April 7, 2010, - 2:15 am
Tommy Hearns is broke. But it wasn’t always that way. I know from personal experience because he used to be my neighbor.
One Thanksgiving in the ’80s, when I was a kid, a story was on the local newscast about boxer Thomas “Hitman” Hearns’ Thanksgiving Day present to his mother. Hearns bought a home–which I recognized as one in our neighborhood (just a couple of blocks away from our house)–and was moving his single mother and multiple siblings into the house. I thought it was cool that we had a famous champion boxer living in the neighborhood. And, of course, who could beat a menacing nickname like “Hitman”? (Plus, I’ve always been a boxing fan.)
In the ensuing years, you couldn’t miss the Hearns house. It was an average ’70s era middle class colonial which looked like most other homes in the subdivision. But it had a mauve Excalibur, an old Cadillac stretch limo and other gaudy cars consistently decorating the driveway. Some of Hearns’ siblings went to high school with me, and one (Henry) was later convicted of murdering his girlfriend in the house. The murder happened just two nights before Hearns’ 1989 title fight against “Sugar” Ray Leonard in Las Vegas (which ended in a draw).
Ultimately, the Hearns home in a mostly Black and Orthodox Jewish neighborhood went into foreclosure, was repossessed by the bank, and finally purchased by a childhood friend of mine and his wife. The home had a lot of serious physical damage to it thanks to the Hearnses, and a lot of intense repair work had to be done. I remember my friends saying there were gaping holes in ceilings and floors (and I doubt that was from the Hitman’s punches). After it was all cleaned out and set up, my friends had a strange visit from one of the Hearns brothers. He was apparently out of prison (or something like that) after drug dealing and insisted on entering the home to “find something” he “left” there. My friend’s wife insisted the house was long ago cleaned out from top to bottom. But he demanded to be and was let into the home by my friend’s scared wife. He went into the basement and, under some floorboard in the basement, recovered a large brick of cash.
This was the family that Tommy the “Hitman” had to take care of, a family rife with hangers-on who sucked out of him a lot of his bankroll. And after earning $40 million in his career (and that was when a million was still a million), he’s now broke–a shell of what he once was.
Over the years, I’ve seen the Hitman around town . . . at the gas station, at the supermarket, and various other places. Always friendly, he’s said “Hi.” But it’s tragic. At such a young age, his walk and talk are stilted and slow. And, once when I saw him in jean shorts, you could see the scars, probably from operations or stitches for boxing related injuries and cuts. You can tell he was a famous boxer who took a lot of concussive hits and is now paying the delayed physical price.
It saddens me. The man I thought was cool as a kid, the tough guy in the ring who had the cool nickname and the ostentatious cars–the man who took care of his family above taking care of himself–is now completely broke. Over the weekend, Hearns had to auction off his stuff to pay his tax debt, and the IRS was on hand to collect.
Boxer Tommy Hearns Signs a Poster @ Saturday’s IRS Auction of His Property
He watched from a balcony as his robes from fights with Leonard, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran, were auctioned off along with many other prized mementos of his career (watch a slideshow of the auction and items here). I can’t imagine what it must be like to sign autographs on posters and fight programs you just auctioned off to save your hide. And that doesn’t even cover his Detroit-area home (not far from where I live), on which he owes nearly half a million dollars. And, yet, despite it all, he’s got a pretty good attitude about it all . . . but for the comeback fight, for which every washed up boxer in his 50s who needs the money makes a mistaken bid.
Hearns, who never ducked a war in the ring, wasn’t about to buckle Saturday as he watched many of his most cherished boxing and personal possessions offered at the Auction Block on Greenfield in Detroit to help pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes to the IRS.An eight-time world champion, Hearns (61-5-1 with 48 knockouts) also is in danger of losing his house in Southfield, reportedly owing about
$500,000 to the bank.
“I’m very sad today, but I’m going to fulfill my obligations to the IRS,” said Hearns, 51, the once-skinny kid from the Kronk Gym. . . . “Some of my robes were from my fights with Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. I have to do what I can. They (the IRS) have been very good to me. This will turn out all right. . . .
“If you have debt, you pay it off,” he said. “You have to confront the problem head on. I’m not going to run or dodge this. It is most important to straighten out this situation. Get past this position. I’m very appreciative of all the people who have shown me love.” . . .
Hearns, who said he would like to meet former light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, 41, in a comeback fight, agreed he made a fortune.
“I made a lot of money in boxing,” said Hearns, whose last fight was Feb. 4, 2006, at the Palace, when he beat Shannon Landsberg by TKO. “But as a man who had a large family, people looked at you as their savior. You tried to help them by giving. It doesn’t stop. I’m the big brother — I give and I give.”
Hearns said, sooner of later, the money dries up.
“I learned my lesson,” said Hearns. “Of course, when it is time for some people to give back to you, they’re long gone.”
Hearns had only appreciation for his fans here, however. . . .
“Many of my fans have reached out, trying to do what they can. I’ve turned some help down. I learned from a young age that you got to go out and earn what you want yourself.”
Even though it’s the same old story: pro athlete from an inner city family blows tens of millions of dollars and is now broke in middle age, I can’t help feeling sorry for the guy, who is decent and likable. He’s owning up to it and facing his problems, and he admits that he felt he had to support his family. It’s unfortunate that he took care of them and spent at his own expense. For some pro athletes who come from the killing fields of America, they can’t escape the demands of multiple siblings raised by single mothers in a welfare and hip-hop culture . . . until it’s too late. And while I’m sure that doesn’t account for the entire $40 million he blew, I’m sure that’s part of it.
I usually refuse to commiserate with someone who had more money than most would ever dream of and blew it all through out-of-control spending. But this time I do, and I can’t explain it. The guy looks like he has Parkinson’s, even if he doesn’t. He took blows to the head and now he’s in the poorhouse. And that’s the tragedy here. He had a lot going on outside the ring throughout his boxing career. Imagine fighting a big title fight, while your brother is in jail and charged with murder.
That house in my childhood neighborhood, those fancy cars . . . maybe they weren’t such a great idea, Thanksgiving gift or not. For all of it, the Hitman is now taking some hits for which he never trained at Detroit’s Kronk Gym.
Ironically, one of the robes Hearns auctioned off on Saturday was a silk robe with “Winner Take All” emblazoned on the back. Hearns lost the 1981 fight against Leonard, to which he wore that robe, in a 14th round TKO.
After it all, I hope my former neighbor, the Hitman, comes out the winner in this Fight of His Life.
Tags: auction, Blog Posts, boxer, boxers, boxing, Broke, foreclosure, Henry Hearns, Hitman, IRS, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Marvin Hagler, murder, neighbor, Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Southfield, Sugar Ray Leonard, taxes, The Hitman, Thomas Hearns, Thomas Hitman Hearns, Tommy Hearns, Tommy Hitman Hearns