Saturday, June 4, 2016

Ali the Greatest in and out of the ring

In addition to being an all-time boxer, let's never forget Ali the outspoken activist and Muslim, because you can bet many bigoted politicians and public officials will be going out of their way to give respects to Ali in one breath, then bash "un-American" Islamic people in the next. You know, like this guy.

One of my favorite Ali stories came from Dave Zirin's book What's My Name Fool: Sports and Resistance in the United States, which features a great picture of Ali's face on the cover. It involves Ali's title defense soon after his shocking defeat of Sonny Liston, after which the formerly-named Cassius Clay publically announced he had joined the Nation of Islam. This made Ali a polarizing controversial figure, a hero to many outspoken black people, but also a threat to more conventional Africa-Americans, and a whole lot of white people. This manifested itself in his upcoming title defense.
A concrete sign of Ali's early influence was seen in 1965, when Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) volunteers in Lowndes County, Alabama launched an independent political party. Their new group was the first to use the symbol of a black panther. Their bumper stickers and T-shirts featured the black silhouette of a panther and a slogan straight from the champ: "WE are the Greatest."

It's this broader context that allows us to understand how Ali came to symbolize the Black revolution while his adversaries represented the people who opposed it. Floyd Patterson, a Black ex-champion, wrapped himself tightly in the American flag, and challenged Ali, saying "This fight is a crusade to reclaim the title from the Black Muslims. As a Catholic, I am fighting Clay as a patriotic duty. I am going to return the crown to America." On the night of the fight, Ali brutalized Patterson for nine rounds, dragging it out and yelling "Come on, America! Come on, white America!....What's my name? Is my name Clay? What's my name, fool?" Future Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver wrote in his 1968 autobiography, Soul on Ice, "If the Bay of Bigs can be seen as a straight right hand to the psychological jaw of white America then [Ali/Patterson] was the perfect left hook to the gut."
Nearly a decade later, Ali still had it. He may have been past his prime as a fighter, but he was still capable of greatness in the ring, and here he is after upsetting George Foreman in Zaire in 1974 to win back the title 7 years after it was taken from Ali for refusing to be drafted into Vietnam. Can you imagine this interview these days, between Ali honoring Allah and encouraging people to go to "Muslim Temples," and then his awesome trash-talking of Foreman? It would break the Internet.

There will be NO ONE that will reach this level of badness. NO ONE. RIP Champ. Even the president knows.