nothing that isn’t done all over. He should be cleaned of everything.

  9. Ollie Downtown Brown 11:22am, 04/23/2018

    Researching the Manson case, I just found out that Manson was deported from Mexico in 1960 as an “undesirable alien.”

  10. Ollie Downtown Brown 11:05am, 04/23/2018

    Hmm, one of Charles Manson’s earlier arrests were the violation of the Mann Act as well. Pardoning Manson or Johnson wouldn’t do either much good at this poiint. I would have to check on the particulars of the Manson case, but I believe Manson was allegedly the girl’s lover as well as her pimp.

    Sly Stallone is getting a bit long in the tooth and probably only wants to keep his name relevant. This case is so old,  it would only be a symbolic gesture at best. If Trump can pardon that lying sack of sh*t, Scooter Libby, then I think Johnson should receive one as well. Libby is very relevant in 2018,  whereas Jack is ancient history. If pardoning Jack Johnson makes some people feel all warm and fuzzy inside, even though it would be some meaningless token gesture, then who is it going to hurt and who really cares.

  11. Matt McGrain 10:58am, 04/23/2018

    Well done.  Not many people would have the guts to write this article.  I’ve thought about it a couple of times but figured it not worth the hassle.

    I’d add: pardoning people is difficult, costly, and time-consuming *even when most folks are in agreement it should happen*.  There are people in jail now, who are alive and who are innocent, who need pardons. 

    Jack Johnson - arguably boxing’s ultimate badass anyway - needs a pardon like I need a knife in the eye.  He’s great without it.  There was also plenty about him that was shady.

    Anyway, good effort.

    Showing your years with “record albums” (-;

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