The white press toasted Schmeling's victory, and hundreds of Americans sent him telegrams of congratulations. Some white sportswriters, especially those in the South, were quick to consign Louis to mediocrity. Ben Wahrman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch wondered if it was time "to change the Negro's name from the 'Browp Bomber' to the 'Brown Bummer.' "
German reaction was predictably ecstatic. Hitler cabled Schmeling "most cordial felicitations" and sent flowers to the boxer's movie-actress wife. The captain of the zeppelin Hindenburg gave Schmeling a special berth, and he returned home in triumph a week after his victory.
Louis holed up in a Harlem apartment. The left side of his jaw was swollen to the size of a softball, and he carried a heavy load of shame and guilt. He blamed himself—his overconfidence, his poor training, his womanizing. He vowed he would never again make the same mistakes. When the swelling went down a bit, he and Marva slipped out of New York aboard a night train to Chicago.
But Jacobs, Roxborough and Black didn't want him to dwell on his loss, so they scheduled a fight against Jack Sharkey on Aug. 18. In that brief interval between Louis's fights, other black Americans sprang suddenly into prominence at another major sports event—the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Competition began on Aug. 2, with Hitler looking on. By the time the Games were over on Aug. 9, der Führer's doctrine of white supremacy had been badly undermined: American blacks had won seven gold medals. For the first time, black men as a group—not just isolated individuals—had defeated white men in head-to-head athletic competition. Their success posed difficult questions for segregated America. As it had with Louis, the white press used supposed natural racial differences to explain black athletic prowess. Some said that longer heels gave black men greater speed, and Kieran of the Times wrote, "Apparently it takes time to work up endurance, but speed comes by nature."
Many white Americans could not bring themselves to consider blacks as true citizen-representatives of their country. Grantland Rice referred to them as "our Ethiopian phalanx" and "our Ethiopian troops." He wrote that "the United States will be okeh [sic] until it runs out of African entries."
The press briefly seized on Jesse Owens as the new black hero of the hour. His four gold medals made him the most spectacular performer in Berlin. Like Louis, he was careful to present an inoffensive public image. Unlike Louis, he could not make a legitimate living out of his sport. He tap-danced with Bill Robinson and ran exhibition sprints against horses, but he soon faded from the headlines, and Louis was alone again.
The Sharkey fight was a great tonic for him. In the third round he knocked the former champion down three times, the third time for good. Louis had his confidence back. Jacobs set up a string of easy fights designed to get Louis back in the championship picture. He tried to arrange a Schmeling rematch that fall, offering a monumental $300,000 guarantee, but Schmeling said no. He wanted a direct shot at the reigning titlist, the sweet-natured but also hopelessly mediocre Jim Braddock. So Jacobs simply began to negotiate directly with Braddock's manager, Joe Gould.
It took months of wheeling and dealing, but Jacobs and Gould finally agreed that their fighters would meet for the world championship on June 22, 1937 in Chicago. The deal had not come cheaply. Jacobs not only promised a $500,000 guarantee for this fight, but also had to give Gould and Braddock 10% of his net profits from all heavyweight title promotions for the next 10 years. This was an extraordinarily high price to pay, but if Louis won, Jacobs would have control of the heavyweight championship, which was the key to control of all boxing.
During the prefight ballyhoo, Braddock was the sentimental choice of the white press. He grew up in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, quit school at 13 and began boxing soon after. He was good enough to fight for the light heavyweight title in 1929, but he lost and suffered a broken knuckle on his right hand. He tended bar, worked as a stevedore and swung a pickax to support a wife and three children until his hand healed. Then he began to fight as a heavyweight. He beat the out-of-shape champion Max Baer. Nobody thought Braddock was a great boxer, but everybody praised him as a hard-working, courageous man.