Joe Harris on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1967

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

How does a blind fighter become a flyweight boxing contender? Nobody really knows.

Born in North Philadelphia, Joe Harris had a stint as a prolific fighter during the 1960s. After winning his first 24 professional fights (including a Madison Square Garden bout against Curtis Cokes), Harris became the first non-heavyweight contender to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was dubbed a “scaled-down” Muhammed Ali by sports writer Mark Kram Jr.

But after his 25th fight ended in a loss, a routine physical revealed Harris had been blind in his right eye since he was 11 years old.

It’s hard to say how the boxer passed previous physicals, or kept the ailment hidden for years of amateur and professional fighting.

None of that mattered, however, because the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission revoked Harris’ boxing license, arguing that he was a danger to himself in the ring. Harris tried to appeal the decision with the help of a high-profile civil rights lawyer, but the effort failed. His boxing career was over at the age of 22.

He became a sanitation worker for the Philadelphia Streets Department, instead. This thread details how it all unfolded.

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...