Media perceptions of some working class communities and the loss of manufacturing jobs have harmed these communities and the individuals still residing there. In discussion of these lost communities, the national media seem to craft narratives with outdated stereotypes of these community members, dismissing the positive stories still being lived out by members of these communities. In The Uses of Literacy, Richard Hoggart defines the working class as “rough and unpolished…not refined and not intellectual.” Some would argue that the media elite still adhere to Hoggart’s problematic characterization. Many working class communities have been transformed from manufacturing centers into towns that only produce high unemployment and crime rates. These transformations have hampered numerous communities. Youngstown, Ohio is one place in general that has seen its tradition of making steel disappear. With the closing of these plants, how can the memory of work and community be preserved?
The voices of individuals who still work and reside in these communities can counter media representations and provide us with a rhetoric of their culture. Consider the case of the World Boxing Organization's middleweight champion, Youngstown’s own Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik. The national press, which has been fascinated with Youngstown’s high unemployment and crime, explains Youngstown from an outsider’s perspective. However, because of the popularity of Pavlik and his training center's location in the Youngstown community, reporters have now started to show how the things that were considered obsolete in Youngstown, including steel and tires, are now being used by Pavlik for his training purposes. In this sense, Youngstown’s image is being replaced through the rhetoric and training methods of Pavlik as one of a fighter who represents the values of hard work and determination as attributes that are still alive in this community.
Pavlik’s training methods and his training in the Youngstown community become a rhetorical act of reciprocity between Pavlik and members of the Youngstown community. He is a“blue collar” fighter that resides in a “rust belt” town. He employs steel products and other obsolete artifacts in his training. This has helped to create reality as understood by the discursive Youngstown community following Pavlik’s career. DeGenaro affirms this position by asserting that the “new rhetoric’s movement implies a social turn, signaling widespread acceptance that language does not exist in a vacuum but rather in real, material contexts.”
Since Youngstown has changed dramatically since the 1970s, it would seem fruitful to study the rhetoric and training methods of Kelly Pavlik. Youngstown represents what Dudley describes as “rust belt - that great swath of Middle America razed by the decline of the rubber, steel, and automobile factory.” Therefore, to describe a different aspect of this town, I will study the link between Kelly Pavlik, the fighter, and the Youngstown community in general. In order to assess this significance, it will be important to do the following: first, describe the current state of the Youngstown community; second, describe the career of Kelly Pavlik; third, through personal interviews, expand on Pavlik’s training methods as explained by his various trainers. Finally, I will explain Pavlik as a persona of the Youngstown community. Sports stories are often heard, but this is a story that shows the inherent link between the sports figure who employs the “tools” of the trade as derived by standards established from his cultural community.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE YOUNGSTOWN COMMUNITY
In 1803, James and Daniel Heaton discovered iron ore lining the banks of Yellow Creek, just south of Youngstown, Ohio’s Mahoning Valley. This ore was used to produce cannonballs during the Civil War. As steel was needed for building bridges, ships, and automobiles, Youngstown became a popular site for mills and major steel production. This steel was used in World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. At one time, twenty-eight blast furnaces churned out iron, and more steel was made in Youngstown than any other city in the nation. The largest of the mills was the Sheet and Tube Company, which had plants located in two sections of the community.
The prosperity of steel enabled Youngstown to grow as a community. It is estimated that in the 1940’s, Youngstown area mills employed 65,000 workers directly in iron and steel making. Hundreds of teenagers graduating from high school could look to a prosperous future working in the mills. Individuals adhering to such a viewpoint took pride not only in their work, but possessed respect for the powerful presence of steel and its relationship to the community. According to Thomas Feuchtmann: "The local economy, like the landscape, was dominated by the steel mills. Not only was steel the largest single employer; it was the largest purchaser of materials and services from local business. A number of steel related industries sprang up to service the mills with raw materials, transportation, and milling equipment. Virtually the entire local economy depended on steel.”
Youngstown’s reliance on the steel industry would prove to be disastrous. Foreign competition, apathetic management, and outdated modes of production were catalysts in the closings of numerous steel mills in Youngstown during the late 1970's. Fuechtmann explains one infamous day: “At ten o’clock in the morning on Monday, September 19, 1977, vice-presidents of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company appeared for hastily arranged appointments at various offices around Youngstown, Ohio. Reporters were summoned to a news conference at company headquarters, where they were handed a brief release: 'Sheet and Tube' was closing its largest steel mill in its home city. It was expected that five thousand jobs would be terminated, with layoffs beginning the following week.” The closing of the steel mills devastated this once proud city, leaving it in a state of high unemployment and increased crime, and making it the brunt of jokes from other sections of the country.
