Headlines of Yore

How a North Philly-born blind boxer rose to welterweight fame, then was forced to quit

Joe Harris hid his vision impairment through two dozen bouts, but when it discovered, the news cost him his career.

Joe Harris on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1967

Joe Harris on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1967

Sports Illustrated archives

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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.

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