POINT TO PONDER
“We're all fighting for the same cause and idea but we have different reasons and different approaches."
STORYLINE by Rajiv Shah
Last Friday was Muhammad Ali's 74th birthday and as an avid boxing fan I would like to pay tribute to the man who simply became known as “The Greatest.” His boxing accolades, championships, and triumphs are well known: three time world championships, an Olympic gold medal winner, and in 1999, Ali was crowned "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated and "Sports Personality of the Century" by the BBC.
Add to this a man that could rhyme poetry, who spoke openly about his religious beliefs, and who protested the Vietnam War by refusing to fight a war he didn't believe in. A refusal that caused the United States of America to strip Ali of his title, his boxing license, and four of the most precious years a young boxer has in fighting career.
I watched a talk show with the young Ali where he was asked if he regretted his decision to evade the draft. The punishment was severe and was it really all worth it? His response was, “...if I regretted it, it wasn't sincere.”
The talk show host pointed out that when Ali's conviction was overturned that he didn't seem the least bit resentful of the Supreme Court or the men that had taken boxing away from him.
Ali responded, “I would be a hypocrite if I did because I expected them to recognize me for what I believed. And they did what they thought was right at the time they took my title, at the time they wouldn't let me box nowhere in the country. They just did what they thought was right. And for me now to sue them or to condemn them, or to speak out against them for doing what they thought was right – then this would be hypocritical - at the same time I expect them, though they didn't, to recognize me for what I believe. So how can I get on them for doing what they thought was right?”
There was a humor and a humanity to Muhammad Ali that seemed to belie the savage nature of the sport he dominated. Ali is a study in that contrast that has grasped our fascination with him as an athlete and man for so many decades. George Foreman spoke of Ali's greatness in the documentary, “Facing Ali.” In the film Foreman recounts the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight that took place in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974. He says the best punch of that fight was never landed. Foreman said that as he was stumbling and headed for the canvas in the eight round, Ali could have easily punched him on the way down. Ordinarily, boxers will finish off the collapsing fighter but Ali didn't. He kept his fist cocked but didn't deliver the blow. There was something humane about not throwing the punch - something aesthetically beautiful in a moment of pure brutality – that made Ali the greatest fighter in Foreman's estimation. Happy birthday to the greatest, Muhammad Ali.