Tag Archives: Muhammad Ali

Boxing has come to this?

Once upon a time — a lifetime or two ago — I was a big boxing fan.

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. would win the heavyweight boxing championship in 1964, change his name to Muhammad Ali and then dominate the sweet science for, oh, the next 15 or so years.

Yeah, he was stripped of his title for more than three years over his religious objection to the Vietnam War. Even then, he was The Man.

Boxing eventually took a turn away from the simplicity of the sport. It formed a lot of governing boxing authorities. Each of them recognized their version of “world champion.” They expanded the number of weight classes. There were so many “world champions,” no one could keep track of them. Some of these weight classes are topped by something called “interim champion,” whatever the hell that means!

Now the sport has come to a new level of carnival spectacle. It has scheduled a match between a retired “world champion” and a mixed martial arts goon. The boxing/MMA world is agog over the prospect of former champion boxer Floyd Mayweather fighting MMA champ Connor McGregor sometime this year.

Who’s going to win? I don’t know and I don’t care.

I do know that boxing has now resorted to creating circus acts to gin up attention for a sport in serious decline.

If only we could return to the era when the heavyweight boxing champion of the world was the baddest man on Earth.

Oh, do I miss Muhammad Ali.

Feeling so-o-o-o busted

A friend of mine outed me this morning after I wrote a blog post criticizing the FBI for spending public money to look for quarterback Tom Brady’s stolen jersey.

I wrote that the feds didn’t have a role to play in looking for a damn shirt worn by Brady the day he led the New England Patriots to their stunning Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

My friend responded with this query: How would I feel if the trunks that Muhammad Ali wore the night he defeated Joe Frazier in Manila had been stolen?

Oh, my goodness! I was so very busted by my friend, to whom I responded “knows me too well.” He must know how I feel about The Champ. How I revered him for so many years as he fought with such power, speed and grace. And how he became such a huge civil rights voice during the time he was exiled from professional boxing because he stood up in protest of the Vietnam War.

My response to my friend was that I would feel differently. I joked that I would have mobilized the armed forces to find Muhammad Ali’s stolen trunks.

Actually, I wouldn’t do such a thing.

Although …

My friend clearly decked me with that question. He gave me pause.

The FBI has been in the news a good bit of late for reasons that speak directly to its mission. Looking for a quarterback’s stolen jersey just doesn’t seem to fit that bill.

Good job, FBI, in helping find a shirt

Muhammad Ali’s son detained at airport … for real!

Put yourself in the place of an airport customs/security agent for a moment.

A young man comes off an airplane that’s just traveled to the United States from a foreign airport. He presents his passport to you and it has the name “Muhammad Ali Jr.” on it.

What do you ask the young man?

If it were me — and I was allowed under customs protocol — I would ask: “Are you the son of The Greatest of All Time? Was your late, legendary father really The Champ, the baddest, prettiest, greatest heavyweight boxer in history?”

If he said “yes,” I’d stamp his passport, tell him how much I admired his dad and let him through.

That didn’t happen recently at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood (Fla.) International Airport. Muhammad Ali Jr. arrived there on a flight from Jamaica. He was detained. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials say he wasn’t detained because he is a Muslim. They offered vague reasons for acting as they did.

Ali was profiled, according to an Ali family lawyer. The officials asked him if he is Muslim and asked him where he got his name. As USA Today reported: “Customs spokesman Daniel Hetlage declined to provide details of the incident, citing policies that protect travelers’ privacy, but he wrote in an email that the agency does not discriminate on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

“‘We treat all travelers with respect and sensitivity,’ he said. ‘Integrity is our cornerstone. We are guided by the highest ethical and moral principles.'”

Young Ali, who’s 44, is blessed — or cursed, perhaps, depending on the circumstance — with having arguably the most famous name on the planet. It also is the name of world’s most beloved Muslim.

Part of me wants to ridicule the officer who stopped Ali Jr. Another part of me, though, suggests the officer was just doing his job.

Goodbye and good riddance, 2016

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We’re still about two weeks from the end of a truly crappy year.