Youngstown has been stigmatized by the national media as a place of corruption since the 1960's. In 1963, a Saturday Evening Post story said that Youngstown should be named “Crime Town, USA, as they described seventy-five car bombings, and eleven killings." After the closing of the mills, Youngstown became the poster child of deindustrialization in the new America of lost dreams. National news agencies flocked to Youngstown to show the nation the plight of this community. There are too many articles and books written about Youngstown to display in this article. Suffice it to say that the stories and statistics resonate with individuals interested in class, crime, and unemployment. Thirty-two years after the closing of the mills, Youngstown is still in the national media.
Youngstown has become, as a CBS Morning News reporter said, a “symbol of the failure of America.” James McCarthy, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, stated that Youngstown had “the highest murder rate in the state during the 1990’s, with an annual average of 20 homicides per 100,000 people, nearly twice as many as the runner up, Cuyahoga County.” In addition, Granns’ July 2000 article in the New Republic entitled “Crimetown USA” describes Youngstown as a negative place. David Rusk, an urban theorist, cited Youngstown as number fourteen on a list of twenty-four American cities that are beyond the point of no return. Regardless of truth, these representations paint a picture of the town as being entirely negative. These depictions are detrimental to a holistic and ethical understanding of discursive perspectives of the community.
Local leaders and heroes have also tarnished the image of this community. Controversial U.S. Congressman James Traficant was indicted on federal corruption charges in 2002. Michael Monus, local resident, and cofounder of the Phar Mor corporation, was sentenced to twenty years of prison for fraud, tax evasion, and embezzlement. Another Youngstown native, national entrepreneur Ed DeBaretlo, Jr., was forced to relinquish his position as owner of the San Francisco Forty-Niners because he concealed an extortion plot by former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards.
These stories, however, only provide a partial reality of this community. Youngstown’s other story, as told by members of the community, is available to the national media, but the media doesn’t seem interested in this narrative. Part of this narrative is the story of Kelly Pavlik. As Sherry Lee Linkon and John Russo state, “In rushing to erase the difficult parts of the Youngstown’s history, too many people have also forgotten the powerful events that made Youngstown so important in American industrial and working class history.”
KELLY PAVLIK: THE MAN OF STEEL
Kelly Pavlik was born April 5, 1982, in Youngstown, Ohio. He has been fighting professionally for eight years, his professional record is 34-1, and he is currently the WBO Middleweight Champion. His nickname is the Ghost, which describes both his pale complexion and his ability to be "invisible" in the ring according to his opponents. Pavlik’s name also describes his race, which happens to be Caucasian American in a sport dominated by both African-American and Latino fighters.
His most memorable fight was his seventh round knockout of Jermain Taylor on September 9, 2007, in which he won Taylor’s Middleweight Championship. In the fight, Pavlik was knocked down in the second round, but survived and won this thrilling fight. Mike Pavlik, Kelly’s Dad, said in an HBO documentary that the "Youngstown ethic there is no shame in getting knocked down. The shame is not getting up. And Kelly got up.” It is this Youngstown work ethic that Pavlik brings to his work both inside and outside the ring.
Youngstown has been known as a place that produces boxing champions. In fact, it has produced four world champions, which include Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Harry Arroyo, and Jeff Lampkin. In addition, Ernie Shavers, one of the most feared boxers, grew up in Warren, sixteen miles away, but he fought out of Youngstown.
As described earlier, the city has lost its steel production. However, one of the only things it can brag about today is Kelly Pavlik. It is Pavlik who continues to live and train in Youngstown, which has endeared him to members of this community. He represents the hopes and dreams of this town through his actions in the ring. Metaphorically, the people of this community, like Pavlik, have been fighting against the ropes for the last thirty years. Just like the Youngstown community, Pavlik is known for his blue collar style and his ability to be hit and strike back in defense. According to Carlo Rotella, “The term blue collar, increasingly detached from any reference to work done by the industrial working class, is often used today to describe any style distinguished by skillful diligence rather than flashy inspiration.” Some would just consider Pavlik a fighter. However, when put into the backdrop of the Youngstown community, this subject becomes more engrossing.
