I Was Trained To Hate The Man I Most Admire.

Mine wasn't a peaceful childhood, and it's not important to get into all the details, but I never saw anything like the look on Dad's face that night. Rage. Absolute teetotal rage. I didn't understand it, I was just relieved it was directed towards the man on the TV and not at me for a change. A little boy most always follows his father's lead in such things, and it behooved me, self-preservation wise, to also act enraged by the man on the TV's very existence. So I gave the perception of pleasure that night when Leon Spinks took the heavyweight boxing title from the man who so offended Dad, Muhammad Ali. It bought me a night of peace, but it didn't feel right. I couldn't get that man's picture out of my head. Couldn't stop thinking about how he could have provoked the anger of someone I knew to be very angry in a way I had never seen. I had to know. The next day I did what comes naturally to the nerdy, I checked out a book from the school library and started to learn.

It started with the basics. The man I saw defeated that night had been arguably the greatest boxer of all time. But there is more to Muhammad Ali than just what happened in the ring. He rose up from the streets of Louisville to win an Olympic championship on the other side of the world, then came home with a gold medal around his neck that wasn't good enough to get him served at a whites-only restaurant in his hometown. There have been two brief moments in my life when I've had a glimpse of what it's like to be a minority in White America, once when people wouldn't stop staring when I was out with a Filipina, and another time at the store when I was accused of being Jewish like it was some sort of horrible crime. Both times pissed me off like you wouldn't believe. So while I'll never understand what it's like to put up with that kind of crap 24/7, I do understand why that gold medal was thrown into the Ohio River.Why Muhammad didn't take it anymore. He didn't have to. He was young and strong and didn't have to cower to the power in order to survive.

He didn't have to accept the religion of his taunters. He found his own.

He didn't have to become a cog in the machine of the American Empire, and did not accept being inducted into their armed forces. "I ain't got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me Nigger." he said, capturing the entire decade of the 60's in fourteen words.

Not that it was easy. His stand ensured that he would have to endure all that the power could throw at him. What would have been his best years in the ring were taken away when he was stripped of his boxing license. He was hated, despised, loathed and held to be the most contemptuous figure on the planet by all the redneck masses brainwashed into thinking they had a stake in the power structure of the status quo. People like my father, who cheered every time Muhammad Ali took a blow.

Except Muhammad was strong and the blows couldn't break him. "What's my name!!" he taunted an opponent who insisted on calling him Cassius Clay. "What's my name!!" he shouted to the man he refused to knock out in order to continue the punishment for a full fifteen rounds.

His was name was Muhammad Ali, and when he was allowed to finally resume earning a living, he found George Foreman in his path. Foreman was younger, bigger, and had absolutely destroyed opponents the now over the hill Ali had barely beaten. Finally, the redneck establishment would get their wish. Muhammad Ali would at last be beaten into submission. Everyone knew he couldn't best Foreman in a physical match.

Including Ali, who outsmarted Foreman and had him lying on the canvas after eight rounds.

Best.

Fight.

Ever.

The 60's were a fading memory by then, and Ali's history was soon to be the subject of revision. When it became conventional wisdom that Vietnam had been a mistake and that the overt racism of that era was a blot on the history of this country, Ali went from reviled to popular to....by the time it was time to light the torch to start the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, revered.

And he forgave us. Muhammad Ali stood up for what was right and fought and held strong against all the force society could throw against him, and when that society finally realized, but never really admitted, that he had been right all along, he forgave us. A very Christian like move. There are many Christians who could learn a thing or two from Muhammad Ali.

That's why I keep a picture of him by the desk where I do my writing. When I feel spent and the weight of the world is ready to wear me out, sometimes I look at that picture and hope one day I can have half the character and strength and wisdom of Muhammad Ali.

Who went on later that year to regain his title from Leon Spinks. Much to the frustration of my father.


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I Was Trained To Hate The Man I Most Admire.
I Was Trained To Hate The Man I Most Admire.
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