A pow­er­ful, dan­ger­ous po­lit­i­cal force

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - — The writer is the sports edi­tor at the Na­tion and the au­thor of, most re­cently, “Brazil’s Dance With the Devil.

MUHAM­MAD Ali’s saga is with­out par­al­lel: the cham pion boxer who was the most fa­mous draft re­sister in his­tory; a man whose phone was bugged by the John­son and Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tions yet who later was in­vited to the White House of Ger­ald Ford; a prodi­gal son whom his home­town city coun­cil in Louisville, Ky., con­demned, but who a few years later had a main street re­named in his honor and to­day has a mu­seum that bears his name.

His life was one of po­lar­iza­tion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, anger and love, and a fe­ro­cious, un­com­pro­mis­ing com­mit­ment to non­vi­o­lence, all de­liv­ered through the scan­dalously dirty ves­sel of cor­rup­tion known as box­ing. Few have ever walked so con­fi­dently and ca­su­ally from man to myth, and that jour­ney was well earned. As football great Jim Brown said to me last year: “It was un­be­liev­able, the courage he had. He wasn’t just a cham­pi­onship ath­lete. He was a cham­pion who fought for his peo­ple…. The man used his ath­letic abil­ity as a plat­form to project him­self right up there with world lead­ers … go­ing af­ter things that very few peo­ple have the courage to go af­ter. From the stand­point of his abil­ity to per­form and his abil­ity to be in­volved with the world, Ali was the most im­por­tant sports fig­ure in his­tory.” To this day it is awe-in­spir­ing that he once bel­lowed ‘God damn the white man’s money’ at a time when such words were more than shock­ing - they were sac­ri­lege.

Or, as Bill Rus­sell said in 1967 in sup­port­ing Ali’s de­ci­sion to risk five years in prison for re­sist­ing the draft: “I envy Muham­mad Ali .... He has some­thing I have never been able to at­tain and some­thing very few peo­ple pos­sess: He has ab­so­lute and sin­cere faith. I’m not wor­ried about Muham­mad Ali. He is bet­ter equipped than any­one I know to with­stand the tri­als in store for him. What I’m wor­ried about is the rest of us.” Ali’s death, how­ever, should be an op­por­tu­nity to re­mem­ber what made him so dan­ger­ous in the first place. The best place to start would be to re­call the part of him that died decades ago: his voice. No ath­lete, no politi­cian, no preacher ever had a voice quite like his or used it as ef­fec­tively as he did. Ali’s voice was play­ful, lilt­ing, with a rhythm that matched his oth­er­worldly foot­work in the box­ing ring. It’s a voice that forced you to lis­ten lest you miss a joke, a gibe or a flash of joy.

Re­tired New York Times sports­writer Robert Lip­syte said to me, “Be­fore ev­ery­thing else, what I’ll re­mem­ber about the young Ali was that he was so much fun.” And that his voice had a phys­i­cal beauty that “beat you to death with his at­trac­tive­ness.” With that voice, face and body, the man Cas­sius Mar­cel­lus Clay Jr. could have been Michael Jor­dan be­fore Jor­dan: an icon of un­godly wealth and con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion. But Cas­sius Clay chose to be Muham­mad Ali and do some­thing dif­fer­ent with that voice. He used it to speak out from a hy­per­ex­alted sports plat­form to change the world. He joined the Na­tion of Is­lam in frus­tra­tion with the pace and de­mands of the civil rights move­ment. He was will­ing to go to jail in op­po­si­tion to the war in Viet­nam. But one has to hear the voice, and read the words, to un­der­stand what ex­actly made it so dan­ger­ous and, by ex­ten­sion, made it all mat­ter.

Imag­ine not only an ath­lete but a pub­lic fig­ure telling th­ese kinds of un­var­nished truths. To this day it is awe-in­spir­ing that he once bel­lowed “God damn the white man’s money” at a time when such words were more than shock­ing - they were sac­ri­lege.

Po­lit­i­cal courage might seem to be in short sup­ply, but it was in­side a young boxer from Louisville who dreamed about be­ing King of the World. Good­bye, Champ. Rest in power and peace. — Cour­tesy: Los Angeles Times

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.