By Leighton Ginn
George Foreman said he has been impressed with the career of WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley, comparing him to legend Jersey Joe Walcott, and thought he was a boxer who came out of nowhere.
But Foreman didn’t realize that he had actually met Bradley early in his career.
In 2005, Foreman had flown out to California to do a favor for his 1968 U.S. Olympic teammate, sprinter John Carlos, who was a counselor at Palm Springs High School. During an event, Carlos had asked Foreman to take time out to talk to his friend Ray’s son, who happened to be Bradley.
When told of that event, Foreman remembered talking to Carlos’ friend who was a boxer. He just never realized it was Bradley.
“That’s who that was?” Foreman said during a telephone interview. “I didn’t realize that was Timothy Bradley at all.
“What a small world. Man alive.”
It is the friendship between Carlos and Ray Bradley that made the meeting possible for Tim Bradley and memorable for Foreman.
Back in 1968, Foreman was just a 19-year-old boxer with a lot of talent but little experience. Carlos was a world record holder in the 200 meters and one of the biggest personalities on the U.S team. He was also a man Foreman looked up to.
Once the Olympics began, both athletes were busy preparing for their events and wouldn’t have time to catch up. They made a deal they would meet a few days after the Olympics to share their experiences.
“It was the day after the Olympics we were going to meet and go over what happened in our lives,” Foreman said.
“We didn’t get to actually sit and chat.”
Carlos won a bronze medal in the 200 while U.S. teammate Tommie Smith won the gold. At the awards stand, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised their gloved fists during the national anthem to protest the lack of civil rights for people of color.
Afterwards, Carlos and Smith were ostracized and thrown out of the Olympic Village. Both were booked on the next flight back to America.
Days later, Foreman would win his gold medal as a boxing heavyweight. Immediately winning the gold medal, Foreman would pull out a small American flag that he would wave in celebration.
For many, Foreman’s celebration was interpreted as a response to Carlos and Smith’s protest. Foreman said that wasn’t the case.
Foreman said his flag waving was not a statement to contrast what Carlos and Smith had done. As a 19-year-old, Foreman had fulfilled a dream and he wanted to celebrate and show his patriotism.
“There I am, winning a gold medal, and I got to make sure everyone knew where I’m from,” Foreman said “In my ignorance, if I don’t raise this flag, they wouldn’t know where I’m from.”
Because the perception was Foreman was protesting Smith and Carlos, he encountered his own backlash. It became evident when he returned home to Houston.
“I’m a happy boy and I’m wearing my gold medal everywhere, the grocery store, everywhere. I didn’t take it off,” Foreman said. “One guy comes to me, and he was a neighbor for years and I knew him. He said, ‘How could you do what you did when the brothers were doing their thing?’ I didn’t understand what he was talking about, I really didn’t understand.
“Later on, I heard more about it and what the media was saying about it. I got a little mean about it and no one said anything about it again. I was waiting for it with a left-right. I wasn’t going to hear anything like that.”
The backlash would form Foreman’s surly and intimidating persona when he turned pro.
Foreman would ascend to the heavyweight boxing title and forged a legendary career, beating Joe Frazier for the title, losing the title to Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle and the Rope a Dope strategy.
In his second part of his career, the kinder and gentler Foreman become the oldest heavyweight champion at 47 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994.
Outside of the ring, Foreman became one of the country’s most successful businessman with his Foreman Grill.
Carlos faced his own backlash. He regularly received death threats and was constantly followed by the FBI. In his book, “The John Carlos Story,” he said the harassment and constant surveillance put a strain on his family life that he separated from his first wife Kim.
The lowest point, according to Carlos in his book, was a moment he was so lonely from the isolation that he asked the agent who was following him if he would like to share a cup of coffee one night.
By 1989, at the urging of his kids during a detour on a road trip, Carlos had moved to Palm Springs, Calif. What was supposed to be a short stopover became his home for over 20 years. Carlos raised his kids and worked for the Palm Springs Unified School District as an in-school suspension supervisor and a coach.
It was through his job he forged a friendship with Ray Bradley, who was a security guard for the district.
“Ray was always a true grit-type of guy,” Carlos said. “What I like about Ray, he’s a man’s man. He’s a damn good father to his kids, he’s good to his woman. He has loyalty to his staff, loyalty to his job, loyal to his wife and kids and loyal to his friends. It was a rare quality at that time. It might still be a rare quality today.”
Ray Bradley said he was 5-years old when Carlos made his protest. When he saw it on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Ray Bradley said he didn’t understand the protest because he was so young, but developed an appreciation as he got older.
“That was a very powerful statement Mr. Carlos made in Mexico City,” Ray Bradley said. “Growing up at a young age I didn’t know what was going on. I saw a lot of racial tension and we just wanted equal.”
It was during those hot, lazy days in the Palm Springs desert when Carlos would share his experience of what happened after Mexico City.
