The Cause of A Great Man …
The death of Muhammad Ali brought an outpouring of grief , sorrow and sadness as literally tens of millions from around the world sought ways to express their condolences. Various media sources had their tributes and the print media in particular paid their respects with full-page articles , op-ed pieces and even comments sought from the public , in letters sent to the newspapers. Obituaries were also resplendent with the announcement of Ali’s death and of course the Hollywood literati also mourned the death of the fighter in their own inimitable way.
From my own standpoint , much of what I have read in the recent days subsequent to Muhammad Ali’s death has reminded me how little things have really changed since the days of his seeking to speak out against the injustices wrought upon minorities here in the United States , the country’s entry into the Vietnam War and his stance taken as a conscientious objector. Many seem to forget , the fighter was well within his right not to fight in the war even though he had been drafted. Politically motivated or not , the verdict of the US government could not sway Ali in his determination. The boxer may well have been leveling his criticism at the government , but in reality, a great deal of what he saying was indeed true and even judging by his vocal opposition to the war and the US government’s mistreatment of minorities. If you take a look at the racial divide now in place within the country, the economic and social angst , without seeing a number of the current Presidential candidates using race as a platform for their political diatribe and you have to really wonder how much a real social advancement has actually been made in the US, altogether .
I have long admired Muhammad Ali as a fighter, humanitarian and a genuinely passionate individual. He brought a voice to the issue of the downtrodden , when many of his boxing peers at the time remained silent. Even his most famous opponent of his illustrious career , Joe Frazier was very critical of Ali and his antiwar stance. Yet , if anything Frazier could very well have been thought of as an ‘Uncle Tom ‘ , with his own stance and obeisance of not wanting to offend his Caucasian associates within the sport and the public in general. Floyd Patterson , himself a former boxer , was also critical of Ali and beyond the three-time world heavyweight champion’s choice to change his name and religious faith from being a Christian to a Muslim , was also seen as a threat. The perception being , Ali’s choice of aligning himself to the Nation of Islam and its then leader the Honorable Elijah Muhammad posed a real threat to the country. Anti Muslim sentiment then and even more so now , but no one seems to give a damn, that the biggest threat posed to the country remains the ineptitude of the US Congress and successive Presidential administrations over the past four and a half decades. It is simply the downright ambivalence and stupidity of the electorate along with the ongoing nonsensical diatribe of politicians at the local, state and national levels which continues unabated.
As a youth , my fondness for the sport of boxing came from my father who was as passionate about the sport as he was about Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Sonny Liston . It would be his fight against Liston where Ali would make his name professionally, when he won the world heavyweight title for the first time. A successful defense against Sonny Liston and the drama which surrounded the bout still draws a great deal of attention and criticism to this day. Muhammad Ali would go on to make eleven successful defenses of the world heavyweight title (WBA/WBC) before he suffered a loss to Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden , New York City, New York on the 8th March ,1971. There were three now classic fights between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, which are considered to be among the very best in boxing history . Nothing before or since has been considered close in comparison , though everyone will have their favorite bouts or series or trilogy of fights between famed boxers over the years.
Perhaps the fight which might resonate the most with fans of Muhammad Ali , has to be the bout against George Foreman , who at the time was considered to be the most lethal fighter of his generation. Forman was known for his punching power and his ability to knock an opponent out with either hand. Foreman would defend the title he won in defeating Joe Frazier by making a defense against Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa , Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) on 30th October , 1974 . In a result which was seen as one of the biggest upsets in boxing history , Ali as the challenger would defeat Forman in the eighth round by a TKO (technical knockout) . These two protagonists would never meet again professionally in a boxing ring , but a long-lasting friendship would begin , lasting right up to Ali’s death.
If Muhammad Ali’s greatest professional triumphs were said to have taken place in the ring , then he also had a number of demons outside it , which I believe arose from what he saw as a blatant disregard of human rights , a government still steeped in racism , with a wish to disenfranchise segments of the population. Forget about the protests about the Vietnam War and simply look at the facts as they stood at the time during the Civil Rights’ Era of the sixties and the lead-up into the seventies. Politics was divisive , the Klu Klux Klan wielded a great deal of power not just in the Deep South, but across the country. Yet, there are those who try to gloss over those rather abhorrent moments in history and simply deem it as being an idyllic period in the nation’s history and this was particular true from the White perspective. There were also internal fractions within a number of black organizations , as the unity sought within the NAACP and Nation of Islam (NOI) might well have been orchestrated by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) as a way weakening the growing power of both groups. Funny isn’t it this sought of attention was never seen as appropriate in dealing with the violent actions of Klu Klux Klan , as then FBI Director J Edgar Hoover only felt there to be a threat against the country by either Communists and organizations such as the NAACP and Nation of Islam , whom he felt to be subversive and a danger to national security.
The Vietnam War was a sham and the country’s involvement the conflict brought a great deal of loss for the nation, with so young men dying for no apparent reason , other than the fog , folly and down right stupidity with the decision-making of the Congress and President at the time. Those returning heroes in many cases , were not seen as heroes in some circles , but more so as murderers and many of them also returned , psychologically battered and mentally unstable . PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) was not yet a syndrome or psychosis which was fully understood by the medical establishment and even to this day the Department of Defense and the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs ) are not able to fully appreciate the ravages of this illness, much less treat the sufferers of this illness appropriately or with dignity. So in effect it was better deflect the incompetence of an administration, , by haranguing an athlete , Muhammad Ali , who sought to speak out about social indifference , the folly of war and the fact he felt his country had no respect for many of its citizens .
Four-plus decades on and there have been few athletes in today’s arena who are willing to speak out on social injustice. In many respects so-called acts of opposition are orchestrated and rather comedic with regard to the effect sought. Nowhere has this been more self-evident than with the rather innocuous stance taken by the NBA and a number of the high-profiled stars within the league in the aftermath of the death of teenager Trayvon Martin . Since then , there have also been some rather tedious and asinine PSA’s (public service announcements) on the issue of gun violence , but no real vociferous calls for any type of real dialogue concerning the issue.
Muhammad Ali may well have set a template for athletes to be vocal on issues of social inequality , but far too many of today’s superstar athletes are far too concerned with endorsement deals , accumulating wealth or simply being boorish in terms of their conduct in public or private . Ali gave of himself monetarily , in a variety of causes which he truly cared about around the world, but a great deal of this seems to be forgotten by those who only seek to oppose what he stood for .
Picture gallery. Click on image to view a frame along with the accompanying narrative.
While the world mourns Muhammad Ali’s passing , the eulogies continue across various media formats , with a cast of thousands posting daily about their memories of one of the most widely recognized athletes in history and how much he meant to them. As a youth my memories of him have to proven to be long-lasting , but it has been my respect and what he has stood for, which has my ultimate admiration ! The cause of a great man can be deemed as doing something great , but I feel it can also mean having a lasting impression on others, where they also seek to change a life for the better. Not only do I believe Ali has been able to achieve this feat, he has also changed the viewpoint of many on how we also look at our political leaders and question their conduct while in office.