Ethics Hero Emeritus: Canada Lee (1907-1952)

I bet you have never heard of Canada Lee.

Most Americans, even black Americans haven’t, yet he was a remarkable, talented and courageous black man who made a difference in our history and our culture against daunting challenges. He should have been entered into the Ethics Alarms Heroes’ Hall of Honor long ago. This post will remedy that slight.

He was born to West Indian parents (and thus cannot accurately be called an “African American”) and named Lionel Cornelius Canegata on March 3, 1907 in New York City’s San Juan Hill district. A musical prodigy, Canegata studied the violin at the age of seven, and by the age of twelve was playing concerts.  The compensation was sparse, however, so when he was 14, Canegata ran away to the Saratoga Race Track in upstate New York to become a successful jockey until he grew too tall for the job and became a horse exerciser for prominent racehorse owners. Once more seeking a path out of persistent poverty, Canegata changed course again, and set out to become a boxer.

He won 90 of 100 fights,  the Metropolitan Inter-City and Junior National Championships, and the national amateur lightweight title. Before one match, an announcer butchered his name, and Canegata somehow became‘Canada Lee.’ Lee liked it and kept it.

In 1926, Canada Lee turned professional, and by 1930, he was a leading contender for the welterweight championship. Lee fought in over 200 fights as a professional boxer, losing only 25.  Fate intervened with that path: a punch to the right eye detached his retina, and ended his boxing career just as it was getting promising and profitable.  Like most boxers, Lee blew through the money he made during his boxing career, an estimated $90,000 (roughly equivalent to $1,644,684 today).  “Just threw it away,” Lee later admitted. Later, Lee lobbied for insurance, health care, financial consultation and retirement homes for fighters. “The average boxer possesses little education,” he said in 1946. “If he winds up broke, he has no trade, no education and nobody to turn to.” Continue reading

Post Script: Rant Sports And Its “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors of All Time” vs. The Ethics Alarms List

Suprise!

Surprise!

This topic isn’t really worth two posts, I know, but after some commenters mentioned other obvious examples of distinguished athletes turned actors the Rant Sports  incompetent post ignored, I did some additional research myself.

The first thing I discovered was that Renae Juska’s list was about 90% lifted from other similar web lists that had appeared on various sites over the past three years. These lists were almost as incompetent as hers, though one of them included Johnny Weismuller, and another included Esther Williams. For the most part, however, all included the same basic group of athlete-actors, clearly serving as the basis for the next blogger looking for a cheap post.

This is how bad or misleading information gets stuck in the public mind and discourse, and the process occurs regarding topics and issues that matter, not just gratuitous lists.. This is why politicians still talk about women only earning 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man, and how 50% of marriages end in divorce. This how rumors and mistaken beliefs take hold and spread, changing the results of elections and the course of history…lazy writers cribbing dubious facts, unsubstantiated stats and lazy compilations of data from other lazy writers. The phenomenon feeds itself. Take the current case: someone asking themselves the question, “Gee, I wonder who the most prominent actors who were also accomplished athletes are?” will google the question and check four or five sites, read virtually the same names on all of them, and think the topic has been accurately researched. That will be an illusion, and soon there will be another post, confirming the earlier ones, and further validating informational garbage.

I also checked the biographies of actors whom I knew had athletic backgrounds, and the performing credits of prominent athletes whom I knew worked in TV, stage and films. I also considered some of the candidates, omitted by Juska, that various commenters had suggested. The result is this list of 30 athlete/actors who were ignored by Juska and Rant Sports, every one of whom is beyond question more deserving of a place on an “all-time” list of “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors” than many of the choices on the Rant Sports list, and quite a few of which—Robson, Williams, Henie, Rigby, Weismuller, Crabbe, Norris, Beradino, and others—should rank near the top. Continue reading