Cinderella Man – (b) Historical Context

“[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to turn retreat into advance” [1]. These were Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inspiring words for a country that was in the depth of the worst economic depression America has ever experienced. The Stock Market crash of 1929 led to a snowball effect of economic downturns for the next decade: prices decreased, international trading became sparse (due to World War I putting European countries through a harsh reconstruction period), and unemployment reached a new high for the country (in 1933, 25 percent of all workers and 37 percent of all non-farm workers were completely out of work) [2]. According to British economist John Maynard Keynes, there were three types of unemployment: deficient-demand (based on the explanation that there was not enough monetary demand in the economy for it to operate at full employment levels), frictional – which is the “normal” kind where time is spent looking for a new or better job, and structural – the inconsistency between job vacancies and job-seekers [3]. This is where James Braddock fits in.

James Walter Braddock was born on June 7, 1905 in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, to two Irish Catholic parents (according to sportswriter Damon Runyon, “James J. Braddock” had more rhythm when saying it aloud) [4]. Braddock found his calling as a boxer while shadowing his brother at the gym and watching his success through the amateur ranks [5]. Once Braddock turned professional, he reached respectable success, even having a shot at the light heavyweight championship (which he lost). From then, Braddock started to experience his own downward spiral, posting a losing record for his next 33 fights. Boxing fans grew weary of Braddock’s performance, with this attitude capped off when he drew a no contest on one occasion (in which he also broke his right hand), leading to a decision by the boxing commission to withhold his purse and eventually revoking his license because of his sub-par performance [6]. Braddock’s bad luck can be accredited to he and his family being hit hard by the Depression.

James Braddock was the husband to Mae and a father to two sons and one daughter. During the midst of the Depression, Braddock and his manager, Joe Gould, worked hard to schedule fights in order to gain a purse and support his family. When Braddock was not fighting, he was going to the loading docks everyday with every other husband and father, hoping to get picked for manual labor that would help pay off the milk, electricity, and heating bills. The pressure to find income accumulated when Mae had their first child in 1930 [7]. Braddock’s fear of becoming impoverished and completely dependent became a reality in 1933 when he began accepting government relief money, an act seen as shameful, embarrassing, yet necessary during this time [8].

Braddock and his family’s financial and emotional slump reversed when Gould told him that he was able to book a fight against Heavyweight Title contender Corn Griffin – a purse worth $250 [9]. Without hesitation (and without much training), Braddock got his license back (with some strings pulled by Gould) and upset Griffin. Braddock soon made a comeback, beating younger opponents John Henry Lewis and Art Lasky and being dubbed the “Cinderella Man” by Runyon [4]. These wins led to a heavily anticipated World Heavyweight Title match with Max Baer. At this point, Braddock became an American icon, providing hope to those who nearly lost it because of the Depression. His determination to get back in the ring was not geared towards winning the title, but to fight so that his family could continue to eat and live. This resonated with the rest of America, and his triumph over the favored Baer is what turned things around for the Braddock family.

1. Rosenman, Samuel, ed. The Public Papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Volume Two: The Year of Crisis, 1933 (New York: Random House, 1938), 11-16.

2. Smiley, Gene. “Great Depression,” http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/GreatDepression.html (accessed November 1, 2008).

3. Jensen, Richard J. “The Causes and Cures of Unemployment in the Great Depression,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XIX:4 (Spring, 1989), 554.

4. Delisa, Miachael C. Cinderella Man: The James J. Braddock Story (United Kingdom: Milo Books, 2005), 37.

5. Ibid., 17

6. Ibid., 116.

7. Schapp, Jeremy. Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005), 115.

8. Ibid., 164.

9. Delisa, Miachael C. Cinderella Man: The James J. Braddock Story (United Kingdom: Milo Books, 2005), 143.

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