Greatest performance by a Michigan athlete at the just-concluded Rio Olympics? No question, it was Flint’s Claressa Shields, winning her second gold medal in her boxing weight division at age 21.
Shields is the first female athlete in the world ever to win two straight Olympic gold medals (2012 and 2016) in boxing. No American male ever has done that. Shields joins a handful of boxers worldwide — the others are male — who have won at least two gold medals in their Olympic careers. Only one U.S. boxer has matched her pair of golds — and that was a male flyweight/bantamweight in 1904 who won two golds in two different weight divisions at the same Olympics (can you believe that?)
The question now is: What next for Claressa Shields? Go pro? Is there such a thing as a professional female boxer? Yes, but it’s been a chronic loser for any female pugilist who has gone down that road — including Muhammed Ali’s daughter. Mixed martial arts? For Shields, she would have to be perfect at it to maintain the image and reputation she now has, and there’s a danger that she could be seriously injured.
What about all the “endorsements” that she’s now hoping for after getting virtually nothing during the four years following her first gold medal performance in 2012? That’s dicey, too. A female boxer is a tough sell compared with the women gymnasts, swimmers, and track stars that are already out there in force. Shields even had bad luck in the timing of her historic Olympic win — she triumphed at the worst possible time. The “Today Show” hosts had all packed up in South America and left for New York, so there were no live appearances on network TV the morning after receiving the gold.
Here’s a better idea: JOIN THE ARMY! Or at least some branch of the U.S. Military.
If that sounds outrageous, consider that, for the past two years, Shields had to escape to the Olympic Training Village in Colorado Springs, CO, to live and train. She had to rid herself of all the personal problems that beset her in Flint — and this was BEFORE the so-called “Flint Water Crisis.”
Have there been other Olympic athletes in the military? Well, yes, like 13 competitors and three coaches from the Army alone just in this year’s Olympics. How about the past? Remember Leon Spinks, who was in the Marine Corps when he won a gold medal as a light-heavyweight in 1976 and then, two years later, upset Muhammed Ali himself for the World Heavyweight Championship? Or we could go outside boxing and point to Marine First Lieut. Billy Mills, one of the great stories in Olympic history. Mills, orphaned at age 12, was an Oglala-Lakota-Sioux from South Dakota who became the only American ever to win the 10,000 meters race when he roared to victory at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Shields should consider joining up with the U.S. military NOW. She might be even better off if she’d done so immediately after graduating from Flint Northwestern High School in 2013. Without the military or anything else, the only thing she had for sure in 2012 was a $25,000 stipend from the U.S. Olympic Committee as a reward for winning the gold. And that’s all she’s got this time.
By contrast, in the U.S. Military (whether it’s Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines), Shields would have room and board provided (she’s been getting $3,000 per month from the Olympic Committee while she was in Colo. Springs the past two years), a monthly paycheck and an enlistment bonus. She would be assigned to Army (or some other service) special services after basic training. In the Army, she would serve at Fort Collins in Colorado near Colorado Springs and fight and train on the U.S. Army Boxing Team.
From Fort Collins, she could compete in national and international tournaments and in inter-service competitions. She could train all over the world on the U.S. Army’s dime and let the Army’s public relations machine promote her as the soldier seeking her third Olympic gold. That would be in Tokyo, when at age 25 she would just be entering her physical prime, and maybe even the 2024 Olympics (Michael Phelps, are you reading this?). She could win not just a third but a fourth gold medal at age 29 (Hungary’s Laszlo Papp won a record three gold medals in boxing in 1948, 1952 and 1956).
Would she ever want to bear children? She’s already offered to adopt a relative’s progeny. If so, in the Army she’d have child care and maternity leave, after which she could go back to boxing. After her career as a combatant, she would almost certainly be able to secure a coaching position on the U.S. Army boxing team (Army Sgt. Joe Guzman on this year’s U.S. team is a good example) or elsewhere in the Special Services program until she could retire with full benefits after 20 years at age 41. Fact is, she could have done all that at age 38 if she’d taken this step in 2013 after high school.
Claressa Shields, what are you waiting for? If not this, what?