On the Spot by Ken Herar
It’s with great sadness that we learned last month about Muhammad Ali passing, one of the best boxers of all time. I recall listening to the radio on many occasions to legendary radio broadcaster Howard Cosell announcing the blow by blow actions.
Ali, who only lost 5 times in his career, was a controversial figure in and outside the boxing ring and never short of words. At the tender age of 12, Ali discovered his talent for boxing through a police officer after his bike was stolen. Ali told the police officer, that he wanted to beat up the thief. “Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people”, said the officer.
Ali famous saying was, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and he did just that and had tough words on diversity and social integration, which could be considered as racist to some. Aligning himself with the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammad, he had tough words about the white folks.
Going through many YouTube videos and seeing his interviews during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, Ali took a tough stance on how a black person should live their life and reject outside influences. Ali said, “We who follow the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, don’t want to be forced to integrate. Integration is wrong. We don’t want to live with the white man; that’s all.”
And in relation to inter-racial marriage: “No intelligent black man or black woman in his or her right black mind wants white boys and white girls coming to their homes to marry their black sons and daughters.”
But, let’s not lose perspective of the era that Ali was speaking. Many blacks were treated as “second class” citizens throughout the United States and the hard stance was sometimes needed to capture the attention. In 1960, he was turned away from a “whites-only” restaurant and in 1967 Ali refused induction into the US Armed Forces due to his religious beliefs and as a result, he was arrested and fined. Just recently, his hometown paper apologized 50 years later for continuing to refer to Ali in the press as Cassius Clay and not by his Muslim name.
He always wanted to more than a boxer and he proved to be more than just that. He devoted his time to helping charities, Special Olympics and creating world peace when he flew to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages. He also made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea and delivered medical aid to Cuba and secured the release of 15 US hostages during the first Gulf War. In 1981, he helped save a man from jumping out of a ninth-floor building in Los Angeles. In 1985, he and his wife Lonnie opened the Muhammad Ali Center in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, which inspires with an educational and museum experience.
He leaves us with some special words, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”