Though it hardly seems plausible that Sonny has shucked his mob goombars (the Justice Department and the responsible state athletic commissions should be even more vigilant in examining what happens to his money—when he gets it), Liston appears to be growing as a human being. Events shape people as much as people shape events and winning the title seems to mark the emergence of a more thoughtful and mature Liston. Certainly he is not without a few Patterson-type sensitivities. The night after the fight he awakened a friend in his hotel room to express hurt over a newspaper column that had included such observations as: "So it is true—in a fair fight between good and evil, evil must win," and "A celebration for Philadelphia's first heavyweight champ is now in order. Emily Post probably would recommend a ticker-tape parade. For confetti we can use shredded warrants of arrest."
"First thing I thought," Sonny told his confidant, "was I'll never speak to that guy again. Then I thought, no, why be as small as him? I'll make myself be nice to him. It's guys like him I have to show, not the guys that do want to give me a chance. If I can make a guy like that change his mind someday, then I won something bigger than any fight in the ring. There's a lot of things I'm going to do. But one thing's very important. I want to reach my own people and tell them, 'You don't have to worry about me stopping your progress.' I want to go to colored churches and colored neighborhood groups. I want them to see me and hear what I have to say, what I have to promise. I know it was in some of the papers that the better class of colored people were hoping I'd lose, even praying I'd lose because they was afraid I wouldn't know how to act. I really don't believe they was all hoping I'd lose even though it was in some of the colored papers that way. But I want them to know how I feel. I remember one thing so clear about listening to Joe Louis fight on the radio when I was a kid. I never remember a fight that the announcer didn't say about Louis, 'A great fighter and a credit to his race.' Remember? That used to make me feel proud inside.
"Of course, I don't mean to be saying I'm just going to be champion to my own people. It says now I'm the world's champion and that's just the way it's going to be. I want to go to a lot of places—like orphan homes and reform schools and such and I'll be able to say, 'Kid, I know it's tough for you now and it might even get tougher but don't give up on the world. Good things can happen if you let them.'
"You know, before I won this title, I done some good things that I kept to myself because, well, I done them because I really wanted to and didn't want people to say, 'Look at this guy. He's putting on a show so we'll all think he's a good guy and let him fight for the title.' But now I got that title and I want to make a deal with sportswriters all over the world. If I do something bad, I want them to tell the world about it. But if I do something good, I want them to tell the world about that, too. When I said all I wanted was the chance to prove myself, I meant it. I never meant anything more. And if the time of the rematch comes around and I haven't proved myself, if they can't say I been a credit to my race, too, then I want to give Patterson the title back—just give it back. And he don't even have to fight me for it."
When Sonny returned to Philadelphia last week he said: "I think I'll get out tomorrow and do all the same things I've always done: walk down the block and buy the papers, stop in the drugstore, talk to the neighbors. Then I'll see how the real peoples feel. Maybe then I'll start to feeling like a champion. You know, it's really a lot like an election, only in reverse. Here I am already in office but now I have to go out and start campaigning."
It has been predicted that if Liston became champion it would be a greater blow to boxing than the death of Benny (Kid) Paret. Now they say that the mismatch in Chicago has killed boxing, that no promoter would dare stage a return bout because nobody would show up to see a rerun of that farce. But there will be a second bout and the fickle fight fans will return to see what Patterson can do. Whether Championship Sports will be around to promote it or Graff, Reiner and Smith to handle the ancillary rights is another matter. Internal Revenue agents seized all receipts the night of the fight not because of Patterson's disputed 17-year deferred income tax payment scheme but because the government wanted to be sure it got its excise and corporate income tax (CSI as well as GRS failed to file a corporate income tax return in 1961 and therefore have delinquency records).
Like a politician, Sonny Liston is making a lot of promises. The future of professional boxing depends on whether he keeps them. Before he hits the reform school and orphanage circuit he must demonstrate beyond doubt that he is free from mob control. It was said that Sonny ran his own training camp, but there were reports, too, that he went to the phone to talk to "them" whenever a big decision had to be made. If he can bring himself to tell "them" off rather than seek their counsel, if he will fight logical contenders two or three times a year, as he has also promised, then the Patterson-Liston fight will have been a forward step for boxing, despite its esthetic shortcomings. It's all up to the big man.