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Est. April 5, 2002
June 09, 2016 - Issue 657

Always the G.O.A.T.
Sometimes a Goat

Ali's Unapologetic Manhood
in a White America that
considered itself decent.

White America loses Muhammad Ali while a major segment of it tries to go back in time.

Black America loses Muhammad Ali while it seemingly tries to drift further and further away from manhood, making him look more and more ahead of his time.

For 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.

Why 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?"

"they 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."

When 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 as 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 Jehovah's Witnesses from the serving in the military:

"As 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."

Was 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 from college, 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 great regret, 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.

According to the book "Blood Brothers" by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith and reviewed by Karen Grigsby Bates for NPR:

Both men were in Africa, in Ghana, when they met in the plaza outside the Ambassador Hotel in the capital city, Accra.

And 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."

And Muhammad's own autobiography "The Soul of a Butterfly" reveals his feelings decades after their split:

"Turning 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.

I 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."

Ali 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."

With 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. Columnist, Chris Stevenson, is author of “The MAO Syndrome: A Timeline of Newspaper columns Tracking Hate, Fear, Loathing, Obstinacy, and Stubbornness of many on the right & some on the left who are simply Mad At Obama.” He is also a contributor to the Hampton Institute, his own blog, and a syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter, and Facebook. Watch his video commentary Policy & Prejudice for clbTV & Follow his Blogtalk radio interviews on 36OOseconds. Contact Mr. Stevenson.




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