Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Judas to the hall?

File this one under the ‘not sure what to think’ department. Former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis has been named to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

He’ll be joined by the 1996 Olympic champion 4x100-metre relay team, Steve Yzerman swimmer Nancy Garapick, a triple Olympic medallist, short-track speedskater Marc Gagnon, also a multiple Olympic medallist and former Jays GM Pat Gillick.

Lewis, of course, won gold for Canada as a super heavyweight in Seoul.

Then he turned his back on this country, choosing to fight under the Union Jack as a professional. At the time of his decision he said that he was moving back to England because he felt that he would not be properly supported in Canada. As is often the case, he received a near free pass from the Canadian sports media. Just like they did with soccer players Owen Hargreaves and Jonathan de Guzman years later, most Canadian sports writers were tripping over each other in an effort to defend the decision, actually.

It was if we Canadians should be grateful that Lewis lowered himself to represent this country at all. After all, great athletes that don’t chase rubber disks on ice must come from other places--we should be happy with the glory by association that Lewis would provide.

Indeed, whenever a Lewis fight was reported on here he became “the former Canadian Olympian now fighting for England.” And although Lewis’ thesis was likely correct—Canada is horrendous at supporting its non-hockey athletes—there was always a tinge of loss in those reports. How much he could have done for the sport in Canada had he chose to fight for this country will never be known. But, it was a lot, likely.

Talent doesn’t know geography. There is little doubt that Lewis would have achieved the same if he had worn the Maple Leaf instead of the Union Jack. Instead, he chose an easier path and as much as I can respect his talent I can’t respect that choice.

Where I will cut him some slack is in this: Lewis did spend the first 11 years of his life in London. His British roots were unquestioned. And, unlike Hargreaves and de Guzman he was always up front about his decision and why it was made (both soccer players were evasive and, in Hargreaves’ case, outright lied in interviews just prior to making the jump. Additionally neither has manned up nor spoke about their choice in an honest way since).

So, should Lewis be in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame? Maybe, but only if you feel that his accomplishments in Korea are enough to get him there. I’m sure there is a hall of fame in England that can recognize his pro career.

Related: The G&M's Stephen Brunt has a different take.


Anonymous said...

Did Lewis turn his back on Canada, or did Canada turn it's back on Lewis? Go ahead and name a Canadian fighter who went ANYWHERE on the world stage. Tell me the last time a fight involving a Canadian played to a sold-out crowd? Any of us would've done the same thing if we felt we weren't getting a fair shake from our own country. I'm not sure Lewis would've even gotten a title shot had he remained in this country. Good for him!

Duane Rollins said...

Like IBF super bantamweight champion Steve Molitor, who not only fights as a Canadian, but also insists on fighting in Canada?

And, speak for yourself. I have different mores than you when it comes to stuff like this.

Yes Im Peter Ing said...

You speak of "title fights" as if they're the holy grail of boxing, reserved only for the most lucrative and accomplished of fighters. That couldn't be further from the truth.

If cement-footed Billy Irwin was able to earn two title shots in his career fighting under the Canadian flag, then Lennox Lewis would've had little problem earning his.

As for boxing's track record at the box office in this country, not only does Molitor consistently sell out Casino Rama's venue, but the likes of Lucien Bute, Jean Pascal, Eric Lucas, and the Hiltons have been packing the Molson Centre ever since it was built.

I'm still not clear, though, where Canada "turned its back" on Lewis. If you want to argue that Canada didn't hold the same earning power that the UK did, fine. But don't act like it was perceived cold shoulder on Canada's part that sent Lewis packing. Even the man himself has expressed a degree of debt towards Canada: that's why he fought under the maple leaf in the olympics. He felt he at least owed this country that much.