I don’t care about boxing, it is a brutal and stupid sport. But I cared about Muhammad Ali. I admired him. I admired his courage.
When you are the Heavyweight Champion of the World, it takes a lot of courage to risk all that you have trained and fought for and refuse induction into the military because you object to the immorality of a war. Standing by his religious beliefs cost him the title, and he was found guilty of draft evasion. He didn’t box in a fight from 1967-70.
When you have suffered from Parkinson disease for over decade and your hands are trembling badly, it takes courage, and determination, to muster up the control necessary to carry the torch and light the Olympic cauldron, as he did in 1996. I watched it as it happened and it was a trilling moment, inspiring.
You had to love his gift of the Blarney, and even early on, in 1964, just after he won the world heavyweight championship and he declared “I’m the greatest thing that ever lived. I don’t have a mark on my face, and I upset Sonny Liston, and I just turned twenty-two years old. I must be the greatest,” there was something about the way he carried on that made you think he really didn’t take himself so seriously. All the gab was put-on. Like a few years later when Andy Warhol was to go on a lecture tour and he sent out an impersonator to make all the appearances for him. I always thought Muhammad Ali was like the Andy Warhol of sports.
On the 11 o’clock news, I heard it said that Ali was much more than a boxer; he was a political activist, a global humanitarian. I also saw one of his bodhisattva-like quotes:
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”.
Parkinson’s was very likely caused by all the punches he took to the head during his career. That’s why, like football, boxing is stupid. You might want to ask whether there is any real difference between the basic violence of boxing or waging war, but not today.
A man who liked to talk, the disease silenced him. An man of movement, action; the disease disabled him. But Parkinson’s never diminished Muhammad Ali.
To the end, he was the champion of the world.