Excerpt from By George. The Autobiography of George Foreman:
“During the mid-1970s. my brother Roy had received a percentage of my boxing purses in exchange for taking care of my business affairs. By the time I retired in 1977, both he and my brother Sonny, who also worked for me, had earned a fair amount of money – but in the early 1980s, both were broke. In Roy’s case, the reversal of fortune was due to poor investments. When I returned with my kids from my St. Lucia adventure in 1983, he and his wife had separated, and he was living at my mother’s. Mom told me that he was volunteering his time teaching kids how to box at a church gym. Roy hadn’t really boxed himself, but from hanging around me all those years he knew enough about boxing to be an effective teacher.
I stopped by one day to see him and offer encouragement. The gym was a decrepit, flimsy place that the preacher had agreed to let Roy use on the condition that if he ever collected dues or fees from the kids or their parents, he would turn the money over to the church. When I got there, he was getting set to work with some of the kids in the ring. A few of the mothers were busy signing up their boys for the program. One young mother must have recognized me and thought that George Foreman, former champ, might really be able to help her son stay out of trouble; at least, that’s what I saw on her face. But I wanted no part. I was a preacher now. My congregation couldn’t think that I had any connection to boxing again. My opinion was that if she really wanted to keep her son out of trouble, she’d have sent him to church services instead.
About two months later, I ran into Roy somewhere. For some reason, I happened to ask about the kid whose mother had given me that look.
“That kid went to prison,” he said.
“Prison?! Man, you’ve got to be kidding.” I’d just seen that boy. He was standing near me from here to there.
“Yeah, he robbed a store with a friend. The storekeep shot his friend, so he shot the storekeep.”
“No. Hurt him bad though.”
Turned out that the store he robbed was in Humble, not far from my home. I felt badly shaken and couldn’t sleep. I was torn apart. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t helped that boy when I could have. I’d let him slip through my fingers. If only I’d have grabbed him.
“Roy,” I said, “we’ve got to do something.”
Down the block from my church was a large warehouse that a building contractor had abandoned before completion. It was a perfect space and perfect location for the plan that had started to form in my head. Tapping my retirement fund that had been sapped by the St. Lucia trip, I formed a charitable foundation that bought the warehouse, refurbished it, and fitted it out with weights, a basketball court, boxing gloves, and the boxing ring from my ranch in Marshall. So began the George Foreman Youth and Community Center.
Roy and I erected a fence around the place, with a gate, to give it the look of a club. Soon busloads of kids were pulling up. That’s how important it must have been.
We charged a dollar a year as dues, because I’m from the old school where you don’t give kids anything for free. But we had some families that could barely afford even that. And some kids from these households had a lot of loving to get and a lot of growing up to do.
There were no rules, except fair play and sportsmanship; those rules I enforced. Everything else was up to them. No set program.
I also had books if they wanted to read. All sorts of books – on history, art, writing, animals. Even Bibles. But I never gave sermons. No evangelizing. Still, in time, one kid after another would come to me with a confession and a vow: He was giving up a bad habit or two, cleaning up his life.
It was a thrill to see these young men transform themselves in a matter of days or weeks. The most obvious were the boys who’d walk in one day frail and scared. After a few boxing lessons and some serious hanging out, they’d return a stare of confidence. Even better, they thought enough of themselves not to pick fights just for the fun of it. Showing self-respect was a bylaw of the center.
Sometimes you don’t know what the need is until it’s filled. The center was a haven, safe from the outside world. Someone once left a gold chain on a bench. A week later it was still there for him. Boys and men both would sit and relax, just do nothing. People often slept. This was a place where everyone got to be a giant in his own world. One day Ed Wallaceson, my attorney who’d set up my financial affairs, came to me with news he knew I didn’t want to hear.
“George,” he said, “it’s great that you’re trying to help people. But I have to tell you, you’re going to be the saddest boxing story since Joe Louis began standing out there at Caesars Palace shaking hands. You can’t afford to keep this place up. You’re going to have to pull back.”
Sometimes reality intrudes. I felt like crying, not just because what he said was true, but because I didn’t want anybody, even him, to know what I already knew. That money my accountant had stolen was really setting me back now. One thing I didn’t want to give up was my own children’s college education money. But I had other obligations as well. These kids were jumping on buses every day to come to my center. If I didn’t take care of them, who would? They didn’t need to hear about my financial problems.
Those kids needed me, and I wouldn’t desert them. I’d just have to find another way to raise funds. And then the thought struck me: I know how to get money. I’m going to be heavyweight champ of the world. Again.”
In 1987, after 10 years away from the ring, Foreman surprised the boxing world by announcing a comeback at the age of 38. In his autobiography, he wrote that his primary motive was to raise money to fund the youth centre he had created, which had required much of the money he had earned in the initial phase of his career. Another stated ambition was to fight Mike Tyson.
In 1988, he won nine times. Perhaps his most notable win during this period was a seventh-round knockout of former Light Heavyweight and Cruiserweight Champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
By 1989, while continuing his comeback, Foreman had sold his name and face for the advertising of various products, selling everything from grills to mufflers on TV. For this purpose, his public persona was reinvented, and the formerly aloof, ominous Foreman had been replaced by a smiling, friendly George.
George Foreman Grill
Foreman in 2016
When Foreman came back from retirement, he argued that his success was due to his healthy eating. He was approached by Salton, Inc., which was looking for a spokesperson for its fat-reducing grill. As of 2009, the George Foreman Grill has sold over 100 million units.
Although Foreman has never confirmed exactly how much he has earned from the endorsement, Salton paid him $138 million in 1999, for the right to use his name. Prior to that, he was paid about 40% of the profits on each grill sold (earning him $4.5 million a month in payouts at its peak), yielding an estimated total of over $200 million just from the endorsement through 2011, substantially more than he earned as a boxer.