The family of late heavyweight boxing champion Michael Dokes may have lost this round.
Dokes’ family and friends would like to see an Akron street named in his honor, as the only heavyweight champ to hail from Akron.
City officials, though, are uneasy about this idea because of Dokes’ criminal history after he reached the pinnacle of the boxing world. Dokes spent eight years in prison for several charges, including attempted murder, relating to an incident with his girlfriend. City leaders suggest finding another way to honor Dokes, who died in August after a losing battle with cancer.
Dokes’ family members aren’t opposed to an alternative way to recognize him. They think his life needs to be marked in some way by his hometown.
“To be honest, it’s about redemption,” said Alisa Williams, Dokes’ sister, who has been leading the effort to have him honored. “We all have indiscretions in our personal lives. Michael did not ask for this recognition, but he earned it.”
Michael Dokes and his siblings, all but one who live in Akron, grew up on Rhodes Avenue near Thornton Street in an area where few houses remain because of either being torn down or removed to make room for the expressway. The family’s home in the 900 Block of Rhodes is now a vacant lot.
Michael Dokes won the World Boxing Association heavyweight title in December 1982, defeating Mike Weaver with a first-round technical knockout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. He retained the title in a rematch in May 1983 when the bout was judged a majority draw. His reign as champion ended that September when Gerrie Coetzee beat him at the Coliseum in Richfield.
His record was 53-6-2, with 34 knockouts.
Dokes’ problems began a few years later in 1986 when he was arrested in Las Vegas for cocaine trafficking and served two years’ probation. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2000 after pleading guilty to attempted murder, second-degree kidnapping and intent to commit sexual assault in a 1998 incident with his girlfriend. He was paroled in 2008.
Dokes died in August, a day after turning 54.
After his passing, his family and friends searched for a way to honor him and decided that renaming Rhodes Avenue where the family grew up would be a good option. They began gathering signatures of residents along Rhodes Avenue indicating their support for the idea, collecting more than 80. They then wrote to Mayor Don Plusquellic and former Akron City Council President Marco Sommerville who at the time was representing Ward 3 that includes Rhodes Avenue, asking them to consider this step.
Williams and other family members and friends attended a council meeting in mid-February, speaking during the public comment period and asking for an update. They pledged to attend every meeting until a decision was reached.
That happened Monday, when City Council members held an impromptu meeting with the family after the regular council meeting. Besides family members, the owner of a business on Rhodes Avenue, a board member of the Summit County Boxing Association, and a local artist who recently had a show featuring paintings depicting Dokes’ life, attended.
Council members told the family and friends that there wasn’t enough support on council or in the administration for renaming the street because of Dokes’ criminal history.
“I think we feel we have to go set a very high standard to rename a street after somebody,” said Council President Garry Moneypenny. “We had serious reservations that Michael Dokes met that standard.”
Council members, however, suggested alternatives, such as a bench, a large rock with a plaque on it or sign at the corner of Rhodes and another street. They also said something could be done on private property from one of the property owners on Rhodes who support the family’s wishes.
“We are kind of torn,” said Councilwoman Margo Sommerville, who took over for her father when he was named planning director. “We want to be able to memorialize him. We want to make sure to do it in the right way.”
Moneypenny said another potential roadblock for renaming the street is the thinking that Rhodes already is named for someone, though no one so far has been able to confirm this. Retired Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth, the city’s unofficial historian, plans to research the history of the street’s name for council.
Dokes’ family members say they would be all right with a gesture short of the street renaming, such as erecting a sign at the corner of Rhodes and Vernon Odom Boulevard, or putting up a statue.
Kevin Dokes, Dokes’ brother, who lives in Dayton, said his brother did his time and should be honored in “some way, shape or form.” He said plenty of other people have gotten into trouble and still been recognized for their accomplishments.
“When does forgiveness come?” he asked. “That’s the question.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.