When Pavlik wore a "Defend Youngstown" T-shirt in a documentary that aired on SportsTime Ohio, the T began selling in Cleveland. Then Midwest chic went viral after the shirt popped up in the pre-fight profile before his January 2007 HBO debut. Since then, stories in Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have all advanced the legend: Pavlik personally defends Youngstown, sledgehammer in hand, city on his shoulders, carrying it to a brighter future.
I wear a "Defend Youngstown" T-shirt around Longmont, CO. The iconography is a catalyst for conversations about the revitalization of the Postindustrial Heartland. I'm not just Erie proud or Pittsburgh proud. I'm Rust Belt proud.
I appreciate the urban jingoism among Detroit expatriates or Cincinnati aficionados. But defending Youngstown should be of mega-regional interest. A remarkable renaissance in the Mahoning Valley would give the rest of the world cause to reconsider their perception of the Rust Belt. And Kelly Pavlik is leading the way.