Not for me personally, mind you. My health remains good, as does my wife’s health. We’re spending more time on the road in our recreational vehicle and having a blast every mile we’ve traveled. Our family is doing well, too. We’ve got some big changes in store for the coming year. You’ll be hearing about them as they develop.

No, this year sucks out loud because of the deaths that have occurred. I hope I’m not getting ahead of myself by taking note this far in advance of the end of the year. It’s been a tough time for iconic figures. For instance, we lost:

David Bowie, the genius British musician, songwriter, actor and trailblazing artist, died of cancer. Iggy Stardust is no longer with us. I knew he had cancer, but like a lot of his fans, I was unaware that his time had run out.

Prince died at his suburban Minneapolis mansion. Talk about a genius. Wow! Have you seen that tremendous guitar riff he did during the 2002 concert memorializing the late Beatle George Harrison? He also left behind a vault full of hundreds of unpublished songs.

Muhammad Ali bid us farewell. This one hurt terribly. The three-time heavyweight boxing champion was far more than a warrior in the ring. He was a champion for the causes in which he believed. He fought for civil rights, against the Vietnam War (which cost  him his title) and for justice. Oh, and he was the most beautiful fighter any of us ever had seen. He fought with power and blazing speed and grace.

Arnold Palmer is gone, too. They called him The King of Golf. His majesty, indeed, brought golf into the television age. He was a man’s man. He played great — and exciting — golf. He was a middle-class guy who won — and lost — in unconventional ways. Fellow golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez once said it well: “Every golfer today owes everything to  Arnold Palmer.”

John Glenn was 95 when he died just recently. He was a former U.S. senator, a Marine fighter pilot and an astronaut. Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, on Feb. 20, 1962. He returned to space 36 years later to become the oldest man, at age 77, to ever fly in space; he took his place in the space shuttle Discovery, which lifted off the launch pad carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

I cannot recall a single year producing this level of national and international mourning.

Oh, and we had that presidential campaign, too. It didn’t turn out the way many of us wanted. We’ll persevere, I’m sure.

So long, 2016, and good riddance! You really sucked all year long.

Fighter of the Year … finally!

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The Ring Magazine has been called the pre-eminent publication about professional boxing.

It made a huge mistake in 1966, though, in failing to name the then-heavyweight champion of the world its Fighter of the Year.

The magazine declined to give the honor to a fellow named Muhammad Ali, who defended his title five times that year, wiping out the competition with ease. Ali was at the peak of his boxing powers.

The magazine, though, disliked his objection to the Vietnam War as well as his affiliation with the Nation of Islam. It refused to call him by the name he chose and used his birth name, Cassius Clay, when referencing The Champ.

Times change — and so do attitudes.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/more-sports/retroactive-ring-magazine-names-ali-1966-fighter-of-year/ar-AAlk6a2?li=BBnba9I

The magazine has decided to grant Ali the title he deserved all along. Fifty years later, Ring has named Ali its Fighter of the Year for 1966, to along with several other such honors the magazine had granted him. It didn’t select a Fighter of the Year in 1966.

It’s a curious thing, though, about the timing of this decision.

Ali won his court fight over his suspension from boxing in 1971, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that boxing authorities had violated his constitutional rights by denying him the chance to earn a living. Ring honored him with Fighter of the Year accolades in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1978. It also honored him in 1963, before he announced his Muslim faith.

Ali died this year at the age of 74.

A more fitting tribute would have been to grant the honor denied to Ali while he was still able to accept and appreciate it.

Those of us — along with his loved ones — who marveled at the man’s skill in the ring and his courage outside of it will accept the honor on The Champ’s behalf.

Rio Olympics coming to a … fascinating end

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This blog post has been updated.

I’ll admit a few things here about the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and acknowledge a surprise or two.

* I didn’t like the opening ceremony. Yes, it was colorful to the max, but I didn’t understand much of its significance. My Olympic opening ceremony gold standard was set in 1996 in Atlanta, when the organizers surprised the world as Muhammad Ali — the Greatest — stepped out of the shadows to light the cauldron. I cried like a baby sitting in front of my TV watching The Champ light the flame, as did all the spectators in the stadium that night.

