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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Muhammad Ali, Great?

Muhammad Ali has died.

For persons of my age, of course, Ali was the super celebrity. His fights in the ring proved major events--perhaps comparable to today's Superbowl. Even somebody such as me, uninterested in and bored by professional sports, would get caught up in the hype. Glued to our TV sets, we would watch "The Greatest" do battle. He rarely lost. Was he The Greatest Fighter who ever lived? I don't know. No doubt clever computer programs exist that can "fight" Ali against, say, Tyson, Dempsey, Louis, etc., and tell us what to think. Was he a great boxer? I am no expert, but I would have to say, yes, yes, he was. If he did nothing else, he saved boxing, at least for a time, from the slide into obscurity which it probably deserves. No other fighter generated or generates the sort of excitement and interest in the sport. When he was Champ, everybody knew it; when he wasn't Champ, and fighting to regain the title, everybody knew it. I, for example, have no idea who currently holds the title. So, yes, he was a great boxer, and a great sportsman. I leave it to others to decide if he was The Greatest of All Time.

Was he great in the non-sports world? Open for debate.

He, according to the narrative, stood up for his religious beliefs by refusing to be inducted into the army in 1967. He paid a price of sorts for that (good summary here) including the loss of his title. His conviction for evading the draft was later overturned by the Supreme Court, and Ali returned to the ring. This, of course, is the stuff of progressive legend, which forgets, of course, the other young men without his celebrity, vast wealth, and army of lawyers, who did their duty, went into the military and to war; presumably somebody took the slot which Ali rejected, and, perhaps, that somebody, too, paid a price, a heavy one, heavier than Ali's.

I was never 100% sure about his conversion to Islam. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, and joined a variant of Islam not widely recognized as Islam by the wider Muslim world--although an exception seemed to have been made by that world in the case of super celebrity Muhammad Ali. How much was real and how much show? I don't know.

Did he advance the cause of civil and human rights? Perhaps, perhaps. He talked the talk, certainly, but . . . what did he actually do? OK, he was not a racist and not an anti-semite. As he openly acknowledged, he owed the start of his boxing career to a sympathetic white police officer who introduced him to the sport as a way to fend off the bullies who had stolen his bicycle. He also owed much of his oversized fame to the relationship he had with white New York Jewish sportscaster Howard Cosell. As kids we would watch enthralled as Cosell and Ali teased and "tormented" each other, all the while the genuine affection that existed between them coming through. It was great unscripted television entertainment, the sort that shames the tired "reality" shows of today. All that's something, I guess. If it helped show that cop and ghetto kid, white and black, Jew and Muslim can get along, OK, that's something.

Let me sum up my thoughts. Yes, Ali was a great and talented sportsman, certainly right up there at the very top with Cobb, Mays, Ruth, Mantle, Louis, Bannister, Dempsey, Graziano, Pele, Owens, Jordan, etc. Perhaps he was the greatest sportsman of all time. I won't argue. He was also a great entertainer and a super celebrity who had intelligence, a sense of humor, and an ability to connect with people other than with his fists. Despite his violent profession, he certainly did not come off as a thug. His personal life, however, as with many celebrity "greats," was a mess, with his son living estranged from him. A complex man who lived large and became, perhaps, the most famous man in the world--I remember, for example, being in a small town in Morocco, and there were Muhammad Ali posters all over the place. Hard to find somebody on the planet who has not heard of him. But was he Great? I remain open to convincing.



  1. And he was great with the insults ... like someone else in the news these days.

  2. I've got rather mixed feelings about Muhammad Ali, although his family has my condolences. I suppose he was indeed a great sportsman.

    Sportsman, yes; but I question if he really deserved the Medal of Freedom. I can't say I think much of those who exchange the abolitionists' religion for the one which said a half-hearted "OK" to ending slave hunting and trading only at the point of British and French colonialists' bayonets and maxim guns. As for his conscientious objection to the Viet Nam War, I wonder what some boys of Tukish, Bosniak, Circassian, South Asian, or other Muslim heritages might have thought after serving (quite apart from the contempt in which they tend to hold the NOI).

    Also, I have negative feelings about violent contact sports--although the angle about a sympathetic cop getting the young Cassius Clay into boxing to protect himself is a sympathetic one. I'm not surprised that Muhammad Ali battled Parkinson's for decades. In Thailand, most Muay Thai fighters develop the disease in their thirties and tend to fade into long, obscure, miserable, and impoverished declines. Now we're hearing about what football does to people. While I'm glad for some big guys I know who subsidized pre-professional and other serious degrees on football scholarship, I've seen too many guys my age who played the game in high school and college who got the joint, back, and chronic pain issues decades before I did. Back to boxing, I'd probably put money on George Foreman feeling much happier and having a higher sense of accomplishment as a preacher and pitchman for grills--and getting old doing these things.

    As for sports in general, I'm all for kids learning teamwork and having a good time. Perhaps we adults need some exciting and non-deadly entertainment, too. But, generally, I think that we as a nation tend to be sports mad.

    Well, R.I.P., Muhammad Ali.

