AuthorTopic: Muhammad Ali Transcended Sports, Culture, and Time  (Read 1127 times)

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Muhammad Ali Transcended Sports, Culture, and Time
« on: June 07, 2016, 02:51:23 AM »
Muhammad Ali Transcended Sports, Culture, and Time

There's no real ending for an existence like that.

 
 

I play it cool/I dig all jive/That is how I stay alive

—Langston Hughes

There is no real place to begin with him and no ending fit enough for the life he led.Muhammad Ali died on Friday, true enough. They will take him to his final rest on Wednesday in Louisville, which was only his first hometown in a world that he made his true hometown. So he was not immortal, the way we all thought he might be, but he lived a life beyond the bounds of mortality anyway, a life that has no real beginning and that still has a vital spirit for which no ending is adequate.

 

 

He was an iconic human being in an era that produced icons with every turn of the television dial, every front page of every morning newspaper and, my god, most of them died young. John and Robert Kennedy. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. None of them ever made 50. None of them ever made old bones. Only Ali lived to see how he truly changed the world around him, how it had come to understand that some lives are lived beyond the mortal limits.

He was a transcendent athlete, first and foremost, every bit as skilled at what he did for a living as Michael Jordan or Pele. The greatest change in athletes over the span of his physical life is that big athletes got fast. LeBron James plays basketball and he is just about the same size as Antonio Gates, who is a tight end. When he first arrived at Wimbledon, Boris Becker looked like a college linebacker. Ali was tall for a heavyweight, bigger than anyone who was faster than he was and faster than anyone who was bigger. 

You have to have seen him before he was stripped of his livelihood to appreciate fully his gifts as an athlete. Foot speed. Hand speed. Before it all hit the fan in 1968, Sports Illustrated put him in a lab with strobe lights and everything, to time the speed of his punches. The results looked something out of a special-effects lab. In one of his routines, the late Richard Pryor used to talk about sparring with Ali in a charity exhibition. A Golden Gloves fighter in his youth, as Pryor later put it, "you don't see his punches until they comin' back. And your mind be sayin', 'Wait a minute now. There was some shit in my face a minute ago. I know that.'" He was an accelerated man in an accelerated age. Saying he was "ahead of his time" was only the half of it. His time was all time.

 

That was what led to the rest of it—the opposition to the criminal stupidity that was being practiced by this country in Southeast Asia, stated in terms as fundamentally American as the First Amendment to the Constitution. "Congress shall make no law…" His stubborn insistence that his life was his own, that it did not belong to the sclerotic old gangsters who still ran boxing, nor to the sclerotic old men who still ran the government, with their wiretaps and their phony indictments and their lawbooks. He was too fast for them all to catch, ultimately, and too pretty for a country that was vandalizing its most beautiful elements. That stubbornness also likely led to his physical downfall. All gifts have their dark side. All debts come due.

He was a prophet, in every way that America makes its prophets, in the same way that was William Lloyd Garrison, who told his country "I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—AND I WILL BE HEARD," and in the same way that was Dr. King, who told that same country that: 

"In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note."

He embodied the country, in all its historic, inherent contradictions, in all its promises, broken and unbroken, and in all of its lost promises and hard-won glories. He insisted on the rights that the country said were his from birth and, in demanding them, freed himself to enjoy them, and freed the country, if only for a moment, to be something more than even the Founders thought it would be. And now, he's passed from the earth. It was a great, golden trumpet of a life he led, and it is calling, calling still, and will still be calling, as the old hymn puts it, when time shall be no more.

 

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Eddie

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Re: Muhammad Ali Transcended Sports, Culture, and Time
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2016, 11:10:14 AM »
I'll agree that Muhammed Ali was a spectacular boxer. I'll agree that he was a brave individual, who stood up for what he believed.

He's also a poster child for traumatic brain injury. Anyone who followed his decline could easily see what twenty years of heavy-weight boxing leaves you with.....a prematurely aged body and and a battered brain.

American sports heroes have a bad habit of getting so used to the big money that they don't know when to quit. Ali was a case in point. He should have gone out in style after the second Frazier fight. Instead he took increasingly greater physical damage, losing three of his last five fights, and making it less than three years into retirement before Parkinson's turned him into a physical wreck.

It's such a false idol. The poor black kid who uses athletics to pull himself up and turn winning boxing matches into winning at life. Fame, money, women. The adulation of millions of young kids. Big role model.

Make him a hero if you want..and I know you will. Americans love a sports hero and they love a smart-ass who can talk shit and then back it up on the field or in the ring.

But you should pull back the curtain and look unblinking at the real story. Rich one year and then broke the next and in debt. Fighting because you need to win, to pay the bills, whether you're in shape for it or not. Old before your time, unable to get out of bed.

Boxing is a blood sport. Professional boxers are guys who sacrifice themselves on an altar in Vegas, with pay-per-view. I'd feel sorry for them, but the fact is they get what they bargain for, sooner or later, and they all go into it with their eyes open.



« Last Edit: June 07, 2016, 11:17:18 AM by Eddie »
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Re: Muhammad Ali Transcended Sports, Culture, and Time
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2016, 02:03:12 PM »
Make him a hero if you want..and I know you will. Americans love a sports hero and they love a smart-ass who can talk shit and then back it up on the field or in the ring.

But you should pull back the curtain and look unblinking at the real story. Rich one year and then broke the next and in debt. Fighting because you need to win, to pay the bills, whether you're in shape for it or not. Old before your time, unable to get out of bed.

Boxing is a blood sport. Professional boxers are guys who sacrifice themselves on an altar in Vegas, with pay-per-view. I'd feel sorry for them, but the fact is they get what they bargain for, sooner or later, and they all go into it with their eyes open.

You are quite right. Ali elevated his profile by what he did out of the ring. Yet when you say he stayed too long for too many paydays, you have it exactly correct. If you look the the video from the Shavers fight, he took a huge amount of punishment from a man whose right hand was like being hit with a safe. And his latter attempts, against Holmes and some bums, came too late, when his speed was no longer a defense.

I confess a lifelong appreciation for boxing. I grew up on the Gillette Friday Night fights, and my tastes have always run to blood sports, along with a taste for cigars, good steaks and a better cabernet. Not proud of any of that, but it is what it is.

It may well be time to view boxing in the same light we view bullfighting, given what the NFL i learning (or trying not to learn) about head injuries and brain damage.
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Golden Oxen

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Re: Muhammad Ali Transcended Sports, Culture, and Time
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2016, 02:27:36 PM »
Eddie is of course correct, but that's what makes a hero.

One who has that tragic flaw in his makeup that makes him one of us, that lets us identify with his triumphs and failings as well.

Never did take to the Goody Goody type of hero that did everything by the book and retired with a wad of dough and Brooks Brother suit before thirty. Nothing wrong with it, but not the stuff of legends.

Offline Eddie

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Re: Muhammad Ali Transcended Sports, Culture, and Time
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2016, 06:07:48 PM »
I grew up on the Gillette Friday Night fights,

My father was a big blue-collar guy with arms like a stevedore. He had a big lounge chair, and I used to watch the Friday night fights literally sitting in the crook of his arm. If I close my eyes can still remember the scent of his cigars and hair tonic.

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What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

 

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