Graced with Reagan-esque looks, Jeffersonian brains, and the fists of Teddy Roosevelt, Gene Tunney should be every thinking-man’s favorite boxer. It’s a shame that he’s largely been forgotten, even though he’s one of the most intriguing sports figures in American history. In contrast to Moe Berg, the Sorbonne-educated Major League catcher who was a spy during World War II, Tunney was not just an introspective intellectual but an athlete of the highest rank—he defeated Jack Dempsey twice, after all. (Tunney, to his credit, would say he found “no joy in knocking people unconscious.”) As one writer sums up the life of the polymathic pugilist:
If you were told that an Irish immigrant’s son growing up in turn of the century New York would serve in the Marines in World War I, go on to win the world heavyweight title while becoming a self-educated man of culture, live another half century in which he married a Carnegie heiress, befriended men like George Bernard Shaw and Thornton Wilder, lectured on Shakespeare at Yale, served in the Navy in World War II, attained directorship of numerous corporations, and fathered a U.S. senator, you would probably say that has the makings of a pretty good story.
And if that weren’t enough, the man was a snazzy dresser. For those who are inspired by his example, Brooks Brothers is currently offering its own shawl-collared cardigan sweater. Unlike the one worn by Tunney, though, it has epaulets, presumably to assist those who lack the shoulders of giants.