Not long after winning his Olympic gold medal in 1976, Sugar Ray Leonard credits Charlie Brotman for helping to jump-start his storied, Hall of Fame professional boxing career.
“Back then, you called them your publicist, and Charlie was an incredible guy as my publicist. But Charlie was more than just that. He was my friend, he was everything,” said Leonard of Brotman, a Washington, D.C. native who has called the fights of Washington, D.C.-based former titleholders Riddick Bowe and Simon Brown.
“Charlie Brotman took me to my first big thing where he booked me in Los Angeles for the World of Wheels, which was an auto show and my first step into the celebrity front and my first paying job. That was late in 1976, and back then, you didn’t get too many compensation requests for boxers. I was charging $1.00 per picture, and Charlie put that money in his pocket, and that money went to me. I made about $3,000.”
A native of Palmer Park, Md., Leonard said, “to a kid from ‘The hood,’ that was like $1 million,” adding, “I went up to my hotel room, threw all of those $1.00 bills on my bed, and I jumped up and thought, ‘I’m rich.'”
By then, however, Brotman already had established himself among national dignitaries, having called the Inaugural President’s Parade since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term in 1957.
On Jan. 21, Brotman, who turned 85 in December, will perform that duty for his 16th Inaugural Parade and for the 11th president. That moment, of course, will be the second straight time that he will officiate the proceedings for President Barack Obama, doing so from a position perched directly across the street from where Obama will be sworn in, as he describes every float, band and display that passes.
In fact, Brotman’s position on Lafayette Park is directly across from The White House and the President’s Reviewing Stand, where the President and first family, along with Vice President and his family as well as other VIPs and friends view the parade.
The swearing-in ceremony takes place on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, and it is nearby where the Parade starts.
Brotman is also a regular at the George Mason University’s Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., whenever local fighter Jimmy Lange is in action. Brotman can be announcing from ringside at Lange’s fights.
Brotman also handled public relations for the expansion Washington Senators baseball franchises from the mid-1950’s through 1971, called Washington, D.C.-area golf such as the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, Mazda LPGA Championship, Kemper Open and U.S. Senior Open, as well as tennis events like The Virginia Slims of Washington and the men’s ATP Tour.
Brotman shared some of his thoughts during this Q&A with RingTV.com below.
RingTV.com: Which of the presidents would have made the best boxer?
Kennedy? No, I don’t think so. Ronald Reagan, maybe. He was sly and he was fast. And Bill Clinton. I think that those two would be my favorites, really.
Ronald Reagan. He has the excitement attached to him, and, with his delivery, I think that he could have been a kind of sneaky boxer.
Maybe not an overwhelming the guy, but I think that he would have been fast on his feet in his earlier days. I think that Reagan would be good.
And I think that Clinton would be good. Clinton, again, seemed to stay in shape, and he was quick with a quip and he’s knowledgeable.
I think that if an Angelo Dundeee was in his corner, Clinton would follow the trainer or the manager’s instructions, and I think that he could beat up on somebody.
RingTV.com: What about Obama?
CB: Obama is more of a basketball player than a boxer.
RingTV.com: Who was the first president you announced the parade for?
CB: That was Harry Truman in 1949.
RingTV.com: Can you tell me about your start?
This was in Washington, D.C., where I was born. I went to McKinley Tech in Washington, D.C. I graduated in 1946 and went into the U.S. Navy for two years.
When I came out, I went to the University of Maryland for a year, and I withdrew from Maryland so that I could go to a broadcasting school.
RingTV.com: How did you get the job?
CB: While at the broadcasting school, the inaugural parade for President Truman was the first inaugural parade to be on television, and they needed announcers.
So the White House sent over one of their associates, and they got six of us broadcasting students, and I was one of those students.
It was not a major role for me, but just a school assignment. So I did it and that was like the end of it.
RingTV.com: What happened next.
CB: The real beginning, for me, was that I was the stadium announcer for the Washington Senators’ baseball team in Washington, D.C.
And the Nation’s Capitol, it was traditional to have the president throw out the ceremonial first pitch. So that was President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
So I introduced the president, and that was part of my responsibility. That, and welcoming the president, bringing him onto the field.
And then, going into the dugout and introducing him to some of the players. Going to the locker room and introducing him to the players.
Back in those days, he threw the ball from the seats. That was in 1956. So I introduced him, and everything went fine.
RingTV.com: How did that lead to the inagural parade?
CB: Well, now it’s November of that same year, and in 1956, the baseball season was over. But I got a call from the White House.
They said, “Are you Charlie Brotman?” And I said, “Yes Ma’am.” And they said, “Are you the announcer who introduced President Eisenhower at Griffith Stadium?”
And I said, “Yes Ma’am.” And she said, “Well you must have impresSed him, because he asked me to see if I could locate you and ask if you would like to introduce him again.”
And I said, “Oh my heavens, absolutely, what an honor. Just tell me where and when, and I’ll be there.” So she says, “Well, the where is going to be on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.”
And, “The date would be Jan. 20, 1957.” And I said, “I am from Washington, D.C., and that means that’s the Presidential Inaugural Parade.”
And she said, “That’s right, and you’ll be the president’s announcer.” So I’m an ordinary guy with an extraordinary opportunity.
Four years later, Eisenhower is out, and [John Fitzgerald “Jack”] Kennedy comes in, and the new group of people with the new president had never had any experience with the inaugural parade.
So they looked through their index cards and saw my name, wondered if I was still in the area, called me, and asked if I was the guy who did it four years ago.
So they basically said, “Well, we would like for you to do it again, and could you come down to our office so we can pick your brain, because we don’t know anything about these inaugural parades.”
So it seemed like every four years, I would get a telephone call, because these were all new people with a new president and I happened to have experience that nobody else had.
So I’ve been doing it for, this will be my 16th consecutive inaugural parade, and I will have introduced 11 different presidents.
RingTV.com: Is there anything that you would like to say in closing?
CB: I was blessed to be in the right time and in the right place, and I’ve been blessed, myself, to be given these great opportunities. It’s really exciting. Normally, one would say, “Ho hum, been there, done that.”
But that is not the case with me. I feel like every time is the first time. My adrenalin is sky high, and I do a lot of preparation and research and I look forward to it every year.
Photos courtesy of Charlie Brotman and Kerry Bohen
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org