SOUTH SIDE BOXING CLUB AND JACK LOEW
As Kelly Pavlik has continued to rise in the ranks of boxing, it has been commonplace for others to say he should move his training to another part of the country, outside of the Youngstown community. Fight promoter, Bob Arum, even went public saying that for Pavlik to reach his true potential he would have to leave the Youngstown community to train in Las Vegas. Pavlik has continued to be loyal and train in his hometown. He often wears a shirt that says “Protect Youngstown.” In an HBO documentary, Jim Lampley said Pavlik “is a strong willed sturdy fighter with an asphalt sealer as his trainer. No wonder the people from Youngstown can identify with Kelly Pavlik.”
In fact, this story begins when Kelly was nine years old and walked into the Southside Boxing Club, located on the south side of Youngstown. It is here that he met the owner of the gym, Jack Loew who is now Pavlik’s trainer. In the HBO documentary, Mike Pavlik, Kelly’s father, asserts, “Jack Loew has been with Kelly since he was nine years old.” This bond and friendship have established the Youngstown link, which makes this story interesting to anyone attempting to link together working class studies and communication. Jack Loew also asserts in the documentary, “Kelly came to the gym and he was a gutsy kid. He took numerous butt whippings.” Loew’s rhetoric highlights what can be gained by looking at where Pavlik trains for his fights. In addition, the persona of Jack Loew shows those outside of the Youngstown community a guide on how to judge the communicative power of Team Pavlik. This team consists of managers and trainers all from the Youngstown community.
Jack Loew is a former boxer. Before hitting it big with Kelly, Loew had a driveway sealing business. In fact, when Kelly was knocked down against Taylor, Loew said the following: “All I could see was a lot of driveways...First thing that ran through my mind was I’d never stop paving driveways. Then once he got up and got through the round and told me he was all right, I thought we would be fine.” It is also Loew’s blue collar persona which makes this Youngstown combination an anomaly in the world of big time prize fighting. Others would decide to train in larger gyms or exotic locations. However, it is in the confines of this mill town where Kelly feels and embraces his Youngstown roots. In the documentary, Pavlik describes Youngstown “as a place where I like to be. I am comfortable and happy. I like being around my family and friends.”
Upon initial investigation, the South Side Boxing Club would not be a place where you would believe a champion would train. In fact, the building and training facilities are only 900 square feet. This only provides for one ring on the premises. The structure reveals the places of work and suffering for Kelly Pavlik as he trains for his upcoming bouts. This artifact is a venue in which Kelly Pavlik feels comfortable with both his Youngstown surroundings and Jack Loew. Gerry Philipsen defines place as a "position in a social hierarchy, a physical setting, or the niche properly occupied by a thing, person, or idea.” This concept of place becomes important to an outsider attempting to understand the ideas of work, talk, and meaning as established in this cultural environment. Consider Loew's rhetoric. In a personal interview, Loew describes his club when he says, “It is in Youngstown. It is a working man’s gym. It is nothing fancy, as you can see that. You come in here; it is like going to the steel mill. You put your hard work in and it has been paying off. I have been very successful with our amateur program. It is a hard working gym and just a reflection of this town.” Deconstructing this quote provides some important rhetorical commections between the residents of Youngstown and Pavlik’s trainer. He mentions the gym as a place of work that brings Kelly Pavlik, the fighter, close to the roots of the Youngstown community. Just like the people who once worked in the mills, Pavlik trains and represents the values of hard work that are the cornerstone of this cultural community. According to William DeGenaro, “The new rhetoric’s movement implies a social turn, signaling widespread acceptance that language does not exist in a vacuum but rather in real, material, contexts.” This context is the gym identified as a place of work for Kelly Pavlik in relation to former steelworkers who toiled in previous generations with their hands.
Since both Loew and Pavlik are members of this community, they take pride in training in the Youngstown area. As Pavlik’s purses have increased, it would have been easier for him to leave the South Side Gym. However, it is his love of this gym and the community that keeps Pavlik in the Youngstown area. Loew asserts, “We have been offered to go to some of the most exotic gyms in the world, including down in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas. We stay here where our roots are at in Youngstown. We have also made a chuck of money so far and we don’t walk around with all of the gold jewelry and the big teams and entrouge around us. We keep it simple. We are definitely a blue collar team.” This quote is discursive in nature. First, Loew describes his adherence to living and training in this environment that make both Pavlik and him feel comfortable. He describes it as a "Youngstown gym" that adheres to the working class values of this community. Second, just like the steelworkers of past times, it is the job of the gym to make the boxers put in an honest day of work. This is where Kelly Pavlik toils for himself and the Youngstown community.
