One of the indelible images the still plays in my mind from my childhood is from early 1971. I was 11 years old and my family lived in an apartment in Bayside, Queens. The TV in our kitchen was showing Muhammed Ali proclaiming his greatness as he prepared to fight Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden. I remember saying that I wanted Joe Frazier to win because I thought Ali was “conceited”.
Little did I understand the enormity of his pronouncements of being “beautiful” and “the greatest”; as an 11-year old with nary a worry in the world at the time, I didn’t know or understand anything about Ali’s story. Thankfully, we live and learn. And Muhammed Ali taught the grown up version of that little girl a lot about the ways of the world.
the most important athlete to ever live.
And then this
The question is why? Why was he able to create this kind of radical ripple? The short answer is that he stood up to the United States government… and emerged victorious. But it’s also more complicated that that.
What Muhammad Ali did—in a culture that worships sports and violence as well as a culture that idolizes black athletes while criminalizing black skin—was redefine what it meant to be tough and collectivize the very idea of courage. Through the Champ’s words on the streets and deeds in the ring, bravery was not only standing up to Sonny Liston. It was speaking truth to power, no matter the cost. He was a boxer whose very presence and persona taught a simple and dangerous lesson: “real men” fight for peace and “real women” raise their voices and join the fray. Or as Bryant Gumbel said years ago, “Muhammad Ali refused to be afraid. And being that way, he gave other people courage.”
My favorite Ali line is not him saying, “I hospitalized a rock. I beat up a brick. I’m so bad I make medicine sick” or anything of the sort. It was when he was suspended from boxing for refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War. Ali was attending a rally for fair housing in his hometown of Louisville when he said:
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.
Do read the entire article, “‘I Just Wanted to Be Free’: The Radical Reverberations of Muhammad Ali.”
To the greatest, rest in peace.
Last week, I mentioned seeing an “Open Memo” from the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity to President Obama, calling on him to expedite the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server…
Pundits and others are playing down the harm. A charitable interpretation is that they have no way to gauge what it means to expose so much to so many. We do know, and our overriding concern is to protect the national security of our country from further harm. It would be a huge help toward this end, if you would order Attorney General Loretta Lynch to instruct the FBI to stop slow-walking the email investigation and release its findings promptly.
If you choose, instead, to give precedence to politics over national security, the American people will be deprived of timely appreciation of the gravity of the harm done; national security officials who do follow the rules will be scandalized; FBI investigators will conclude that that their job is more political than professional; and the noxious impression will grow that powerful people cannot be held accountable when they break the law. Worse: if the results of the FBI investigation remain under lock and key, dangerous pressures are likely to be exerted on the most senior U.S. officials by those who have the key
Read their explanations in the whole memo here, and listen to my conversation with former CIA operative Philip Giraldi, who co-authored the piece with Ray McGovern.
And hold on tight for tomorrow, when the media will declare Hillary Clinton the presumptive nominee.
We’ve got our work cut out for us. Good thing you have non-corporate media alternatives, radio or not!