The Greatest and the kid who read all about it

English: Curt Anderson interviews Muhammad Ali

English: Curt Anderson interviews Muhammad Ali (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up when World Series games were still being played during the day. Muhammad Ali was a prizefighter who fought Joe Frazier at night, and on Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)—a precursor of modern day Pay-Per-View sporting events, on the evening of March 8, 1971.

I had not been twelve years old very long when Ali and Frazier fought for the first time. I remember my elementary school was buzzing. Classmates were picking their favorites. One in particular made a good case for Frazier.

When you’re twelve years old, you really don’t know much of anything. You ARE however, very impressionable to good showmanship and entertainment posing as knowledge. Pundits are little more than that. And experts are wrong more often than not.

So, it was easy to pay attention to this one kid’s knowledge regarding the fighters, going into the bout.

“Frazier will win. He’s been fighting regularly. Ali’s been inactive for a while. He will be rusty and Frazier will beat him.”

Muhammad Ali CenterEven back then, I looked for tidbits to help me decide who I thought would win a sporting event. And make no mistake about it, although baseball was my number one sport, I, along with everybody else in school–adults and kids alike, had something to say about the fight and the outcome.

The kids didn’t have any real understanding of the depths of the social backdrop of events playing out in the country at the time. I remember in the few years leading up to this match that something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it or explain it, of course. But you get that sense once you’ve been ushered into the house during playtime because people from the high school up the block are brawling in the street.

Baseball was a team game and kids would sneak their AM transistor radios into school to secretly listen to the World Series games. It was before the time when team owners and TV network execs realized the most money could be had broadcasting games entirely at night. Boxing was contrarian in that Ali-Frazier helped propel professional fighting into the most profitable realm possible—people who would pay cash money to view the fight during the evening.

Ali was fascinating. He was always talking. I thought he made a lot of people upset back then. Again, I didn’t fully understand the reason why. But, put it this way…the few clips I heard of him speaking about why he objected to the war in Vietnam didn’t NOT make sense to me. The message that got through was that killing is wrong.

He protested the War by standing up for his beliefs—right or wrong. It was an emotional issue and still is. Perceived “draft dodgers,” no matter the reason, are never received in good graces across the board. For some reason, though, Ali transcended both sides of the emotional issue and became a sympathetic figure for me.

I didn’t understand why I was feeling this “loudmouth”—one of the kinder things he was called by those who disliked him, was not so bad. I was drawn to him.

Joe Frazier did not do anything to deserve all of the names Ali called him in the promotional run up leading into the fight. Because of that tactic, I initially wanted to see the standing heavyweight champ take Ali down a notch or two. But, deep down, and largely because of what the one classmate of mine at the time said about Ali being rusty, I felt Smokin’ Joe would beat him.

The transistor radio would not broadcast the fight for me so that I could lay awake in bed and secretly listen. It was only on CCTV. There were no computers, no smart phones and no tablets. I was shut out of finding out how the fight would progress. I resigned myself to just waiting for the morning papers or news on TV for who would be the victor.

The one thing baseball and that boxing match led to was how I would read up on games and fights that had taken place. I guess I was forming an appreciation for history.

We have to make decisions in life. By reading some of the stories of sports personalities and how they handled adversity, we can hopefully enrich our own lives by looking at how they overcame the struggles they endured.

Muhammad Ali WAS social media, email, instant messaging and the Internet all rolled up into one.

Whether you agreed with what he stood up for or not, does not change the fact he made us all think and consider what our truly important choices in life are.

TunnelHis legacy should include the idea that for all of the little boys and girls like me at the time, he gave us pause to rethink what it is we think we know about the world and how it should work. He was inspirational and gave us hope that if we could respect one another and our differences, things really might change for the better.

When we’re all individually just about done with living, how nice would it be if we each could say we practiced in at least some small part, what Ali represented humanitarianly?

If we did, we’d leave the planet a better place than when we first arrived. Look no further than to how Ali lived for clues. CCTV, Pay-Per-View and even Facebook need not be involved.


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