IRON MAN WAREHOUSE
Not only is Kelly Pavlik from a blue collar town and trained at a local gym, the other methods he employs to train are unique to his Youngstown roots. Along with his training with Loew, Pavlik also trains at a local gym, Ironman Warehouse. Joe Maxse states that “Pavlik has devoted himself to twice-a-week visits to the Ironman Warehouse, secluded behind a cement construction business on Youngstown’s East Side. The extended regimen of exercises is designed to give him the edge over any opponent.”
The gym was the brainchild of Paul Dunlevy, Mike Zupko, a local police officer, and Mark Rasetta, a physical therapist. The gym has been open eighteen months and trains people ranging from athletes to middle-agers. In an interview, Paul Dunlevy, one of the co-founders said, “It is kind of like we went to the scrapyard and got half of the equipment we train with. We got used tires and chains. In fact, these steelworkers that train with us brought us this giant chain and we still haven’t figured what to do with it yet. It weighs about 400 pounds. We have been just dragging it. Big crazy primitive stuff that represents the steel mills. We have sledgehammers and individual chains and kettle bells, which kind of resembles the insides of the Liberty Bell. We throw 45 pound plates around and we bench press boulders, fire hoses and ropes, and Indian clubs. Just old school primitive stuff.” Some of the above artifacts are also employed by Pavlik as he trains for his upcoming fights.
This is not an ordinary gym. Under further investigation, it is a place where people use different methods for strength training. The gym includes fire hoses, ropes, gymnastic rings, tractor tires, beer kegs, concrete demolition balls, sledge hammers and more. All are intended to develop strength, speed, and stamina. Pavlik’s mode of training employs some of the artifacts used by steelworkers in this community. The gym allows the visitor to interpret the important component parts of the represented culture. Tamar Katriel writes: “Removed from their original contexts of use, objects considered unusable in their day to day existence are re-located and re-arranged in their confines…in such a way that creates a new context for their secondary…life." This gym and Pavlik’s method of training enable outsiders of this community the opportunity to locate outdated cultural artifacts as methods of training used by Pavlik. This rhetorical potential allows the past to be shared by Pavlik and members of his observing community.
This extra training, along with its employment of blue collar artifacts, assists others in grasping a deeper understanding of Pavlik’s training techniques and the uniqueness of this gym. In a sense, these ordinary objects become more important when put into the context of this story. According to Thomas Dunk, “To question the ordinary, the routine, the everyday is a necessary project for the truly critical social science.” The word "ordinary" is paramount for individuals attempting to understand the everyday intracacies of the objects of this gym and the training regimen of Kelly Pavlik.
The gym as a cultural artifact is also a place of work. It is representative of the Youngstown community. It is a place just like the South Side Boxing club in which people must put forth effort just like past steelworkers to receive the fruits of their labor.
In a an interview, Paul Dunlevey said the following, “We have had the pleasure and honor to train Kelly Pavlik. Big media outlets come down here. They spend more time down here than they do at the boxing gym, because it is different and it represents that hard core blue collar mentality of the Youngstown people. Our gym represents that rebounding of getting up off the floor. When the mills shut down and people were fighting and doing something and not just sitting around and being lethargic and getting back to work. This is what this place represents.” This quote is similar to the earlier quote by Loew about his gym. Both of the quotes represent a past part of Youngstown that is still constructed in these respective gyms. In addition, this mentality, this style is also present in the persona and training methods of Kelly Pavlik.
PAVLIK'S LINK TO THE YOUNGSTOWN COMMUNITY
Pavlik’s link to the community is evident as he employs Youngstown’s resources, including its local gyms, to prepare for his upcoming fights. As a fighter, he represents some of the grittiness of this town. In the documentary, Pavlik asserts, “Economically there is nothing here. Youngstown is trying to rebound. It is going to be a lot of work. We have been done for so long.” He is not dismissive when discussing the problems of Youngstown. However, the work he is describing is not only him as a boxer, but him as someone from the community who will get up after being knocked down. Even though he is a millionaire when he mentions the word "we," it reminds us he still considers himself a member of his cultural community. According to Phil Kidd, “Kelly is a product of the post-steel era, when the city had a chip on its shoulder. Which means there is a still a very strong sense of an 'us vs. them' mentality in him. So when he steps in that ring, he steps in on behalf of a city of fighters. Every punch he throws is on behalf of his city. He feels it and we feel it. Kelly Pavlik is from Youngstown and he is Youngstown and there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for him.”
