Wednesday, June 08, 2016
I Am the Greatest
I'm so old I remember when the late boxer Muhammed Ali was Cassius Clay. I remember as a kid the fight between Clay and Sonny Liston and his unexpected win. I remember Clay's big-mouth rhyming taunts and braggadocio and not knowing what to think about them. I remember being puzzled and unsettled about his conversion to Islam and criticism of Christianity as "the white man's religion." Then Ali refused to enter into military service while the United States was at war and made what seemed like flippant comments about having no quarrel with the Vietnamese people.
It didn't occur to me as a child and a teen that he was actually making principled choices about faith and pacifism. Yet now that he is gone, we are aware that this was the case, and that he paid a huge price for his convictions. At what was arguably the height of his career he was stripped of his heavyweight title and didn't fight for three years. He was reviled by many for his lack of patriotism and there was a considerable financial "hit" during those years. When he returned he was able to win some memorable fights, but he seemed to have lost a step and was pounded in the ring in a way he hadn't been when he was younger. The beating he took may have contributed to his Parkinson's Disease.
I'm hoping that in the retrospectives we get a deeper look into his spiritual life, and how his faith motivated him. The films about Ali have focussed more on his boxing prowess, but there is so much more to his story. I read in the CBC yesterday the surprising story that in 1983 Muhammad Ali climbed the stage of a packed sports complex in Rouyn-Noranda, a small Quebec town that is a seven-hour drive northwest of Montreal. He spoke about Islam and racism and didn't say a word about boxing. We need to hear about these stories.
Please take a look at my Groundling blog for World Oceans Day as well