Muhammad Ali, a personal reflection

Muhammed Ali, 1942-2016 (www.superbhdpics.com)

He was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky; his given name, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. He died on June 3, 2016, as Muhammed Ali, his choice to supplant his “slave name” when he converted to Islam in the mid-1960s.

Knowing the impossibility and, thus, not claiming any capacity to capture a life in words, however voluminous, Muhammed Ali, for me, was, is all at once:

brash and boastful…

charming and considerate…

a boxer of sublime skill and grace and equal measures of courage and stamina…

possessing a supple intellect, able to alight here and there, verily, to “float like a butterfly” and a rapier tongue to match that could “sting like a bee”…

an unwavering advocate for racial pride and justice and an indefatigable voice of resistance to all forms of domination, societal, cultural, or governmental; especially in an era when sports figures tended not to venture far from the confines of their arenas of athletic endeavor to comment on (much less, challenge) the social, economic, and political matters of their days and times (and most sporting celebrities, I think, still don’t)…

a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, who, refusing to honor the draft for that would cast the reprehensible mark of dishonoring his religious beliefs, bore what some, perhaps, at the time, many deemed just punishment, being stripped of his right to fight in the prime of his career…

a tireless humanitarian who was a living witness to the power of one personality, albeit, yes, an especial one, to build global bridges between and among peoples…

a child who came of age in the 1960s who became a prototypical “man” of his 20th century generation and, perhaps, now in his death, transcending time…

as a pugilist, a champion in the ring; as a provocateur who stormed the bastions of the status quo, a champion of the counterculture; as a person and a philanthropist, a champion for all…

self-proclaimed and acclaimed by millions as “The Greatest.”

(As boxing granted Ali his stage to be and do all that he was and did, I think, though opinions and findings vary, that boxing also – and the punishment he absorbed and head trauma he endured, particularly in the latter stages of his career – contributed to the onset and progression of the Parkinson’s disease that led to his death. Thus, how often it seems and how ironic it is that the very thing – activity or agency, aspiration or association – that is life-giving also may be death-dealing.)

Muhammad Ali, requiescat in pace.

 

Photograph: courtesy of http://www.superbhdpics.com

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