Pavlik and his community of fans are involved in the ritual view of communication, which, according to James Carey, stresses sharing, participation, association, and fellowship. From a working class studies/communication perspective, the ritual view of the lived experiences of different cultural or class groups help others to understand how they may share a reality with individuals outside their own frame of reference. Though it attempts to show the drama or unfolding narrative of groups, the ritual focuses primarily on the individual or group but on the individuals sharing symbolically their distinctive and pluralistic cultures and class identities.
The ritual view of communication includes all members of the composite community. In this case, it would be Youngstown, Ohio. Some media outlets are critical of the Youngstown community for its high unemployment and crime rates. However, this subjective reporting only shares a partial reality of this city. According to DeGenaro, “The study of rhetoric most often takes the form of the study of elite figures, communities, traditions, and tropes…The history contains an inherent and often explicit streak of elitism, often characterized by a disdain for physical labor and the people who partake in such work.” In opposition, this story of Kelly Pavlik and his Youngstown roots shows those outside of this community a voice, or in Pavlik’s case, gloves and training that can act as a voice, that displays aspects of this cultural community.
Kelly and the Youngstown community are one in general. Pavlik does not deny the decadent conditions of this community. He says, “This place is tough. Nothing is pretty here, but it keeps you hungry.” This type of rhetoric endears Pavlik to other members of his culture. In a sense, he gives hope and media exposure to people that have been forgotten by mainstream society. His sincerity is felt by his local fans. Lori Greenwald, a Youngstown native, says, “After a fight when Kelly wins and he thanks Youngstown. It touches your heart. It makes you feel like you want to cry.” Another local resident, Carmen Cassere, states, “You see a guy like Kelly, and that is a great sense of pride for us because now people look and see that is what is represented in Youngstown, that is what it is about.” This ritual view of communication between Pavlik and his fans highlights the link that establishes him as a boxer who embraces, instead of disdains, Youngstown. This is further evidenced in one of Kelly’s fights when 6,000 fans from Youngstown drove 450 miles to the Jersey shore to see their local hero defend his title.
Pavlik could be seen as just another sports story. But his connections to Youngstown makes the story more important. Both Kelly and his community are interdependent upon one another. Kidd expounds on this point when he states, “Kelly is an iconic Youngstown figure, and here’s why: his personality is very much representative of the city and its people. He’s tough yet humble, tenacious yet unassuming. He’s the kind of guy who will knock out a middleweight title contender on Saturday, in front of millions on PPV, and still be on time for the dart league game on Tuesday. He runs in our city park and works out in a gym that was once a pizza shop with the same trainer he’s had since he was a kid. He swings sledgehammers and flips tires at the former industrial sites on which the city was built…Youngstown was once the best in the world at what it did: making steel. When the bottom dropped out of the steel industry and the city was virtually left for dead in the 1980’s, the people - people like Kelly - and culture of Youngstown were all that remained.”
KELLY PAVLIK: A YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO BOXER
In some instances, the national media is guilty of creating a perception of towns without really understanding their people and histories. But to understand the true story of Kelly Pavlik, we must engage with his selection of his trainer, gyms, and the artifacts employed to train for his fights. Most importantly, it is imperative to understand his adherence to his roots in Youngstown, Ohio. To truly glean something from this story is to show the interconnection between Pavlik and his Youngstown following. Pavlik is a boxer by trade. However, his story provides those unfamiliar with the narrative of Youngstown to grasp a deeper understanding of how the ritual view of communication is constructed in this community narrative. According to Linkon and Russo, “If Youngstown is to be a real community, then, it must understand its past. It must embrace pride in what was produced here - not just steel but also a strong working class community.” Pavlik is what has been produced in this community, and by now it should be evident that his persona has been constructed in the Youngstown community. As other parts of Ohio and the national media castigate Youngstown, the story of Kelly Pavlik attempts to enact a narrative that the national media is now sharing to the general population. It is a story of pride and an extended narrative about the importance of a fighter as a hero to this often forgotten community.
From guest contributor Anthony Esposito, Department of Communication and Media Studies, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania