The future of Roy Jones jr. was to have begun on the last Sunday of the Seoul Olympics. That was more than a month ago, but since his return home to Pensacola, Fla., the boxer has hardly set foot inside a gym. Too busy, he says at first. Later Jones admits, "There's so many decisions I want to make, and I can't. That's why I'm staying away from the gym. If I start to train, I have to make decisions. And I can't train and not fight."
One morning recently, the 19-year-old fighter went to talk to the kids at Spencer Bibbs Elementary School in Pensacola about his Olympic experiences. Afterward, he sat on the couch in his family's home, surrounded by posters that the schoolchildren had made for him. The posters were lovingly hand-lettered by Tracy and Angie and Teena and Cheryl, and all of them were variations on one theme—HEY ROY, YOU"RE GOLD TO US!
The posters had given him a lift for a while, Jones said. But his voice, a low monotone, clearly revealed his depressed state. "I'm not sure if I'll go pro," he said. "It's heavy on my mind, having to go back to work, do all those hard things again, after what happened in Seoul. Though I believe that I could."
Jones has not yet exorcised the trauma he suffered on that final day of the Olympics. It's history now, that 156-pound gold medal bout in which Jones thoroughly outclassed South Korea's Park Si Hun, only to have three judges, from Uganda, Uruguay and Morocco, score the fight against him. It was but small consolation that Jones was awarded the Val Barker Cup by the International Amateur Boxing Association as the outstanding boxer of the Olympics.
Twice before in international competition, Jones had been the victim of similarly questionable decisions. In the 139-pound semifinal in Ted Turner's Goodwill Games in Moscow in 1986, he dominated Igor Ruzhnikov, his Soviet opponent, before losing 4-1. That was also the score by which Jones lost to an East German in the first round of the 1987 Junior World Championships in Cuba. That loss was strange, says his father, Roy Sr., "because the German was beat up so bad I didn't think he would be able to continue with the tournament."
Of course, there may be a smidgen of paternal bias in that last remark. Roy Sr., 41, a civilian Navy aircraft electrician, is fiercely proud of his close-knit family, not only of his namesake but also of his wife, Carol, his second son, Corey, 14, and his daughters, Tiffany, 13, Lakesha, 10, and Catandrea, 5. But for Roy Jr. he feels a special pride; after all, Roy Sr. trained him.
"My job with him is just about over now," says Roy Sr. "I guided him all his life. He started actual bouts when he was 10, but he was boxing long before that. I had a little hog farm at the north end of Escambia County [ Florida]. On cold winter nights, when we were done with the feeding, we'd put on the gloves and I'd get down on my knees. He was seven. I could see what a competitor he was then. He'd cry, but he'd come back.
"And that's where it all started. I built a ring. Built my own frames for the heavy bags. Built speed-bag racks. Other kids from the neighborhood started to show up there."
"There" is 25 miles up Route 29 from Pensacola, in a hamlet called Barth, where most of the houses are now empty and decaying. Down a washed-out creek bed, into snake-filled piney woods, past the remains of a collard garden and a long-dead Buick Special with magnolias growing in the engine compartment, is a solitary ring post, all that remains from the days when Junior stood up to Senior. "Gone for firewood, I guess," says Roy Sr. "People up there are all broke."
He is careful to point out that his own family has always had enough for the basics. "Boxing was never an avenue of escape and survival for Roy," he says. "He didn't have to fight his way out of a ghetto. He didn't get tough through having to fight in the streets. He had good grades in high school. He was exposed to things that some kids are lucky enough to escape, but he just kept on learning and progressing."