“The stories he tells me, I go, ‘I don’t know how you are still here,’” Ray Bradley said. “Everyone wanted to hurt you for making a statement like that. He told me there was death threats, getting banned from the Olympics, kicked him out and sent him home.
“Then he goes, ‘They killed my first wife.’ Oh, that’s some heavy stuff.”
Carlos’ first wife Kim had committed suicide in 1977.
Feared and respected
There is a legend of Carlos that still stands today, Ray Bradley said.
Carlos had caught two kids ditching. When Carlos found them, they made a run for it, figuring they had several years on this middle-aged teacher and a few blocks head start. The student didn’t realize he was once one of the fastest men on the planet.
“He said, ‘Mr. Carlos ran me down. I had blocks on him and he smoked me. I thought it was a ghost,’” Ray Bradley remembered from the student. “He still had speed. As a mid-aged person, he still had speed.”
The kid asked who was the old man who ran him down. Carlos told the kid that if he was in class instead of ditching, he might learn who he was.
The kid would find Carlos in a history book.
But a young Timothy Bradley knows Carlos as a family friend.
He was a friend until Bradley got in trouble one day.
Mouthing off in class, Bradley was sent to Carlos by his teacher.
Bradley said he was scared.
“John Carlos didn’t pull any punches. He told you like it was. Don’t nobody want to hear the truth,” Bradley said. “That’s the reason why I was scared, I was scared about what he had to say.”
When Bradley walked into Carlos’ classroom, he said what he feared came true.
“I walked in, ‘What are you doing in here young blood? What are you doing in here? You don’t belong in here. Sit down. Get a magazine and write me an essay,’” Bradley remembered. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing in here?’ He was loud, he didn’t care if he hurt my feelings. He was real, and it was felt.”
At first, Carlos gave a different version of the incident.
“He was a pretty reserved kid,” Carlos said in a telephone conversation from his home in Georgia. “That wasn’t his style. My thing was to cheer him up, pick him up and make him feel good about who he is.”
When Carlos was told Bradley said he was yelled at and felt intimidated, Carlos quickly replied, “I scare them all when they first come in my room because I don’t want them coming back. That’s my stamp there.”
Bradley’s father was well aware of Carlos’ reputation. So when Tim returned home and told his dad about what happened, there was no further punishment.
“He already had his punishment. John Carlos jumped down his throat,” Ray Bradley said. “I didn’t have to do anything but give him that eye. ‘Do something again, I’m going to put something on you. I might have to go to jail, so don’t do it again.’”
Tim Bradley said he didn’t get in trouble again.
Carlos said he would see Ray in the weight room, and was mesmerized by how hard he worked. It was as if he was bonding with the weights.
“I think he transferred that work ethic to his son when he was a baby and embedded this in them. Never say quit, never say die,” Carlos said. “It was a commitment all around. You truly had to be committed. When you see the momma and daddy get up early with their boy at 5 a.m. and have him training, they must have had a goal in mind. They had a program to reach that goal.”
And through the years, Carlos said he would see that same kind of commitment from Bradley.
“His work ethic is the same today as it was as a kid, because he would get up and run all over the desert. I used to see him out there on the road and I’d just be smiling,” Carlos said. “When I would see him now, I would picture a little boy running in the morning. He never went away from the foundation his parents gave him.
“You could see his determination when he fights people. He fights guys taller than him, heavier then him and he goes through them like they’re a piece of cardboard.”
So when Carlos was contacted by Foreman in 2005, it was the first time they had spoken since the 1968 Olympics. In Carlos’ mind, he wanted Foreman to meet Tim.
Palm Springs High School was planning an event for Black History Month. Carlos asked Foreman if he could show up. Because it was a last-minute request, Foreman chartered a private jet to make sure he could fulfill the request.
“He said, he’s coming, He’s coming, so bring your son. I want him to meet him because he’s a great man, a great person. Whatever he can tell him, he could use it. Your son will be big one day. He needs to hear from Big George,” Ray Bradley said.
When Foreman arrived, he was busy meeting people all day before his speech. But Carlos made sure the Bradleys were backstage, so when Foreman was through talking, they could meet.
“Meeting him, it’s how a champion should be. He was very charismatic,” Tim Bradley said. “It was an honor to actually meet him, especially early in my career. It gave me someone to look up to, someone to be like. It showed me how a top former fighter from a different generation or era was and how he carried himself.”
While the day was a whirlwind for Foreman, he said meeting the Bradleys stuck out because Carlos made them a priority. And then what Foreman saw also stuck with him, and that was Tim with Ray and his mom Kathleen.
“You meet a lot of boxers, and they come up with their trainer or manager or promoter. Very rarely do they come with their family,” Foreman said. “It makes them different, that they have people who love and care for him.
“That’s what I remember, he had people who loved and cared for him. That’s why I poured out the information.”
Editor’s note: This is a repost of a story that ran in April.