The Boxing Writers Association of America is proud to announce Purdue University history professor Randy Roberts as the 32nd winner of the A.J. Liebling Award for Outstanding Boxing Writing.
Roberts becomes the first Liebling Award winner since Joyce Carol Oates was named in 2015.
Roberts has co-written more than 20 books, which includes Jack Dempsey: The Manassa Mauler, Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes. That was followed by Heavy Justice: The State of Indiana vs. Michael G. Tyson (co-authored with prosecutor Greg Garrison), Joe Louis: Hard Times Man, and Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (co-authored with Johnny Smith).
Roberts, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, has been writing about boxing since the late-1970s. Most of his work falls under the historical genre, although he has covered several championship fights for Secondsout.com and written historical pieces for Ring Magazine, The Undefeated, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and The New Republic, among many others.
Roberts, who in 2018 was named by Purdue University as the 150th Anniversary Professor by the Office of the Provost, has also appeared in more than 15 documentaries centered on the history of boxing, including Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston (Showtime, 2019), Muhammad Ali: A Life (EPIX, 2016), Joe Louis: American Hero… Betrayed (HBO, 2008, nominated for an Emmy), Ken Burns’ Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson (PBS, 2006, won an Emmy), Sports Century: Jack Dempsey (ESPN, 2001), Fighting the Mob: The Story of Carmen Basilio (ESPN, 1999), and Shadow Boxing: The Journey of the African American Fighter (ESPN, 1999).
“Boxing—the love of its history, the beauty of a classic fight, the impossible drama of a sudden, unexpected upset—has always been a central part of my life,” said Roberts, who received his Ph.D. from LSU in 1978. “The love was passed on to me by my father as we watched the Friday and Saturday fights.
“And it even survived the five dollars (no small sum for an 11-year-old) I shelled out to see my first closed circuit match: the two minutes and six seconds demolition of Floyd Patterson by Sonny Liston. A life lesson: the amount of anticipation does not determine the results of an event.
“It was about that time I read my first boxing piece by A. J. Liebling. I think it was the first 'real' book I ever read, and I wanted to be part of that world. Maybe attend the University of Eighth Avenue.
“I wasn’t sure of what courses were offered—perhaps how to stop a bleeding nose or be the one corner man who never seemed to do much—but I wanted that degree. Liebling led me to other writers, like Jimmy Cannon and Dick Young, and I discovered Bill Nack, Budd Schulberg, Pete Hamill, George Plimpton, the Lardner men, and so many other professors.
“I have received a few awards, but I will prize the Liebling Award above all. To have my name on the same list as some of my literary heroes makes me feel as if I finally got my degree—or at least found my way to Liebling’s University of Eighth Avenue.”
Roberts will be honored along with the other 2019 BWAA awards winners at the annual BWAA awards dinner at a site and time to be determined later this year.