Patrick (Pat) Francis Anthony Nolan Putnam (April 27, 1930 - November 27, 2005) was an award-winning boxing writer best known for his work at Sports Illustrated.
Putnam, who was born and raised in Schenectady, New York, attended Syracuse University and played semi-pro baseball before joining the Miami Herald as a copy boy in 1954. He later became a sportswriter for the paper. In 1960, Putnam started covering a newcomer to the Miami area, a young Cassius Clay. Putnam covered Clay's rise to the World Heavyweight Championship and was the first to report Clay's conversion to Islam and the changing of his name to Muhammad Ali.
In 1968, Putnam became a writer for Sports Illustrated, where more than 50 of his 600-plus stories were featured on the cover. He reported on a wide range of sports, including horse racing and football, but he was best known as the magazine's boxing writer. In 1982, he received the Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism from the Boxing Writers Association of America. After 27 years at Sports Illustrated, Putnam retired in 1995. In retirement, Putnam did freelance work, most notably for the boxing website TheSweetScience.com.
Putnam died on November 27, 2005 at the age of 75 after suffering complications from stomach surgery. Putnam was survived by two children and four grandchildren.
Putnam claimed that he was a Marine veteran and was a prisoner of war for 17 months during the Korean War. He told people that his war time experience left him with only one lung and a life time of back problems. He also said that he received four Purple Hearts and a Navy Cross. Three years after his death, it was discovered that his claims were lies.
In 2008, boxing writer Bernard Fernandez of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote a column about Putnam in which he called Putnam a "rawhide-tough Marine” who “came back [from Korea] with four Purple Hearts and the Navy Cross.” Chuck and Mary Schantag and Doug Sterner, who run websites dedicated to preserving the stories of war heroes and exposing fakers, read the column and investigated Putnam's claims. They discovered that Putnam did not exist in Marine Corps Archival Tapes or in any Marine medals databases.
The revelation came just hours before the Boxing Writers Association of America was set to award the Pat Putnam Perseverance Award to Anthony and Lamont Peterson, who grew up homeless in Washington D.C., at the association’s annual award dinner in May 2008. The award, launched in 2005, honored perseverance in overcoming adversity.
“They checked it 17 ways to Sunday, and it came up totally bogus,” Fernandez said. “He had us all fooled. You’re talking about media people, and he had us buffaloed.”
Ed Schuyler, a retired Associated Press boxing writer who was a dear friend of Putnam's, said he was shocked to learn that Putnam's stories were false. "He was a wonderful man. I am stunned by it. I believe it started like a lark and then went on and on," Schuyler said.
Putnam's daughter said that her father always was a story-teller. "He was Irish and could tell a story," said Colleen Putnam. "Maybe this one he yarned. I don't know."
Putnam said her father's war stories began when someone asked him about the scars on his back that were from a car accident. "He said he was in the war, and it grew and grew. Maybe my father didn't know how to stop it."
The Boxing Writers Association of America changed the name of the Pat Putnam Perseverance Award to the Bill Crawford Courage Award. Bill Crawford, who died in March 2000, was a Medal of Honor winner who boxed as an amateur before joining the Army during World War II.
- "Pat Putnam, 75; boxing writer broke the news about Ali name change" by Steve Springer - Los Angeles Times - December 2, 2005
- "Iconic sports writer's false war claims revealed" by Ann Schecter and Maddy Sauer - ABCNews - May 1, 2008
- "Famed boxing writer faked Korean War legacy" by Dan Lamothe - Marine Corps Times - May 1, 2008
- "Bill Crawford's legacy lives on in boxing ring" by Peter Roper - The Pueblo Chieftain - June 6, 2009