[Post updated 6/9/2016] A shorter version of this commentary was posted on 6/4/2016. See below.]
Was Muhammad Ali “The Greatest”?
Ali told British actress Joanna Lumley in 1989 that it was all a publicity stunt to promote his fights.
Lumley: “Ali. You are the greatest. How are you the greatest champion in the world?”
Ali: “That was only publicity, that I am the greatest. Just to build the fight. I never really believed that.
Lumley”: “You didn’t believe it?
Ali: “Still don’t.”
Lumley: “I believed it.”
So did everyone else in the world including the great George Foreman.
Foreman said, “People ask me. ‘Was Muhammad Ali the greatest boxer?’ I feel almost insulted because boxing is something he did. That is no way to define Muhammad Ali. He is one of the greatest men to appear on the scene of the earth.”
I agree wholeheartedly!
But what is it that makes Muhammad Ali “The Greatest”?
I can answer that with one word: COURAGE!
Muhammad Ali had the COURAGE to stand up in the face of racism, injustice, oppression and unfairness and refuse to back down come hell or high water.
On April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted in the armed forces.
His reasoning was simple. He would not go to war thousands of miles away to free some people he did not know when his own people were suffocating in a cauldron of injustice and oppression right here in the U.S. of A.
On June 20, 1967, they threw the book at him: 5 years in prison for draft evasion, a $10,000 fine and a banning from boxing for three years.
Muhammad Ali did not flinch. His response to the whole drama was captured in two words, “So what!”:
Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”
Muhammad Ali used courage to determine his self-destiny and bring defiant pride to all who felt crushed by a system white supremacy, white democracy , white plutocracy and white conspiracy.
In a dictionary to be written in the future, the definition for the word courage will be a photograph of Muhammad Ali.
Men and women of courage in our time are few and far between.
Nelson Mandela was a man of courage. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
Martin Luther King was a man of courage. “We must build dykes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”
President Lyndon Johnson was a man of courage. Vietnam was Johnson’s dark legacy. But without Johnson’s courage there would have been no Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965. During the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, Johnson remarked, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” Barack Obama became the 43rd President of the United States exactly 43 after the Voting Rights Act was signed.
Malcom X was a man of courage. “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
Mahatma Gandhi was a man of courage. “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
Aung San Suu Kyi is a woman of courage. “Human beings want to be free and however long they may agree to stay locked up, to stay oppressed, there will come a time when they say ‘That’s it.’ Suddenly they find themselves doing something that they never would have thought they would be doing, simply because of the human instinct that makes them turn their face towards freedom.”
Noam Chomsky is a man of courage. “Governments will use whatever technology is available to them to combat their primary enemy- their own population.”
Malala Yousafzai, the 15 year-old Pakistani school girl who was shot by the Taliban was a young woman of courage. Malala survived, became a leading spokesperson for education and women’s rights and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She said, “We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.”
Susan B. Anthony was a woman of courage. “I declare to you that woman must not depend upon the protection of man, but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand.”
Ella Baker was a woman of courage. “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed… It means facing a system that does not lend its self to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.”
My friend Eskinder Nega and so many other Ethiopians languishing in prison and massacred by the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF), a terrorist organization organization listed in the Global Terrorism Database, are men and women of courage. They cannot speak of their boundless courage as terrorist captives, so I must testify on their behalf in the court of world opinion every Monday.
Courage and greatness should not be confused.
Shakespeare wrote, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
I say all humans are born with courage. Most lose courage over their lifetimes. The vast majority are willing and eager to succumb to a life of cowardice and die in quiet desperation.
A few months after being born, a baby finds the physical and spiritual strength to stop crawling and stand up. That I think is the first act of courage in the human being. The baby struggles to stand up after falling time and again, and even crying in pain. No baby will willingly keep crawling because trying to stand up may prove to be painful in the fall.
As the baby grows older and becomes an adult, it learns that crawling is better and safer than standing up and falling down.
Muhammad Ali is one of the few human beings who was born in courage, lived in courage, stood up in courage, fell down in courage and died in courage. He died with his boots on; better yet, with his gloves on.
Muhammad Ali’s guiding principle in life was not “Never give up.” It was fight back and never back down. Never!
What will happen to the boxing world after The Greatest is gone?
Muhammad Ali knew exactly what will happen:
Boxing will always continue without me. The Concorde, I believe, is not too economical and they are talking about grounding it. I am the Concorde of boxing. The other fighters are jets. I am high altitude than the rest, moving faster than the rest. But you just have to get used to riding on jets again. You can’t ride Concordes again.
The screaming eagle of Louisville and the booming Concorde will be heard no more. But both shall live on in our memories and the pages of history as the greatest of all time.
Muhammad Ali knew he was loved the world over. He joked about it. “I’m the most recognized and loved man that ever lived cuz there weren’t no satellites when Jesus and Moses were around, so people far away in the villages didn’t know about them.”
The English journalist David Frost once asked Muhammad Ali, “What would you like people to think about you when you’ve gone?
Muhammad Ali the poet-cum-boxer summed it all up:
I’d like for them to say:
He took a few cups of love.
He took one tablespoon of patience,
One teaspoon of generosity,
One pint of kindness.
He took one quart of laughter,
One pinch of concern.
And then, he mixed willingness with happiness.
He added lots of faith,
And he stirred it up well.
Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime,
And he served it to each and every deserving person he met.
Giving love, showing patience, generosity, kindness, concern and mixing it all up with laughter and faith and handing it out every day to every deserving person sounds like a great recipe to become The Greatest.
It is up to each one of us to take The Greatest Recipe and aspire to become The Greatest.
Muhammad Ali left us a few core principles to live by: “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life… Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it… Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, “Cowards die many times before their deaths/ The valiant never taste of death but once.”
I say, The Greatest of All Time never die.
Muhammad Ali is a great American hero and the greatest world citizen.
Farewell and RIP Muhammad “The Greatest of All Time” Ali (1942-2016)
Thank you for your inspiration!
Farewell, The Greatest…
They say The Greatest is no more. Muhammad Ali is gone to join the ages.
But he did not die. No Sir!
I say it in the poetic words of John Donne, “Death, be not proud” for having taken The Greatest:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill [The Greatest].
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
[Muhammad Ali, The Greatest of All Time, shall live forever!]