Thursday, June 30, 2016

Muhammad Ali: Not the Greatest

I spoke to an angry man today, someone I had never met before. “Why,” the gentleman asked, “are we celebrating a draft dodger.”
He was referring, of course, to the adulation being given Muhammad Ali, recently deceased. My new friend is ex-military and furious with what he considered to be the deification of a bum.
And you know what? He’s right.
Ali, ne Cassius Clay, was not the greatest in anything.
- The breathless media would have you believe he was one of the greatest athletes of all time. Nonsense. He wasn’t even the greatest boxer. He couldn’t lace the gloves of Sugar Ray Robinson or Rocky Marciano. Ali won some big fights and lost some big fights — a pedestrian record at best. (Full disclosure: I lost a bundle on the Sonny Liston fight.)
- He wasn’t even the greatest draft dodger, but he certainly tried to be. At a time when American boys were being called up to fight and die in an unpopular war, Cassius changed his name and religion and hid behind the questionable tenants of Islam. He was reviled at the time and should be reviled now. His lack of patriotism — some would say cowardice — is nothing to celebrate.
- But he was a braggart, certainly one of the greatest. When we were teaching our children about modesty and integrity and shared credit, Ali was shouting, “I am the greatest thing God ever put on this earth!” His bombast was ill-placed. He never contributed a thing to society. He never invented a product, educated a child or bent his back in honest labor. He was little more than a self-serving loudmouth.
- Ah, but civil rights. We’re told he was right up there with Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. That’s the biggest joke of all. Quite the opposite of “fighting for human rights,” Ali was a big-time racist. Jeff Jacoby, reporting in the Boston Globe, elaborates. In a 1968 interview, Ali proclaimed, “Whites and blacks cannot get along; this is nature … Negroes shouldn’t force themselves in white neighborhoods, and white people shouldn’t have to move out.” He believed in strict segregation. “Black people should marry their own women.”
In a 1975 interview in Playboy, Ali argued that interracial couples should be lynched. “A black man should be killed if he’s messing with a white woman.” What if a black woman wanted to be with a white man? “Then she dies,” Ali said. “Kill her too.”
If Ali was greatest at anything, perhaps it was bigotry.
I realize this is politically very incorrect, that one should roll with the rewrite of history. Slip the punch of reality. There’s really nothing to be gained by saying, with apologies to Hans Christian Anderson, the king has no clothes.
But my new friend, the upset air force veteran, made me realize there are at least two of us who see through the deception.
The good news is that the hosannas will pass; sainthood will be bestowed and we’ll move on to other things, other deceptions. And in this election season, there should be plenty of deceptions to go around.

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