Tag Archives: Muhammad Ali

Up close with The Greatest

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Anyone who knows me well — family members and my closest friends — understands that Muhammad Ali is my all-time favorite professional athlete.

Well, gang, today I walked into the Muhammad Ali Museum and Center to pay my respects to The Greatest.

It is, to say the very least, a stunning display on Main Street in downtown Louisville that honors the three-time heavyweight boxing champion. Moreover, it speaks in great detail to the social consciousness he exhibited by refusing induction into the Army in 1967 and for the sacrifice he endured when the pro boxing authorities deprived him of his ability — at the peak of his physical prowess — to make a living by beating up other men.

The Champ was The Greatest. I need no convincing of that. The chatter we hear from time to time about whether Ali would defeat, say, Mike Tyson or Lennox Lewis — two of The Champ’s boxing descendants — is just mindless chatter.

In my humble view, and I am no expert, a prime-time Muhammad Ali would make mincemeat of those two fine athletes. But that’s just me.

The exhibit does explain that Ali was a flawed man. He was a womanizer who treated his wives terribly. It speaks as well to the rhetoric he spouted by declaring that all white people were “devils.” I long have found that “devil” nonsense to be just that. The Champ’s boxing team comprised the likes of Angelo Dundee, Ferdie Pacheco and other white dudes who guided him to the pinnacle of his sport.

As for the Parkinson’s disease that turned this monumental chatter box into a silent statue of a man, one exhibit speaks to whether the brutal sport that Ali practiced contributed to his illness. It says “no!” A physician who examined Ali says the disease would have taken The Champ down without the punishment he endured while fighting. Yes, I know that’s a debatable point. I just won’t engage in that discussion.

The museum is a marvelous tribute to this city’s most notable son, a man who went on to become what many have argued “the most famous person on this Earth.” 

I am so glad I took time to visit this fantastic exhibit to The Greatest of All Time.


Oh, the no-news joy!

One of the joys of traveling as Toby the Puppy and I have been doing is weaning myself of the need to stay on top of the news of the day.

Yes, I have gone three days in a row without watching the news on TV or reading about it in local newspapers. Granted, I do have these news apps on my phone and my laptop, but I am tapping into those resources less and less all the time.

I am unsure where this quest for non-news consumption came from. Perhaps it’s because it bores me with its repetition. The cable news outlets I watch repeat themselves and each other to the point where I learn nothing new.

I arrived in Roanoke early this afternoon. About the only thing I learned today was that the singer Sinead O’Connor had died at age 56. Oh, well. So sorry to hear the news. That’s it.

I believe I am going to wait to return home before I re-engage fully in the consumption of news. We’re a few days away from that.

Until then, I will continue to enjoy the company of friends, some of whom I have known well for decades, others not so long and I am going to meet a relative of a good friend with whom I used to work in Amarillo.

My journey westward — once I start the return trip to my house in Princeton — will include a stop at the Muhammad Ali museum in Louisville, Ky., where I will pay my respects to The Greatest; and a tour of the Louisville Slugger baseball bat factory, where I just might purchase a brand spanking new baseball bat. I don’t intend to hit any baseballs with it.

There ain’t any news to report in either of those places.

Vacations ought to give us a respite from the things that occupy our minds normally. This one clearly is doing its job.


Three cheers for public TV

Some readers of this blog might know that I am a big fan of public television. I worked for a time as a freelance blogger for a public TV station in Amarillo — Panhandle PBS, based at Amarillo College — not long after my print journalism career ended.

Whenever I hear the name Ken Burns attached to a public TV special, I perk up instantly and commit to watching whatever Burns assembles for the public air waves.

I just finished binge-watching a four-part special on The Greatest, aka “Muhammad Ali.”

Wow! What a special! What a man Ali became.

Ali died in 2016 at age 74 of complications from the Parkinson’s disease with which he had been diagnosed since 1984.

Burns and his staff of colleagues, producers, editors and writers assembled a fantastic broadcast journey that took viewers through Ali’s childhood in Louisville, Ky., to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, to his professional boxing career, his wins and losses, his exile for following his religious objection to the Vietnam War, his becoming a Muslim, his troubled marriages to four women (and his relentless womanizing along the way), his status as a cultural icon and how he became the Most Famous Man in the World and finally to his death.

You are reading the words of a longtime fan of Muhammad Ali. I cannot watch without crying his 1996 appearance at the Atlanta Olympics when he lit the torch. It was a seminal moment in Ali’s journey from world-class athlete to world-class human being.

Public TV brought all this to viewers. It was a stunning bit of television. Then again, none of us should be surprised that Ken Burns — arguably the world’s foremost documentary filmmaker — could deliver such epic TV programming to our living rooms.

If you get a chance, check out this latest contribution from Ken Burns. You will learn something about The Greatest.