What’s more, there was something oddly out of place when the Brazilians decided to inject the politics of climate change and global warming into the ceremony. While I generally agree that climate change is a profound international problem, was the Olympic opening ceremony the appropriate place to make that statement?

* I hadn’t planned on watching much of the competition, but then I did watch. A lot of it.

Michael Phelps made me proud. The zillion-time gold medal winning swimmer came back for his fifth Olympics and at the age of 31 managed to dominate the men’s swimming competition. He overcame some serious personal demons to get himself into the best shape of his life and he didn’t disappoint. Five golds and a silver? Not bad … for an “old man.”

Katie Ledecky was the actual star of the pool, though. The young American not only was winning her races, she was winning them by a lot.

* Simone Manuel was another swimming star who made me proud. The young Texan came out of nowhere to capture our hearts, particularly as she wept while listening to the National Anthem during the awards ceremony.

* The U.S. women’s gymnastics team. What more can I say about those youngsters? Holy moly, man!

Gabby Douglas, one of the gymnasts, had nothing for which to apologize for not putting her hand over heart during the anthem. She stood there respectfully and showed class by riveting her eyes on the flag as it rose.

Usain Bolt is the fastest human being in the world. The Jamaican sprinter served notice that it’s not how well you start a race that matters, it’s how you finish it. As ol’ Dizzy Dean used to say while calling a baseball game on TV, “That fella can pick ’em up and lay ‘e down.”

* Oh, and one more takeaway. The swimmer Ryan Lochte, who is 32 years of age, is about to lose a fortune in endorsement income because he messed up so royally by partying with his swim-team buddies and then making up the story about being robbed at a Rio gasoline service station. Good grief, dude! Get out of my face!

I don’t know how the International Olympic Committee chairman is going to characterize the Rio Games when he closes the event down Sunday night. Will it be “outstanding,” or “exceptional,” or simply some other less-glorious adjective? Observers often rate the success of an Olympics by the way the IOC boss hails the event at its conclusion.

I’ll rate the Games “outstanding.”

It was a fun ride in Rio.

Keeping the faith on the Olympics

It’s becoming almost normal, it seems, for international sports authorities to worry about the Summer Olympics preparation.

Will the hosts be ready? Will the country survive the onslaught of tourists and athletes? Will its venues be complete? Oh, and what about the terror threat?

Rio de Janeiro is going through all of that — and more — as it prepares for the 2016 Olympics.

Pardon me if I sound a bit skeptical, but I believe we’ve been through a good bit of this before — only to have our worries shown to be overplayed and overblown.

I get the concern worry about the Zika virus; no one wants to get bit and then have something terrible happen to their offspring. The Brazilian economy appears to be tanking. The country’s political leadership is in turmoil. The cops keep finding corpses near the sporting venues, which quite naturally is unsettling in the extreme.

What has happened, though, in previous run-up periods in recent Olympics, though, is that the planners find a way to pull it together.

Let me give you three examples:

Atlanta, 1996: Atlanta had traffic woes. There was deep concern over whether the city would be able to accommodate the huge crush of visitors. And after the Barcelona Games four years earlier, there were stated concerns about whether the Atlanta organizers could come up with an opening ceremony worthy of the Olympics; the world had been abuzz over that Spanish archer firing the flaming arrow over the Olympic cauldron.

Well, the traffic was a bit of a problem, but they managed.

As for the opening ceremony … well, they kept the identity of the athlete who would light the torch a surprise. Then out stepped the late Muhammad Ali to electrify the world. There wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium that night — or anywhere else.

Athens, 2004: The Greeks managed to pull off one of the more elegant and — to me, at least — meaningful Olympics in recent memory. They had their difficulty. There was actual worry about whether they would have the venues completed. The Greek organizing committee members were stabbing each other in the back with their bickering and quarreling.

In stepped Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who managed the Greeks’ winning bid to get the Games. She pushed the men aside and got the job done.

