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When Joe Louis Arena is gone, what's left to honor Detroit’s Brown Bomber?

Mar 23, 2017

The clock is ticking on Joe Louis Arena.

The Detroit Red Wings' final season at the Joe is down to just a handful of games. Next season finds them on the ice in the $600 million Little Caesars Arena.

After a handful of music and sporting events, that's it for Joe Louis Arena. It will be torn down for a new riverfront development.

Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley joined Stateside to talk about question she wants answered: After the arena is torn down, how will the city of Detroit honor such an iconic figure in the city's – and the country's – history? 

Joe Louis – or the "Brown Bomber" as he was also known – is widely recognized as one of the greatest boxers who ever lived.

In a career that started in 1937 and ran until the early 1950s, Louis finished his career with a 66-3 record and was the heavyweight champion of the world for 12 consecutive years. That record of 25 title defenses still stands to this day.

Arguably his greatest moment came in what many call not just one of the biggest boxing matches of all time, but one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century. On June 24, 1938, he met Max Schmeling of Germany, the man who had handed him his first career loss two years earlier.

A victory that Adolf Hitler saw as a major victory for the Nazi movement. Prior to the rematch in front of a packed Yankee Stadium, the Nazis claimed that a black man could not defeat a German. However, with millions of people listening on the radio from around the world, Louis knocked him out in the first round.

"The Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight wasn't just a fight, it was like this epic battle for the idea of freedom," Riley said. "This was something that almost every black American with a radio was listening to because it was like an affirmation for us. All of these Americans. We have to beat the Germans. We. Anything that provides a sense of unity and Joe Louis represented that. I don't want that to be lost."

Joe Louis' legacy goes beyond the boxing ring, as he is also credited for integrating the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and later starred in television and film. 

But once Joe Louis Arena is torn down – the only stadium in the country that is named after an athlete – the only symbols of him that will remain are the fist statue and another statue of him that is located at the Cobo Convention Center. 

Riley wrote a column in the Detroit Free Press asking the public for ideas of how to honor the former champion. She received numerous ideas, including a suggestion from Louis' son-in-law.

Listen to the full interview to hear some of the best submissions that Riley received and how Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is supporting a significant plan to honor the Brown Bomber.

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