1942 - 2016

Remembering Muhammad Ali

David Stone
Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

When he was still Cassius Clay, floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, I stayed awake as late as I could to listen on the radio as they called his match with Sonny Liston. I was sixteen when he first became Heavyweight Champion of the World and nineteen when he encouraged my generation to stand tall against our country's worst excesses.

Not long after he defeated Liston, the man Sports Illustrated would later acknowledge as "Sportsman of the Century" converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. It was both an act of spiritual faith and human defiance.

Under the influence of Malcom X, Ali declared that Cassius Clay was his "slave name." 

With Howard Cosell looking on, he slapped Ernie Terrell's face during a television interview, telling him, "My name is Muhammad Ali, and you will announce it right there in the center of that ring.” Cosell, an nonconformist himself, was one of the few sportscasters who initially honored Ali's name change.

Black nationalism was, at first, scary to many of us. The media promoted images of radicals causing riots and war in the streets, protecting the status quo of white privilege. But Ali changed everything. With charm, humor and impromptu poetry, this beautiful man changed our perception of black athletes - from quietly grateful to proud and deserving. He also made us think again about the role of minorities in our culture.

It's hard to imagine John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists in a black power salute at the 1968 Olympics if Ali had not first paved the way.

Championship Pariah

As one of the great athletes of all time, Ali sacrificed enormously in keeping his faith. In 1967, he refused induction into the armed forces during the Vietnam war on religious as well as personal grounds.

Of the North Vietnamese he said, “Shoot them for what? They never called me nigger. They never lynched me.”

He was tried for draft evasion and stripped of his boxing titles. It was until 1971 that the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, enabling him to fight to regain the crowns that had been taken from him. He succeeded. He got every one of them back.

But in a larger sense, he inspired us with his willingness to sacrifice. He missed out on four of the most prime years of his career for his beliefs. Others in our generation escaped behind college deferments. Dick Cheney got five. Other athletes followed Joe Namath's example. Fully able to lead his college football team and the professional New York Jets as quarterback, Namath somehow failed his draft physical.

From whatever angle you looked at Muhammad Ali, the man stood tall.

Time, A Friend To Muhammad Ali

A boxing fan only during Ali's colorful, dynamic rise, I didn't follow his career closely as he made his comeback. But his rise to respect as a man of conviction and conscience was hard to mistake. He was on the front page many times. His charisma never seemed to dim.

Probably as a result of taking decades of punches to the head, Ali began suffering symptoms of Parkinson's Syndrome in the 1980s. A few years before, his doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, quit because the boxer's "kidneys were falling apart" but he would not quit fighting.

People will forget his last disastrous fights and remember the man he was before and, fortunately, after.

Ali lived to be recognized for his humanitarian endeavors. In 1991, during the Gulf War, he traveled to Iraq to meet with Saddam Hussein, trying to negotiate the release of American hostages. Barely able to stand on his own, in 2002, he went to Afghanistan as the U.N. Messenger of Peace.

From butterfly to national hero, Muhammad Ali led the kind of life many of us would like to think we'd have, given the chance. I'll miss Muhammad Ali. But I won't ever be able forget him.

Comments powered by Disqus




Assorted Ideas

Lucky To Have Her

Lucky To Have Her is Chapter One From the Novel by David Stone You can say I failed. I won’t disagree with you. But life is a story told after the fact. […]

The post Lucky To Have Her appeared first on Assorted Ideas, Large & Small.

Indict Carlos Beltran for Stupid

Indict Carlos Beltran for Stupid… Invent the felony, if necessary. 18 years in the major leagues, Hall of Fame career… And then, you cheat? If that’s not a crime, it ought to […]

The post Indict Carlos Beltran for Stupid appeared first on Assorted Ideas, Large & Small.

Jim Luce Pursues Goodness

Jim Luce pursues goodness. He’s done it for 20 years now. His quest, spurred by a serendipitous moment, completes a circle and begins a second. Reporting by David Stone / Photos courtesy […]

The post Jim Luce Pursues Goodness appeared first on Assorted Ideas, Large & Small.

Roosevelt Island Transit Choices

Roosevelt Island transit choices jumped into focus again, last week, as the MTA threatened to gut bus service. And follow up with mangling a subway shutdown on Monday. Let’s take a look […]

The post Roosevelt Island Transit Choices appeared first on Assorted Ideas, Large & Small.

Serving On a Grand Jury

Serving on a grand jury showed me how our system of justice works from a fresh angle. But it was something else, an eye-opening exposure to democracy in action. By David Stone […]

The post Serving On a Grand Jury appeared first on Assorted Ideas, Large & Small.