Security threat? Forget about it. The Greeks deployed virtually their entire military to assist with the police and international intelligence agencies in ensuring nothing would happen.

The Games were magnificent.

Beijing, 2008: The People’s Republic of China had a unique concern. Pollution chokes the air in China’s capital city. The athletes feared they couldn’t compete in an atmosphere where they would be choking on motor vehicle and factory fumes.

Venue preparation was not a concern for the communists. They know how to get things done and, of course, they don’t tolerate dissent in any form.

How did they clean up the air? They imposed a sort of motor vehicle martial law. They banned driving during several hours of the day. They also strongly encouraged citizens to use available mass transit whenever possible.

The result? Problem solved. The air wasn’t perfect, but the athletes were able to compete in show-stopping fashion during the Beijing Olympics.

London had its share of woes as it got ready for the 2012 Summer Games, although they seem a bit muted now four years since.

I know that many top athletes are opting out of the Rio games over Zika fears. That’s their call and I won’t second-guess them.

But this talk about moving the Olympics out of Rio never had legs.

I am the eternal optimist about the Brazilians’ ability to take the stage and do what they must to ensure a safe and joyous Olympic event.

The world will be watching.

Anti-Islam sentiment: nothing new

Anti-Islamic-Sentiment

Muhammad Ali’s death this past week brings to mind something that I hadn’t considered until, oh, just a few minutes ago.

The legendary fighter’s religious conversion became the subject of considerable discussion — and scorn — when he made that conversion … in 1964!

Which brings to mind this thought: The anti-Muslim sentiment we’re seeing in the present day is nothing new in this country. It’s been there for decades, maybe centuries.

Cassius Clay won the heavyweight boxing championship by scoring a technical knockout over Sonny Liston. Clay then announced he was becoming a Muslim and would change his name; he became Cassius X and later Muhammad Ali.

Sure, over time Ali’s stature would rise to heights not seen in professional athletes. He became a revered figure not so much because he changed his religious affiliation, but because of the courage he displayed in the face of the hatred that was slung at him.

The mid to late 1960s brought a level of turmoil that we hadn’t seen since, perhaps, the Civil War.

The Vietnam War was going badly. Ali became a spokesman against that war. That he became a Muslim — let alone a member of the Nation of Islam — and changed his name to that foreign-sounding moniker only inflamed many people’s passions against him.

Was there religious and racial bigotry coming to the fore then?

I believe there was.

Which brings us to what many Americans are feeling today about people who worship Islam.

Yes, it’s different now. Terrorists have perverted a great religion and committed unspeakable acts in that religion’s name. A leading presidential candidate — Donald J. Trump — has declared his desire to impose a moratorium on all Muslims entering this country; how in the world he would enact such a thing is beyond me.

As Ali’s death has revealed, though, the anti-Muslim sentiment in this country is far from anything that was ginned up by those 9/11 attacks and by the Islamic State’s hideous actions.

The bigotry and intolerance has been wrong for a long time.

Time revealed another side of Muhammad Ali

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I guess you could say that time is no one’s friend.

It takes its toll on human skill. Of course, eventually it catches up to all of us for the final time.

These thoughts came to mind as I’ve been watching and listening to the tributes pour in to the late Muhammad Ali — yes, it’s strange to attach that word right before The Champ’s name.

Ali came to the world’s attention as young Cassius Clay, a boxer with tremendous hand and foot speed in the ring. He didn’t block punches with his elbows or gloves.

He dodged them with his head.

He’d pull his back while the big left hooks or straight rights would whistle by. Clay would dance out of the way, peppering his foe with lightning-quick jabs and multi-punch combinations.

Then he would pull away again.

Well, time does not allow the human body to perform like that forever.

After he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, the boxer lost more than three years of his prime athletic life. The U.S. government accused him of draft evasion, the boxing authorities denied him his right to box and he spent most of 1967 and all of 1968 and 1969 on the lecture circuit, speaking out against the Vietnam War and against racism.

Then he came back.

But he was a different kind of athlete.

