By Harv Aronson
When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, I made it a habit to watch Saturday afternoon sports and most times it was ABC’s Wild World of Sports that I was tuned into. Over on CBS and NBC those networks along with HBO would broadcast boxing matches that involved James Scott.
What made Scott unique (now 70 years of age) was that at the time of his fights that I witnessed, he was incarcerated in Rahway State Prison in New Jersey. Jailed for robbery, Scott had a troubled youth that began at the age of 13 and he spent most of his adult life until his release in 2005 but his professional boxing career was so successful that in 2012 he as inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame. Reportedly these days he is in a nursing home suffering from dementia.
But as I remember James Scott, it was watching him fighting inside a prison and his rise to be a top boxer in the light heavyweight contender. Scott did have two bouts before being sent to Rahway, but the remainder of his record involved all fights behind bars.
While in Prison, Scott earned the title of champion for the light heavyweight division of the New Jersey prison system. Given the opportunity to go straight in 1974, Scott committed the robbery that placed him back in a cell which could have been worse had a charge of murder not ended in a hung jury.
James Scott fought some notable fighters, in particular Eddie Gregory who would become Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Mustafa Muhammad rose in the ranks to take the WBA light heavyweight championship in 1980. Ranked highly during his prison boxing career, in 1979 the WBA removed him from being ranked using the reason that Scott “was not a "good example.” They also threw in the excuse that anyone fighting him was at a disadvantage because they had to fight inside a prison.
In 1981, Scott went back on trial for the murder of a man named Everett Russ and this time was found guilty. His sentence was life and handed down on March 20, 1981. Obviously, he was paroled in 2005. Before he hung up the gloves on September 5, 1981, Scott fought his last bout against Dwight Braxton who like Eddie Gregory changed his name, his new name being Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Qawi had an incredible fight with Evander Holyfield that turned into a very memorable slugfest.
But Scott lost a unanimous decision to Qwai who was also a former tenant in Rahway State Prison. In the end James Scott finished with a career record of 19-2-1. This included six TKOs and five knockouts. With his first bout in 1974, Scott won his eight fights then drew in his ninth. 10 more straight victories led him into a bout with Jerry “The Bull” Martin which resulted in a unanimous decision loss for Scott.
Scott would return after that May 25, 1980 loss to TKO Dave Lee Royster before fighting that final bout with Braxton on September 5, 1981. Despite being a convicted criminal, his appearance on national television on a Saturday afternoon (which was when most fights were held), drew the attention of boxing enthusiasts everywhere.
By Harv Aronson
As I welcome you to the newest edition of All ‘Burgh Sports…”History of Sports,” periodically, I will present to readers a history lesson. The sports type of lesson. I will take a look back at something that stood out in the history of professional sports whether it is a single person or a team.
What better way to kick of this new column/blog than to look back at the career of a man many consider the greatest athlete of any sport in the history of the United States. James Francis Thorpe, more commonly known by “Jim Thorpe,” was a multi-sport athlete that competed not just in pro football, but also in Major League Baseball as well as representing the United States in the 1912 Summer Olympic Games.
At those games of 1912, Thorpe (who is part American Indian) took part in the pentathlon and decathlon events which were introduced into the Olympics for the first time in history. The gold medal for both events being run for the first time, were won by Thorpe. It was later discovered the prior to the games, Thorpe had been paid to play baseball thus violating his amateur status and he was stripped of his medals. His point total in the decathlon became a record that would stand for nearly 20 years.
As a pro baseball player, Thorpe took the field form the New York Giants from 1913-15 and again in 1917 but also played for the Cincinnati Reds in ’17 staying with the Giants from 1918-1919 before hanging up the cleats with the Boston Braves also in 1919. Thorpe had a career batting average of .252 and clubbed seven home runs.
Professional football was Jim Thorpe’s mainstay having played for nine different teams starting with the Canton Bulldogs (1915) and finishing with the Chicago Cardinals in 1928. Thorpe also coached five different teams and not only is he inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, his legacy also rests as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Jim Thorpe was married three times and following his death in 1953 from heart failure, his third wife Patricia Gladys Askew had his body moved to the town of Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania because town officials paid to have Thorpe’s body laid to rest there in exchange for renaming the town “Jim Thorpe” which it remains today.
As an athlete, Jim Thorpe stood 6’1” and weighed 202 pounds. He was fast, and very athletic, and as most superior athletes were back in that era…rugged. One last bit of trivia regarding Jim Thorpe and the 1912 Olympic games…if you look closely at the photo below taken from those games, you will observe that Thorpe’s shoes do not match. That’s because before the events of that day, Thorpe’s personal athletic shoes were stolen. Someone obviously thought they could lessen his chances of winning by taking his shoes.
Thorpe found a set of shoes in of all places, the garbage. They didn’t match but he put them on and one required an extra sock to make it fit. He then went out and won the decathlon.