50 years since Fight of Century? Wow!

(AP Photo/John Lindsay)

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Someone once said that to be called “Heavyweight Champion of the World” was tantamount to being labeled the “baddest dude on Earth.

Everyone used to know the name of the heavyweight champion. These days? I cannot tell you unless I look it up in my World Almanac and Book of Facts.

I mention this because some of the sports networks this weekend have commemorated the 50th year since the Fight of the Century.

Yep, on March 8, 1971 two men fought for the heavyweight title. One guy was the champion, Joe Frazier. The challenger? A fellow named Muhammad Ali.

I’ll set the table briefly. I was a huge Muhammad Ali fan. I considered him “the champ,” since he was stripped of his title in 1967 because he refused induction into the Army during the Vietnam War. Boxing authorities stripped him of his license to fight. He became an iconic figure. He would win reinstatement and then the Supreme Court would rule unanimously that he should be allowed to fight again.

Ali returned to the gym and whipped his body into shape. He fought twice against quality contenders before squaring off against Joe Frazier.

The fight lived up to the hype. It was a brutal affair. Frazier won by decision. He floored Ali in the final round. They both were great champions. Although, I surely must acknowledge that Muhammad Ali was The Greatest.

Both men are gone now. Frazier died in 2011 of cancer; Ali died in 2016 of Parkinson’s disease. The fight game isn’t the same without them.

The Fight of the Century turned out to be all that it was trumpeted to be. There likely will never be a man-to-man competition that ever will measure up to what we witnessed a half-century ago.

Boxing: once fun to watch, now it’s unwatchable

There once was a time when I would glue myself to the TV set when professional boxing was on the air.

That was a long time ago. Quite obviously, I was much younger. I didn’t appreciate fully a brutal aspect of the sport I loved to watch: the men who fought inflicted terrible damage to the other guy’s brain; and they received equal amounts of terrible damage from the other guy’s fists.

That was then.

So many of the athletes I used to watch — some of whom I admired, truth be told — now are gone. They fell victim to pugilistic dementia, which is another way say they had their brains scrambled.

Fighters aren’t suffering such punishment more frequently these days. I am just older now, perhaps a bit wiser (which often is merely a benefit of growing old) and also I am less bloodthirsty than I was as a kid.

I’ll spare you the gripes I have about boxing’s governing bodies and how the sport has morphed into a sort of “participation trophy” of sports. That is, there are more “world champions” at every weight class than I can count. There once was a time when the heavyweight champion of the world was the baddest man on Earth; Muhammad Ali didn’t have to brag about being “bad” … he just was.

But I no longer can stomach the sight of two grown men beating other’s brains’ out.

I no longer watch videos of some of my favorite pro fighters from back in the day. I can barely watch fights of The Greatest — Muhammad Ali — knowing what became of him as he grew older. Yes, he died of Parkinson’s disease and reportedly did not lose any cognitive ability, but I do believe his fatal ailment was accelerated by the punishment he took at the end of his career.

Boxing once was a thrill to watch. These days, it gives me the creeps.

Yep, he is bigger than the game

Tiger Woods would never say such a thing out loud, within earshot of others.

However, I am going to say what would remain unspoken by the greatest golfer of this generation: Tiger Woods is bigger than the game.

Woods won his 15th major pro golf title over the weekend, winning the Masters Tournament by a stroke the all-world field of the greatest golfers on the planet. Sports pundits can’t stop talking about it. They won’t stop talking and writing about what they have described as the “greatest sports comeback in human history.”

Woods had gone 11 years without winning a major tournament, and 15 years since winning the Masters.

Hmm. I’ll offer this note, and then move on to the topic at hand: Muhammad Ali’s return as heavyweight boxing champion in 1974 after being stripped of his title and exiled from the sport for more than three years ranks as the No. 1 sports comeback — in my mind.

But yes, Tiger’s comeback was one for the ages.

He is bigger than the game. I admit to watching the Masters with exponentially greater interest when he entered the weekend rounds in hunt for his fifth Masters green jacket. I love watching the Masters anyway, but with Tiger lurking near the top of the leader board, my interest turned into an obsession.

I wasn’t alone. Others around the world who aren’t even necessarily golf fans took time to watch Tiger Woods pounce when Francesco Molinari doused his 12th-hole tee shot, paving the way for a double-bogey on the hole.

Woods’ endorsement income from Nike is going to fly into the stratosphere. There might be other corporate sponsors that will sign the 43-year-old up as well.

Think of it. Woods’ career started tanking when his wife, Elin, caught him messing around with other women. Then he got caught driving while impaired. Injuries later would damn near take him out for keeps. He couldn’t play the game he dominated since his arrival on the pro tour in 1996.

