He was arrogant, calling himself the greatest. He was a dancer who toppled gladiators. He used brains to defeat brawn in a sport where might should prevail. He was outspoken at a time when a black man wasn’t supposed to be outspoken. He was an American who called America, not the Vietcong his enemy. He was everything he wasn’t supposed to be and that is why the white establishment despised him through the 1960s. He was everything he wasn’t supposed to be and that is why the world finally bent to his will, and acknowledged Muhammad Ali as the Greatest.
You can’t exist in the modern world these past few days without having heard the name Muhammad Ali a few hundred times. Everywhere you turn there are tweets, postings, pictures, quotes, articles about this larger than life man. You heard from boxers, athletes, politicians and everyday people who not only are paying their respects, but speak how this one man, touched all of their lives. Flick on the tube where MMA bouts, NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs and even NBA Finals coverage are paying tribute. News programs, talk shows and even variety shows feel the need to take time away from their own program to show how much this man has meant to the world.
From one great to another: Vin Scully announcing Muhammad Ali's death. pic.twitter.com/z0b3JiVzwF
— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) June 4, 2016
Sadly, Muhammad Ali passed away and news of this magnitude reaches every corner of this world. He wasn’t the greatest entertainer, he wasn’t the greatest political activist, and he wasn’t even the greatest boxer. In fact, it’s terrifying to think that if you add any kind of descriptor after ‘greatest’ you actually wind up diminishing him. Ali was not the greatest anything, he simply was… The Greatest.
So as I was driving my boys around on Saturday, the simplest of questions befuddled me. “Dad, what made Ali great?” I didn’t think at first how difficult a question that was. He was a fantastic boxer who fought for what he believed in. Hmm, a one sentence response doesn’t do this justice. What Ali has done both in and out of the boxing ring takes volumes. So as I haphazardly continued my response, I mentioned his participation in the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam war and Ali’s defiance of it. I went back to how he fought the giants of the sport such as Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Canadian icon George Chuvalo. I tried to describe how Ali might have been fast and deadly with his punches, but he was faster and deadlier with his wit and wisdom.
It was a difficult drive. Although I believe my sons were satisfied with my response, I wasn’t. There was more, so much more I wanted them to know about Ali. So I started reading tributes. I started watching tributes. Most of them are fantastically done, yet all of them felt incomplete in some way too. This isn’t a knock on those who put them together, but on how much life Ali had lived. If these talented people can’t do him justice, how could I imagine to do so in a 10 minute drive? Or in this blog? Quite simply, you can’t. Trying to understand what Ali has meant to this world is always a work in progress. You do the best you can and hope that you have interested people enough to do further research on their own.
Ali brought the world of boxing to heights it had never seen nor has it seen since. He somehow understood that his fame and his popularity did not afford him any privilege, but a platform. A platform where he unabashedly spoke his beliefs. A platform where he shone a light on some of the hypocrisies and injustices of his time. Ali didn’t try to hide or run away or find a loop hole or out manoeuvre his foes. He stood up to them, face to face, like a man. He earned his victories as a man and he took his defeats as one too. Muhammad Ali changed the world. He wasn’t an ordinary man, he was the greatest.
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