In this series, I take a look at the deaths of boxers—boxers who died young, boxers who died under mysterious or ignominious circumstances, boxers who died of health complications following an injury, and a few boxers who died in the ring. This project has no rigidly defined time period, but the majority of the stories I tell here span the late 18th through the late 20th century, with a high concentration in the mid-late 1900s. Many of the boxers I will profile were American, but some were British, Australian, Nicaraguan, etc., and many of those born in America were the children of recent immigrants.
Put to Sleep does not attempt to make any coherent argument about why boxers die; there is, of course, no single answer to such a question. Rather, I attempt to explore the cultural associations that swirl around the deaths of boxers. Why do rumors of murder persist in cases that were officially ruled homicides? How does the media respond to the killing of a boxer during a fair (“fair”?) fight? What, if anything, has been made of the tendency of boxers to die at younger ages than many of their contemporaries outside the ring? When is a boxer’s death considered “natural,” and when must narratives—murder, heartbreak, illness—arise to explain a death that veers too far from that standard?
Finally, many of these stories are as much about life as they are about death: the bizarre, tragic, unapologetic, triumphant, human lives these men led before their often untimely demise. In the spirit of honoring these lives, I have attempted to draw my focus in most cases away from the most well-known names in the history of the sport, and to shed the light of history on a few forgotten lives.