  3. Very flawed person, perhaps very naive, I don't know. But no one ever gave me as many "I remember where I was " moments like he did. A very short clip that gives an idea how good he was. Love the hands on the ropes the whole time:
    James the Lesser

  4. Our society has to canonize pretty much every celebrity these days. It's pretty sad overall, and makes the entertainers outshine true heroes.

    - reader #1482

  5. I have never followed sports, and am not a "fan", but I used to like boxing. But when his brain damage became so pronounced, I could not enjoy the bouts any more. The last fight I saw was one of Sugar Ray Leonard's in the early '80s, after that I never kept up with any of them again.

    We liked Ali as a showman, and respected him as a fighter - in spite of his politics and personal life.

  6. Dip-ster,yes I remember the hype to the fights and how Howard Cosell was even more bombastic that Clay. I despised them both, but Ali was good. Cosell we would imitate. Clay was a champ, there is no doubt of that. Cosell was a lawyer turned sportscaster that created the way fights were publicized... he made Don King look like a news paper boy.

    All that cannot be taken from the man. (Although I suspected he was going to take a dive for Micheal Spinks, who is now pushing a broom in some high school, and where I made a boatload of money on that fight.) Be that as it may...

    It was his Muslim religious choice that gave me the most consternation.according to Wiki he converted in 1975. That was four years before Don Warden (of Black panther infamy.) aka Khalid al Mansour became a household word for winning a lawsuit(in 1979) in favor of OPEC. Mohammed Ali was perhaps the first black American to become a Muslim. I suspect he did so to further the cause of blacks in the U.S. (nothing wrong with that.. yet)for the purpose of undermining the Viet Nam war and acquiring funds from the Arab nations (remember it was 1979) as Vernon Jarrett, Valerie's father-in-law described in this article. ( Vernon was a contemporary of Frank Marshal Davis.)


  7. In reference to the draft refusal, I think it's worth noting what he didn't do. He didn't gin up some quack doctor to get deferred, and he didn't slither off to Canada to hide out till Jimmy Peanut yelled "Allsee, allsee, alls in free!." and, to my knowledge, he never vilified those who made a different choice. To paraphrase a many tours of Vietnam First Sergeant; He stood on his hind legs and made his choice, and took his beating like a man. Fair enough.

  8. Forgot the important link.



  9. Not in my book. He was different and capable of thinking for himself and certainly more obviously intelligent than the vast majority of blacks that we were exposed to via American professional sports on TV and that prevalent image of the TV black remains extant today.

    How often are we exposed to clearly intelligent men like Ben Carson, Allan West and MLK? Not very often. I've met intelligent blacks; but I've met many more blacks that exhibit the behaviour so prevalent in America today.

    And, I reckon that probably makes me a racist by PC and MSM definition. It's the combination of Jewish and Celtic blood populating my arteries wot made me do it.

    1. Stupid people, of any race, are the majority, about seventy five per cent, if IQ testing is at all accurate. That seventy five per cent have trouble with abstract concepts. If the Great Three Quarters are led by moral men and women, things ought to go pretty smoothly. Of Black people in America today, that is not so true. I greatly fear that the sickness of immoral leadership has spread to other population groups.

      The people who think that average IQ is actually lower than one hundred are obsessed with an irrelevance. The actual raw numbers of the under-110 IQ group might be seventy five per cent of the population, or eighty per cent, or, seventy per cent (little evidence for that, I fear), the leadership must still be moral for the whole ship to float. The current leadership group has a great many people in it who believe things that are patently false. A century ago, it might have been logical, if not necessarily demonstrable or objectively true, that poverty is cause by the bourgeoisie siphoning off the product of the labor of the masses. Now, anyone can see that countries with a strong and functioning bourgeoisie prosper, and those without, remain poor. There's a strange thing about living sixty five years, one sees history, reads it in the newspapers, not text books.We who have attained that age have seen Third-World countries who acquired a bourgeoisie, like India and Japan, in a generation or so, are no longer Third World.

      So, as we often ask, why are the "Smart People" so dumb? Well, some are not so smart; some are miseducated/ indoctrinated into believing silly things. Finally, alas, there are many who pretend to believe, for the power that they can gain over the seventy five per cent. Is Rev. Jackson among them? I think so. Al Sharpton? Seems likely. Hell Clinton? Not as smart as advertised, but clearly smart enough, once, to see the advantages (to herself) of demagoguery. I am not so sure about poor Cassius Clay. Certainly, he showed signs of smartitude, and of the opposite. RIP

  10. While my father was in SE Asia for 18 interminable months; Ali/Clay refused to serve. I dare say, no one stationed in SE Asia, wanted to be there. The difference - my father isn't a pampered, self-indulgent, masses-worshipped celebrity or a coward. He wasn't being served by an army of attorneys, clamoring for a selfie with the "king of the world." My father is an American who answered the call of service to his country.

    To say that Ali's convenient religious beliefs could not somehow be accommodated in the service, is ludicrous, even Elvis served. I have no doubt of the outcome if I announce my obscure Baptist religious belief that states I have a conscientious objection to paying taxes. You can bet it won't be with the Supreme Court coming to my rescue...