America loses Muhammad Ali while a major segment of it tries to go
back in time.
America loses Muhammad Ali while it seemingly tries to drift further
and further away from manhood, making him look more and more ahead of
so many different reasons the man born Cassius
Marcellus Clay was a tough pill to swallow for so many different
groups of people, to layman whites he couldn't keep his mouth shut,
to many blacks he was an embarrassment, to corporate America he was a
risk, to the US Government he was a threat. Because he was a
professional athlete he was perhaps a bigger threat to the status quo
than even Martin Luther King. In reality he was a man, and his kind
of manhood had to be taught a lesson.
else would the US Military draft a 25-year-old black man when most
recruits were taken well before they develop their own worldview,
i.e. their late teens? Elvis (Presley) was drafted at 23 and the move
proved to be a PR campaign for both sides, claiming he didn't want
any special treatment the Army responded in kind, sending him Not to
Vietnam (where most troops without special treatment were being sent,
especially after 1960), but to a now-user-friendly Germany. One of
his Army buddies introduced him to a 14-year-old girl named
Priscilla. He even got to record while on leave (still awaiting the
release of 'U ain't Nuthin but a Pedophile'). He stayed in country
club-like settings, family
members were allowed to be flown in,
and he drove some rather ordinary Mercedes ,and BMW 507. Would
similar treatment await the black boxer best-known for saying "They
never called me nigger?"
never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me
of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. ... Shoot them
for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail."
he said his name was a slave name he meant that in a much more
specific term than the average Nation of Islam member. His was a name
taken from the 19th Century Kentucky
politician and abolitionist
was his father, and he proved to be just as combative as both his
previous namesakes. This is very important because
he could have detached himself away from the race issue and just
remained Cassius and keep the cash flowing, but he couldn't, it would
have belied his blood heritage and the history of his name. Two
things would save Ali from doing hard prison time, growing American
anti-war sentiment (Vietnam massacres weren't exactly selling the
world-public at large on the war), and the Watchtower Bible &
Tract Society. The legal precedent that the US Supreme Court would
use was based on an old decision which exempted
from the serving in the military:
the draft continued into the immediate postwar period, protest to its
existence appeared. Anthony Sicurella, a Jehovah’s Witness,
convicted for draft evasion in 1953, saw his case appear before the
High Court in 1955. Claiming to be a conscientious objector, he
looked to have his conviction overturned. Several of the justices,
however, believed Sicurella’s claim to be duplicitous. While,
for instance, he was unwilling to defend the nation, he was quite
willing to fight in defense of his ministry and church. The defense,
led by Hayden C. Covington, who Ali later employed, argued that the
petitioner was as a “soldier of Jehovah’s appointed
Commander Jesus Christ,” and, as such, “not authorized by
his Commander to engage in carnal welfare of this world.”24 The
skeptical justices, as it turned out, did not rule on the merits of
the case but found fault in the Department of Justice protocol that
had initially led to the conviction."
Muhammad perfect? Not by a longshot, he turned his back on some close
to him; Kalilah his 2nd wife who says she supported him throughout
his exile using her own money
shockingly-as portrayed in the film "Ali"-Joe
Frazier also loaned him money.
Frazier had great admiration and respect for Ali, it simply wasn't
returned. Smokin Joe as I wrote after Frazier's death was anything
but an "Uncle Tom." His rejection of Malcolm X was one
where he recently admits
never underestimate the damage religious (cult) shunning is
tailor-made to bring upon the unsuspecting follower, until it is too
too late. Ali wasn't the only one, in a demonstration of utter
brain-deadedness NOI leader Elijah Muhammad managed to persuade two
of Malcolm's brothers to publicly read a letter of denunciation of
Malcolm immediately after his assassination. While it's
understandable to feel awkward when two close friends are feuding
against each other, choosing to side with one just based on a
religious (insular) title or rank can come back to bite you.
to the book "Blood
by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith and reviewed
Karen Grigsby Bates for NPR:
men were in Africa, in Ghana, when they met in the plaza outside the
Ambassador Hotel in the capital city, Accra.
what happens, recounts Smith, is this: "Ali and Malcolm, their
eyes meet. And at that moment, Malcolm says, 'Brother Muhammad!
Brother Muhammad!' He wants to engage with him, say hello. He doesn't
know Ali is mad at him, that they're no longer friends. He's got this
half-smile on his face. And Muhammad Ali, just stone-faced, says,
'Brother Malcolm, you shouldn't have crossed the Honorable Elijah
Muhammad.' And he essentially walks away from him."
Muhammad's own autobiography "The
Soul of a Butterfly"
reveals his feelings decades after their split:
my back on Malcolm was one of the mistakes that I regret most in my
life. I wish I’d been able to tell Malcolm I was sorry, that he
was right about so many things. But he was killed before I got the
chance. He was a visionary ahead of us all.
might never have become a Muslim if it hadn’t been for Malcolm.
If I could go back and do it over again, I would never have turned my
back on him."
rarely did things the easy way, it is now believed the two first met
each other in 1962.
While Cassius shared a mutual admiration with Malcolm he wasn't
enthused about the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad was both disdainful
of boxing and Clay. Malcolm's death came just four days short of the
first anniversary of
the upset that "shook up the world," Ali's victory over
Sonny Liston. Suddenly
to Elijah boxing wasn't so "filthy"
anymore, he was said to have called Ali and began recruiting him
hard. It's in dispute as to whom granted Clay's name change (after
Cassius X), Elijah or Malcolm, but after 2/25/64 Muhammad Ali it was.
I recall as a 6-year-old how quick the name change was because my dad
(a former boxer himself) was an avid fan of boxing and he bought all
the trade magazines, and I remember asking him about when this change
to a strange name Muhammad occurred (I was totally unfamiliar with
the Muslims then), and he told me "yesterday."
the possible exception of Jackie Robinson, Ali was the first icon,
and he lived among icons in an era filled with them; Robinson, Brown,
Russell, Wilt, not to mention Martin, and Malcolm. To a lot of
blacks, when Ali boldly exclaimed "I am The Greatest," what
he really meant was 'We are the Greatest.' Ali's spirit was based on
mental toughness which he manifested in the ring and out of it, and a
clear grasp of right and wrong. Not delusion and myopia which seems
to be the order of young black males today. Many blacks knew deep down
inside that the US had raw audacity to ask them to fight for their
country while their country made no effort to stop the lynchings by
whites in the south and police in the north, we just didn't like Ali's
words prickling our conscience. Talking too much isn't
really talking too much if you are speaking the truth, and know what
you're talking about.