Jared Lankford: Refocusing on the milk

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The story of James J. Braddock is one of pure Americana sports and spirit.

Braddock’s life was brought to the big screen by Ron Howard in the movie Cinderella Man.

While some of the drama in the ring was manufactured to drive the Hollywood narrative. The life story of Braddock needed no additional spice.


During the 1920s, life was great for the upcoming pugilist. He rose through the boxing ranks. In 1929, he fought Tommy Loughran for the light heavyweight title, a bout he lost in 15 rounds and during which broke his right hand in several spots.

The fight would serve as a metaphor for the next four years of his life. The stock market crash cost Braddock his savings, and his business also went under. In the ring, he struggled to regain his form, going 11-20-2.

Braddock struggled to find consistent employment that could support his family and was forced to take government assistance after exhausting all other possibilities.

Fortune would once again smile on Braddock, and he found a second chance and new life in the ring. Battling his way back, Braddock earned the right to face Max Baer for the World Heavyweight title.

The movie chronicles the press conference that took place prior to the Baer-Braddock fight.

Asked why he returned the government assistance, Braddock said that when he was down, he felt fortunate there was someone there to help him up, and he felt obligated to return the favor.

When asked why he was fighting professionally, Braddock answered, “I fight for milk.”

Watching the movie for the first time, I was taken back by that response. It was perfect, a poetry onion with layer upon layer.

In the book “Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History” by Jeremy Schaap, Braddock explained that he could not afford to lose, that his focus was upon what was important, and he knew this was his chance to lift his family up.

The first week of 2020 has been a Braddock-style storyline for myself.

On Thursday, my family awoke to a flame-engulfed front porch.

All thoughts and plans that I previously had both literally and figuratively went up in smoke and out the window.

The only certainty of life is that life is uncertain.

Word spread of the event that occurred at my home and the outpouring of support, offers of help and donations exceeded our wildest dreams.

First and foremost, it is apparent that my family will never be able to repay the generosity extended to us. The main thing was we got out safely and the items lost are replaceable.

Identifying with Braddock’s sentiment of fighting for milk and the laser focus he placed upon his goal is something that has caused personal reflection for me.

Often times, we get caught up looking down the road of life, making plans and setting things in motion without giving a secondary care to “what if.”

There is still goodness, and large hearted and compassionate people in this world.

Being honest, it is hard to find the right phrase or way to accept such support other than, as it was explained, “Say ‘Thank You’ and know that we are here to help.”

In life, we will all be knocked down from time to time.

The ability to put back the pieces has been made much easier by the support and prayers received.

If anything, the idea of focusing on the milk of life, family and simple things was reinforced.

Braddock never forgot the help he received and spent his whole life after boxing helping his neighbors as best he could.

My family and I were reminded this week that those traits live on and thrive in this community.

Life is more than sports and accumulated items. We all need help at some point. The fight for milk is not one of a new bass boat, but one that we need to count our blessings for. Things that are not replaceable, that love you, hold you, or call you daddy.

My hope is that I’ll be able to return some of those blessings given to my family and me this week.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or at sports@cassville-democrat.com.

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