Time had robbed him of a bit of that skill he demonstrated with his quick reflexes. He no longer was able to dodge and dance away with quite the flair and panache he demonstrated as a younger boxer.

No, the boxer then became a fighter.

Sure, he proved to be unafraid to fight against injustice in the world.

However, when he was able to lace the gloves back onto his powerful fists, he became a fighter. He showed the world that his quick feet and hands didn’t signify an unwillingness to fight. That speed merely was a demonstration of the rare skill he exhibited in a most-brutal sport.

He was able to lend an extra level of sweetness to the Sweet Science.

As time marched on, though, Ali was forced the absorb more punishment from foes who a decade earlier would have flailed in futility.

He demonstrated another skill that many boxing experts admitted at the time they never anticipated. The Champ demonstrated that he had a fighter’s heart.

He became a warrior in the ring.

The Thrilla in Manila — his third epic fight with rival Joe Frazier, provided perhaps the most graphic example of his fighter’s heart.

In 1975, Ali was the champion. He started out quickly, trying to take Frazier out. Frazier survived that early-round blitz. He came back in the middle rounds, punishing his adversary with body blows.

Ali then summoned something from deep within him to rally in the later rounds. By the time the bell rang to end the 14th round, Frazier’s face was a bloody, swollen mess. Muhammad Ali the warrior had shown he had the heart of a champion — of a fighter.

Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, stopped the fight — a drama in three acts — and made a decision I am certain to this day well might have saved his fighter’s life.

Smokin’ Joe said it best after the fight. “Man,” he said, “I hit him with punches that would have brought down the walls of a city. Lawdy, he’s a great champion.”

So he was. The boxer had become a fighter and revealed that time at least can be stalled a little while longer.

The Champ would revel in this reception

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Just how far have race relations gone in the past five-plus decades?

Consider what is happening in Louisville, Ky., the city where a baby named Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. came into this world.

It is getting ready for one of the most awe-inspiring salutes imaginable for the man that baby became.

Louisville didn’t react this way around, oh, 1960, when Cassius Clay came home from Rome with an Olympic gold medal in boxing. He returned from the Olympics and was met with overt racism in his home town.

This young black athlete who had ingratiated himself to the foreign press and to the other international athletes who gathered for the Olympics did not find such warmth when he came home.

His struggle for acceptance began.

That young man eventually grew into a gigantic figure on the world stage. He won the heavyweight professional boxing championship in 1964. Clay converted to Islam and changed his name.

He became Muhammad Ali.

Ali experienced plenty of wrath for becoming a Black Muslim. Then came his refusal to be inducted into the armed forces, citing his religious belief and his role as a Muslim minister. He couldn’t in good conscience serve his country during a time of war, in Vietnam.

More wrath came his way.

The boxing authorities stripped him of his title. They denied him the right to earn a living. He was banned from boxing.

Then he became an iconic figure on university campuses during his three-plus years in boxing exile. He spoke out against the Vietnam War, against the racism that pervaded the nation and against injustice.

Then he became the world’s most famous person.

The court overturned his conviction for draft evasion. He returned to the ring. He won the heavyweight title twice more.

He retired from boxing in 1981 and in 1984 was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Muhammad Ali died Friday at the age of 74.

Louisville, the city of his birth and the city where his neighbors formerly scorned him, now is preparing to say farewell to its most favorite son.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/more-sports/hundreds-pay-tribute-to-muhammad-ali-at-his-boyhood-home/ar-BBtT1G5?li=BBnb7Kz

Crowds are gathering at Ali’s boyhood home. People are flocking to Louisville. The mayor will speak at Ali’s funeral. So will former President Bill Clinton, who was among 80,000 spectators in the stadium who wept in the summer of 1996 as Ali emerged to light the Olympic flame in Atlanta. The noted comedian Billy Crystal also will eulogize The Champ.

The city isn’t the same today as it was when Cassius Clay entered it. It’s a much better place that will bid farewell on Friday to Muhammad Ali.

The Champ would revel in the sendoff he’s about to receive.