He fought back. Now he’s back on the top of his game. On top of the world. On top of the heap.

Tiger Woods wouldn’t dare say what many of us believe, that he is bigger than the game.

He is. There. I’ve said it.

Louisville renames airport after hometown legend

While we are wringing our hands over the shuttering of our government and other matters involving the president of the United States and our Congress . . . we now have some news to cheer.

Louisville, Ky., airport authority officials have voted to rename their city’s international airport after a man who became arguably the most famous person on Earth.

Welcome to Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

The three-time heavyweight boxing champion would have turned 77 years of age. On the eve of that birthday, the Louisville Regional Airport Authority board announced the name change. It honors the memory of Ali, who died in 2016 at the age of 74.

This news cheers me greatly.

“Muhammad Ali belonged to the world, but he had only one hometown, and fortunately, that is our great city of Louisville,” said Mayor Greg Fischer.

Man, oh man. What a world we live in.

Back when he was still known as Cassius Marcellus Clay, the man who grew to become a living legend faced outright discrimination simply because of the color of his skin. His fists led him to great heights after winning an Olympic gold medal in boxing. He won the heavyweight title in 1964, scoring a huge upset over Sonny Liston. Then he had his title stripped from him after he refused to be drafted into the Army in protest of the Vietnam War. He was banned from boxing for more than three years. Ali came back and then won his title again in 1974 by knocking out George Foreman. He lost it once more, then regained it with a victory over Leon Spinks.

He spoke brashly as a young man. Then he became a voice for the dispossessed as an older man. Ali fought for his rights as a U.S. citizen. Then, while stricken with Parkinson’s disease after his retirement from boxing, The Champ became an advocate for those suffering from debilitating illness.

Now his hometown’s international airport will carry The Greatest’s name. It makes me want to buy a plane ticket simply to fly into Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

Penalize players for kneeling?

I saw this Twitter message from Donald J. Trump.

He asks whether the NFL player contract requires players to stand with the hand over their heart when the National Anthem is being played.

Then he suggests that players should be suspended for the season without pay if they kneel a second time.

Hmm. Interesting. That kind of reminds of when the boxing authorities denied the late Muhammad Ali the ability to make a living because he refused to enter the U.S. Army; he protested the Vietnam War on religious grounds.

The Supreme Court would rule later, unanimously, that Ali’s suspension from boxing was unconstitutional. He was being denied the right to protest the government.

Aren’t the players protesting local governments’ treatment of African-American offenders? Isn’t there a parallel here between today’s protests and the one that The Greatest made a couple of generations ago?

Ali might get pardon? Eh? For what?

Donald J. “Ignoramus in Chief” Trump Sr. reportedly is considering a pardon for, get a load of this, the late Muhammad Ali.

Please, Mr. President, do some homework — for once, will ya?

The Greatest does not need a pardon. Do you understand?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1971 that the boxing authorities that stripped Ali of his heavyweight champion title violated his constitutional rights that (a) guaranteed his freedom of religion, (b) allowed him to protest peaceably the federal government and (c) allowed him freedom of speech.

You see, Ali protested the Vietnam War by refusing in 1967 to accept induction into the U.S. Army; he cited his Muslim faith as the basis for his refusal to be drafted. The boxing authorities then decided to deny him the right to earn a living by stripping him of his ability to box, to defend his heavyweight title. He was cast out of boxing for more than three years.

The nation’s highest court rectified that injustice by overturning his conviction on draft evasion. What’s more, President Jimmy Carter issued a pardon for all Vietnam War draft dodgers — and that included Muhammad Ali.

Earth to Trump: The Greatest of All Time does not need a presidential pardon!

Now, get ready for that summit with Kim Jong Un.

Is this the work of a ‘fraud’?

I wasn’t looking for proof of a political accusation, but one has presented itself anyway.

In 2016, former Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney peeled the bark off the party’s primary frontrunner when he called Donald John Trump Sr. a “fraud” and a “phony.”

I thought at the time that the 2012 GOP nominee was talking exclusively about Trump’s penchant for bellicosity and insults. However, in the past few days, some things have come into sharper focus.

The president campaigned for office proclaiming his immense skill as a deal maker. He promised time and time again on the stump that he’d make the “best deals” in the history of humankind … or words to that effect. He vowed that the nation no longer would be snookered into falling for “bad deals.”

Well, here we are. One year into Trump’s time in office, the nation’s government is shut down. The president has been unable to deliver on one of those fundamental promises of his winning presidential campaign. He hasn’t cut any deal at all, let alone any bad deals.

I guess I can presume that’s what Mitt meant when he called Trump a “fraud.”

The late, great heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali used to say about his predictions about when he’d knock his foes out that “It ain’t braggin’ if you do it.”

Donald Trump needs to quit braggin’ if he can’t deliver the goods.