Thursday, June 09, 2016

The GREATEST?

CAVEAT ALERT! To some, the following will be racist or insensitive or politically incorrect or anti-diversity or bigoted or disrespect for the dead. It’s none of those things, just a look at how people act in life and react to death, especially celebrity-death, the point of reference being the death of Muhammad Ali, also known at one time as Cassius Clay, Jr. Also, I consider prizefighting a cruel and crude “sport,” marked as much by corruption as by the pain. One wonders, for instance, about the second Ali/Liston fight that lasted less than three minutes.

Ali shouted, “I'm the greatest,” and the phrase took off in both the public and especially the media, both of which have virtually deified him. Ali didn’t say the greatest of what but he’s been termed the greatest of a lot of things by government officials and others such as goodwill ambassador, boxer, representative of the nation, etc.

The term “greatest” needs to be placed in the proper perspective. Most will agree that greatness is ascribed to those who in a good cause make the greatest sacrifice possible, the ultimate being one’s life. Thus, the nineteen-year-old soldier shipped home in a box from the Middle East has achieved greatness, while at age 19 Ali was well into his career, which involved bashing people’s brains into mush for money – not a great cause.

It has been claimed over and over that Ali was the “greatest” boxer of all time, even though he was savagely beaten a number of times. The greatest heavyweight boxer since at least the 1940s was Rocky Marciano, who held the championship in the 1950s. He fought 49 times, including numerous bouts for the title. He won every bout, 43 by knockouts, and simply retired, never beaten. He also served in the army 1943-46 (drafted) during WWII, though he could have claimed to be a conscientious objector. The greatest heavyweight of the last hundred years was Joe Louis, who held the title 1937-49, the longest such tenure in boxing history. In his prime, he enlisted in the army for WWII.

Ali dodged the Draft, however, in the Vietnam era, claiming upon religious grounds since he had converted to Islam and described himself as a minister of sorts. Elijah Muhammad, head pooh-bah of the Chicago-based Nation of Islam at the time, is said to have given him the name Ali. Elijah and the NOI were later condemned by Malcolm X because of Elijah’s adulterous activities with young girls, and was assassinated soon after. Fittingly, Ali died on the eve of Ramadan.

Ali remained a practitioner of Islam until his death, though Louis Farrakhan became its head and is best-known for his hate-speeches/writings concerning white people, including Jews. As a good Muslim, he should have been buried within 24 hours of death. That couldn’t happen because Ali had contrived a two-inch-thick document mandating his “funeral” arrangements, which sort of tied-up Louisville, his birthplace, for hours and hours, especially by a long hearse-processional (19 miles) through city-streets…sort of in-your-face stuff. Ali’s father claimed that the Muslims taught Ali to hate white people.

Ali was convicted of draft-avoidance, given a five-year sentence, but escaped it on a technicality. As a conscientious objector, to dodge the Draft he had to swear he was against all wars, which he did, but apparently had forgotten that he was on the record as willing to fight in a war involving Islam. Somehow (one wonders), this was not introduced correctly, if at all, at trial so he went free.

Much has been made of the three years the greatest couldn’t fight anywhere (all licenses nullified or not considered and passport revoked), thus costing him money. He spent that time railing against the war. Baseball-player Ted Williams batted .406, an unbelievable feat in 1941, had a Draft deferral but enlisted in the Navy anyway in 1942 and was recalled (fighter pilot) during the Korean War, during which he was shot down once, thus giving up five years in his absolute prime time (lifetime average .344 and 521 home-runs). One can only wonder what that five years cost him and hordes of fellow-pros who traded their skills, potential records and money for military service.

Ali was/is an idol for many, but actually he was just the “Greatest Narcissist.”

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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