There is a yellowed newspaper clipping taped to the wall in the basement of the Berston Field House, in Flint, Michigan, that shows Jason Crutchfield with his arms in the air, winning the city boxing championship in 1983. ” she yelled, and started to storm off past the reporters. You’ve got to deal with the up and down and all around! If Shields becomes the first American woman to win an Olympic medal, endorsement deals could follow, and possibly a career in the pros—for both of them. When Jason Crutchfield drove me through the abandoned downtown, under the “Flint—Vehicle City” arch on Saginaw Street, he said, “I remember my grandmother walking me through here.
He was nineteen years old, a hundred and twenty-five pounds, and uncommonly handsome. “ kind of shape”—but boxing is still the core of his life. “I just never thought it’d be a girl.” The girl’s name is Claressa Shields. Olympic Team Trials this February, when the twenty-four best female amateurs in the country competed for three spots in the upcoming London Olympics—the first in history that will allow women to box for a medal. Can’t stay up all night on the phone.” This did not help. “Don’t you go nowhere,” Crutchfield said, his voice rising. It used to be packed.” Both Crutchfield and Shields have relatives who worked in the auto industry, and their fathers both spent time in prison after it disappeared.
But when Shields stepped out of the ring—red tank top and trunks soaked, long braids held back by a bandanna—she was dejected. “She kept head-butting me,” she complained, “and the ref didn’t say ” But her coach suspected that there was another problem. “I just don’t like you getting tired.” “I wasn’t up! She answers to Crutchfield about everything from her hairdo to her dating life, about which he has a simple policy: Don’t have one.
It was the first match of the tournament that seemed to challenge her. “Let me ask you this,” said Crutchfield, who was wearing a bright-yellow Berston T-shirt and a wool Detroit Tigers hat. “I’m trying to instill in Ressa: You’re too young to be going out there and falling in love,” he said. You need to forget them busters.” Crutchfield lives with a flickering anxiety that she will be distracted from her talent, as he was. “I just hope to God it ain’t going to be nothing that’s going to take her away from what she do.
Hemingway had stayed close, trapping her against the ropes to smother her punches. “I feel like I didn’t fight my best.” She muttered terse responses to the pack of reporters at the side of the ballroom, while fans began screaming for the boxers in the next bout. Like I told her, this is your bread and butter.” Shields does not live with her father, or with her mother, Marcella Adams, who is forty and unemployed, and lives in a little green house up the block from Berston’s gym.
Crutchfield stood a few feet away, issuing instructions. Instead, she spends summers at Crutchfield’s house, in Mount Morris Township, a nearby suburb with more trees and bigger back yards.
“Every day when I get off work, I go straight down to the gym. The other fighters had heard about Shields before the tournament, which is perhaps why, when she and Crutchfield were backstage on the night of her first match, waiting to walk out before the hundreds of fans, their opponents started in on them early. “Talking about ‘We fixing to .’ I didn’t want Claressa hearing no mess like that. Crews bounced and scrambled, but Shields stalked her around the perimeter with heavy, ominous solidity, then cut off the ring and hammered her with long, straight blows. He started with amateur tournaments, which he kept up for four years, and then moved on to fighting for cash in bars and garages. After he told me no, that kind of motivated me, really, just to prove him wrong.” She started sneaking down to Berston’s, and finally Clarence signed her up for training.
I leave work at five-thirty, six o’clock, and don’t get home until nine,” he said. ”—five from his two previous marriages and “one little bitty one” from his current relationship. Just a few feet away, twenty-four-year-old Franchon Crews, the top-ranked middleweight in the country, was standing in her hairnet and boxing gloves, trying to get her head together. They came in five- and six-punch combinations—double jabs, hard rights, hooks, uppercuts—and she was always in position to throw the next one. She has never lost, and it seems not to occur to her that she could. (Points are awarded based on the number of times a boxer lands a clean, forceful blow with the knuckle of her glove to her opponent’s head or torso.) Shields’s record was 22–0, with fourteen knockouts. “When Ressa was a baby, she’d be sitting on my lap, and I’d take her arms and do like this,” he said, molding the infant’s hands into tiny fists. “She was catching on real, real fast,” Crutchfield said.
For a while, he was training one of his sons to be a boxer. When she’s not boxing, Shields has the open, inquisitive face of a child, but in the ring it hardens into terrifying purposefulness. Going into the final round with a ten-point lead, Shields let her fists hang—“almost like she’s taunting Franchon,” the commentator said. “I wasn’t nervous or nothing,” Shields told me, her words coming out in a guileless flurry. in 2004, we didn’t get a gold medal in 2000,” Zanders said, and the response from the public was “What are you guys Shields’s performance in Spokane was so assured that it was easy to forget she was sixteen years old and the Olympic trials were only her second tournament in the adult, or “open,” division. But, unlike most of the other women at the tournament, she had never competed at the highest level of her sport. “But I never imagined or dreamed that my baby would be a boxer. “I had given her to another trainer, and he taught her how to jab, and then I looked at her and I said, ‘.’ That’s when I just grabbed her and said, ‘You come with me.’ “ In the past five years, they have become like family.
“I knew Franchon would be easy to beat.” Joe Zanders, who had recently been named head boxing coach for the U. Olympic team, told Crutchfield afterward that his boxer was “the best chance we got to get a gold medal.” In 2008, when boxing was the only sport in the Summer Olympics to exclude women, the men came home with a single bronze. Three nights later, she beat Tika Hemingway, a two-time national champion, 23–15. “I wanted to stop her,” Shields continued—to knock Hemingway out, or hurt her badly enough for the fight to be called off. I thought she was too pretty for that.” Like Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones, Claressa started boxing to be like her father. He say he wanted one of his sons to take after him, but while he was in and out of jail they kind of grew up,” she told me. “Even my dad done said, ‘Jason more like your dad than I am,’ “ Claressa told me.
” But Crutchfield may reap a substantial reward for his sacrifices. Most of the streets have boarded-up houses, like the one next to Clarence’s home, and the town is patched with blacktopped expanses where Chevrolet and Buick factories used to be.
One time, she was in the corner boxing some kid, and I said, ‘Get her! “Then I’d call and he’d be like, ‘Oh, what’s up, Muffin? ’ ‘Oh, I don’t like y’all coming around here when we ain’t got no money.’ I was like, ‘We already living in poverty, and you’re just making it harder.’ “ Broken stoplights dangle over many of the intersections in Flint.
“I’d go two, three months without seeing him,” Claressa told me.