It’s with an incredibly heavy heart that I write this post. Muhammad Ali was not only one of my favorite athletes but one of my favorite people as well. No one else was so graceful in the ring, no one before him was so loud and boastful outside of it.He was unapologetically black and true to himself in spite of everything. He was, in this writer’s opinion, the greatest black man who ever lived.
It is that unyielding blackness that drew me to him the most. He had long lost the ability to speak when I became aware of him. When I first saw him he was the shaking old man lighting the Olympic flame in Atlanta in 1996. I didn’t know who he was but I could tell from the excitement when he got the torch that everyone seemed to love him, everyone DID love him. That version of him at least. It wasn’t until I saw old footage of him talking (including a film he starred in about his own life) that I learned that White America absolutely reviled him while he could still speak. When he could still point out how great he was and that he would not be bound to their view of who he should be.
This is what made him unique. He was the last superstar athlete to use his voice and platform to affect real change. The last Social Athlete. What athlete would do that now, with millions of dollars on the line? None have, Ali did. He gave up the prime of his boxing life in protest of an unjust war. He went on a speaking tour during those years to many colleges and received a good deal of verbal and racial abuse from students and gave as good as he got.
He also fought, and won by KO, against Superman. In a way, Muhammad Ali was Superman because he fought for us even though his natural abilities had elevated him to a level that showed he didn’t have to. Superman lived on paper, though. Muhammad Ali was real.
Let’s never forget that.