Tuesday, September 8, 2009
© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
A quote from Anne Sexton was featured in a recent post on fatherhood:
“It does not matter who my Father was; it matters who I remember he was.”
If temptation had won out, the title of this piece would have been, “It does not matter who Muhammad Ali is; it matters who we remember he was.”
But it didn’t.
The recognition that Ali transcends time won out. It’s been 42 years since he was convicted in a US court for refusing to be inducted into the Army on religious grounds. (He also claimed he had a right to refuse to go fight Vietnamese who had never called him “the N-word.” In that same era, a visiting U.S.S.R. Premier was barred from visiting Disneyland.)
Thirty-eight years after the US Supreme Court reversed his conviction (and allowed him to return to earning a livelihood through his chosen profession), he continues to embody “something” difficult to define or frame, but which society keeps watching.
Ali’s surprise visit to the Atlanta Olympic Games, as the final torch carrier, represented the best of the American Ideal in a way that Barack Obama had to win the Presidency to trump.
He was loved; respected; magnificent; and he was the best of us, and what we purportedly believe in. At one time, he had the most recognizable face, and name, on this planet.
Despite its sometimes less than savory aspects, pugilism is the art of obtaining respect; of earning it from the audience; and of taking it away from your opponent-by rendering him unwilling or unable to continue.
Ali never rested at demonstrating the supremacy of his skills. (Scroll down, after clicking on the link where his name appears above, to see his long list of fights.) He used them, and his title as World Champion… even the title itself, to call attention to taking pride in who you are, and what you believe in.
In the process of standing up for who he is, even when it pisses off many, he’s become one of the most respected men on the planet… among blacks and whites, Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, agnostics and academics, sportsmen and slum dogs… and all the rest of us.
His physical grace transcended his sport, and his mental courage transcends even the ravages of age and infirmity.
The super masculine menials and omnipotent administrators of his youth notwithstanding, Ali is still a man with something to say.
In late August, he flew to the UK to appear in soccer numerous stadiums. During the trip, he visited Ireland, from which one of his ancestors emigrated to the US in the late 1860s. Who would have thunk it?
About his racial make-up you say? No. Rather that in a country which has been fighting over religion (and property) for more than 200 years, this pugilist could motivate an all white group of historical combatants to put down their guns, deck out Ennis in County Clare, Ireland, and welcome a black man, and an Infidel, as one of their own, and one of their idols.
Their pride was just overwhelming.
So is ours.
So should be yours.
He was over there representing us… not a single drop of blood was shed, and the world was suddenly a better place for his being in it.
We humbly suggest that the future of our planet rests on our ability to get along and respect one another, and that personal pride is a function of personal behavior.
We would further suggest that if more people listened to what this man is saying, rather than competing for his autograph, we would be living in a much more peaceful world.
Lest we be misunderstood, this is not to suggest Ali is perfect, and free of flaws. But he always gave us his best, and he always stood up for what he believed. It’s also worth noting that a man associated with a violent sport promoted peace world-wide.
Being fans of TCM, we can’t miss the opportunity to insert some insight provided by the movie, Inherit the Wind.
The wife of the Fredric March character (Matthew Harrison Brady / William Jennings Bryan), who was a figment of his former self by the time that he tried the Monkey Trial against the Spencer Tracy character (Henry Drummond / Clarence Darrow), had an exchange with the fiancée of teacher Bertram Cates (on trial for teaching evolution), who criticized the March character for one of his tactics as the prosecutor:
"Sarah Brady: Youth can be so pure. What do you know of good or evil? What do you understand of the sum of a man's life?
"Rachel Brown: He betrayed me!
"Sarah Brady: You betrayed yourself! You see my husband as a saint, and so he must be right in everything he says and does. And then you see him as a devil, and everything he says and does must be wrong. Well my husband's neither a saint nor a devil. He's just a human being, and he makes mistakes.
"Rachel Brown: How can you defend him?
"Sarah Brady: It's not he I'm defending! I'm defending the forty years I've lived with this man, and watched him carry the burdens of people like you! If he's been wrong, at least he stood for something! What do you stand for? Do you believe in Bertram Cates? I believe in my husband. What do you believe in?"
Ali at least stands for "something," though illusive it may....
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