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June 04, 2016


I am not given to calling athletes the greatest ever. He was the best fighter of my lifetime, an great entertainer and a good man. There is no athlete I hold in higher esteem as a human being. He gave it all in the ring, and in his life. I don't think you can ask for more than he gave.

what Marty said.

Yes, a good man. And an adoptive parent. I always make note of this.

Seconding Russell, what Marty said.

What Marty said.

I guess many of you saw "When We Were Kings", a great documentary? One came away astonished by him, by his beauty, and his intelligence, but most of all by the absolutely evident fact that he had the life-force of at least two people poured into one body, it just radiated out of him. Normally, people who burn that brightly don't last so long.

When we were kings was awesome. Need to watch it again.

When we were kings was awesome. Need to watch it again.

Another vote for "When We Were Kings."

I will go a little further than Marty.

Ali risked a great deal to stand up for his principles - more than most would be willing to do - I bet. That demands great admiration.

(And as a sideline he made some nice contributions to the language - "rope-a-dope," "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.")

I could never truly admire & respect Ali the way so many do, because of the sport he chose.

Boxing is fundamentally violent. It's about hurting people, not just hitting. And it probably killed Ali, and certainly shortened his productive life.

Ali was a man of great talents and abilities who rose to fame by a method, boxing, that destroyed his talents and abilities. He was "The Greatest" at it, but I don't think it was worth it.

There's also the fact that the culture around boxing is often toxic. Like most combat entertainments (man or beast) since basically forever, most of the money around boxing is in the gambling. Even legal gambling ruins lives, and it always opens opportunities for criminals to get involved and suck people dry.

That's all true.

But I think Ali transcended, except for the number of times he was hit in the head.

Examine Joe Frazier's later life and see what a decent guy be became, notwithstanding the damage.

It's not a bad thing that boxing has pretty much died before Ali did.

The same as it is that football is going to die on account of the tragic physical toll it has has taken.

Well, my dad was a quite good collegiate boxer and that was his ticket to the mainland from Hawai'i. Yes, a violent sport, yes, often a toxic culture, but judging a sport by the standards of today seems off to me. My impression was that my dad's generation still though 65 or so was ripe old age, whereas now, we wonder why the person didn't take care of themselves if they go at that age.

I was 9 years old when Ali lost to Spinks. I cried.

Boxing was, and still is to some extent, a bootstrap by which to pull oneself out of the ghetto.

Those bootstraps were exploitable as hell, but they always were for young athletes, artists, and musicians.

Everyone wants a piece of the action.

Ali, minus the boxing talent, and if he had been born a couple of generations later, may have turned out to be the poet laureate of rap.

"I am the man this poem’s about,
I’ll be champ of the world, there isn’t a doubt.
Here I predict Mr. Liston’s dismemberment,
I’ll hit him so hard; he’ll wonder where October and November went.
When I say two, there’s never a third,
Standin against me is completely absurd.
When Cassius says a mouse can outrun a horse,
Don’t ask how; put your money where your mouse is!

"David Frost: What would you like people to think about you when you've gone?
Muhammad Ali: I'd like for them to say:
He took a few cups of love.
He took one tablespoon of patience,
One teaspoon of generosity,
One pint of kindness.
He took one quart of laughter,
One pinch of concern.
And then, he mixed willingness with happiness.
He added lots of faith,
And he stirred it up well.
Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime,
And he served it to each and every deserving person he met."

Also said it to George Plimpton

He started a lot of sentences with "Joe Frazier is so ugly that ...."

But he also said "If I ever have to fight a holy war, I want Joe Frazier beside me."

and this:

"There live a great man named Joe
who was belittled by a loudmouth foe.
While his rival would taunt and tease
Joe silently bore the stings.
And then fought like gladiator in the ring.
"The Silent Warrior", dedicated to Joe Frazier and his family, p. 112

and this ...

"I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world... True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion... We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda... They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody."
"Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States" (9 December 2015).

I do lousy impressions. But just as I invoke Marlon Brando when his name comes up by bellowing "Stella!", when someone brings Ali up, I just squint and say "Joe Frazsha".

I could never truly admire & respect Ali the way so many do, because of the sport he chose.

Boxing is fundamentally violent. It's about hurting people, not just hitting. And it probably killed Ali, and certainly shortened his productive life.

I understand this sentiment, but I believe it is unfair to the person.

Boxing is fundamentally violent, but being good at it requires skill, endurance, quickness, intelligence, and dedication. For a 12 year old boy being encouraged by others to learn it wasn't much of a choice.

There wasn't a large anti-boxing movement to encourage him to reflect on his career choice, in fact, it was an incredibly popular sport at the time, made exponentially more popular by Ali.

There simply was no impetus for him, like thousands of football players, to decide the sport was bad.

Also, it is unlikely that his Parkinson's was effected much, if at all, by his boxing. It is a genetic disease and it's unclear how the two things were related.

Gambling ruins lives, drugs ruin lives, too much sugar ruins lives, it's not clear to me how he is responsible for any of those things.

What he is responsible for is a whole generation of young people idolizing someone who lived a life worth admiring. Principled, honorable, caring, willing to sacrifice not only for his own success but for the good of others.

As a conscientious objector he was thoroughly Thoreau in his willingness to engage in civil disobedience aimed at highlighting the problem at his own risk.

He was a family man, an activist and a philanthropist. And his friends adored him as genuinely caring and self deprecating.

But, to me, his greatest contribution was to set an example in word and deed of a life well lived for all of us whose imagination he had captured so long ago. And for those athletes today who are capturing the hearts and mind of our youth.


Muhammad Ali:

“I am America,” he once declared. “I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me - black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.”

A lesser Kentuckian. There are so many of them:

Well said, Marty.

I could never truly admire & respect Ali the way so many do, because of the sport he chose.

I agree with Marty that this is unfair. Ali began boxing in 1954, as a 12-year-old black kid in Louisville, KY, and by 18 he had a string of successes, including an Olympic gold medal.

By what standard are you judging that choice, and whatever you think about it, how do his later choices weigh against it?

Some of that comes down to why you respect and admire a person (or not). If you do it based on their choices, a reasonable argument can be made that it is unfair to judge in this case. However, from a more utilitarian perspective, the choices were less significant than the effects of the choices - and at that point it is entirely reasonable to withhold unrestrained praise. Ali helped bolster and maintain a sport that destroys its practitioners. Whether or not that significantly weighs against what else he did in his life is a matter of opinion, but I am entirely sympathetic to arguments that his impact through boxing diminished that. I personally have next to no opinion on the matter, but I can see arguments in both directions, and neither appears inherently wrong...

The only thing I would disagree with from Marty's comment was about Parkinson's. Even if there was no linkage between Parkinson's and boxing, it is hard to imagine that the person Ali was in his last year's would have been the same had he been in some sport that didn't have an opponent teeing off at his head. However, as byomtov points out, it's not like Ali had a lot of other options as a 12 year old black kid in Louisville.

sidenote: It seems to me that MMA seeks to reduce this not by outlawing blows to the head (it wouldn't be much of a cage match if you did that) but by increasing the number of ways you can get someone to submit. This works out to arguing that there is greater responsibility for the punchee to get his/her head out of the way, so if s/he gets knocked out they only have themselves to blame...

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