Detroit podiatrist Dr. Stuart Kirschenbaum was the longest serving boxing commissioner in the state and made the health and safety of the boxers his top priority.
A story in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History made me think of some of the thrill seekers we might encounter in today’s world. There are rock climbers who scale the side of a mountain freestyle, without any safety ropes, and folks who dive off cliffs in Acapulco. Certainly, they are brave — and maybe a little bit crazy?
It seems we have one of those thrill seekers in Detroit’s Jewish community. This person did something most of us would never do: He decided to step into a ring and spar with Detroit boxing champion Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns in 1980, when the boxer was in his prime and could punch with the power and weight of a 1952 Buick.
As reported in the Jan. 22, 1988, issue of the JN, which also includes a photo as proof of the event, Jewish Detroiter Dr. Stuart Kirschenbaum did indeed spar a few rounds with Tommy Hearns and survived. An act of bravery? Or of craziness? And, if that was not enough, a few years later, he sparred with the legendary heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali.
Kirschenbaum has been a podiatrist in Detroit for many years. A graduate of Michigan State University and the New York College of Pediatric Medicine, he began a private practice in the city in 1971. A former amateur boxer in New York, Kirschenbaum has always retained a passion for the sport. He became a boxing judge in 1977 and, in 1981, Michigan Gov. William Milliken appointed him as state boxing commissioner.
Kirschenbaum continued to serve in that position under two additional governors until 1992, becoming the longest-serving boxing commissioner in state history.
Perhaps more important, during his era, Kirschenbaum made the health and safety of boxers his top priority.
Kirschenbaum has also made his mark on Detroit’s Jewish community in other ways. For example, a story in the JN on March 3, 1992, cited his refusal to allow an anti-Semitic boxing judge to be involved in the sport in Michigan. In 1986, Kirschenbaum launched the “Fame Games,” a local competition for the Special Olympics. He served on the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation and was elected its president in 2002. In 2009, Kirschenbaum himself was inducted into the Michigan Jewish Sports of Fame and, in 2010, he was awarded the coveted “Brown Bomber” award in honor of Detroit’s most famous boxer, Joe Louis.
Dr. Stuart Kirschenbaum is a bit of an anomaly as a physician deeply involved in a sport like boxing. However, any boxer who has entered the ring in Michigan since his time as commissioner has benefited from his leadership.
On one hand, I still think he’s bit crazy, but on other hand, how many of us can say we sparred with a champion like Thomas Hearns? What a story the good doctor has to tell! You can also read lots of stories about his work in Michigan in the William Davidson Digital Archive.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.