There are events that happen, that make me stop and think in broader terms than business or the wine industry. The news of Muhammad Ali’s death was one of those events.
The passing of Muhammad Ali marks time for anyone who grew up in the 60’s and the 70’s. Time moves so fast, life goes on and sometimes it takes the passing of an icon to slow a person down and put life into perspective.
I was too young to remember Ali’s fights with Sonny Liston, his conversion to Islam, his conscientious objection to the draft or the stripping of his title which cost him four years in the prime of his career. I do remember his return fight against Joe Frazier. The hype for the fight started long before the March 8, 1971 fight date. It was the first large sporting event I remember making an impression on me.
In the 70’s there was a sports program on ABC called “Wide World Of Sports”. At the time, it was the gold standard in sports reporting. It also was where most of the boxing analysis on TV took place. This is where I first remember seeing Ali. He was loud, boisterous, contentious, funny and verbally combative with opponents and TV hosts. He was about as far away from the standard athlete of the day as you could be. To be honest, as a 12 year old boy raised in an environment where professional athletes were expected to be grateful they were paid to play a game, Muhammad Ali was not the boxer my family rooted for. We were happy when Joe Frazier won that fight on March 8, 1971.
As the world and I learned over the next five decades, Ali was so much more than the loud mouth athlete that swam against the conventional tide. He wasn’t perfect, and I don’t think ever professed to be. However, he was unquestionably committed to his beliefs, even if those beliefs were unpopular and ultimately cost him such a large part of his career. How many professional athletes, or anyone else for that matter, would take those stands today? We would be hard pressed to find one.
Over those five decades, Ali won over all his critics. His beliefs became the mainstream, not the outlier. He arguably became the single most beloved human in the world. He helped change America for the better, as almost all historical figures ultimately do if they are on the right side of history.
Let’s hope someday our political leaders will have the courage to risk paying the price that Ali was willing to pay, and do the right things for our country. America has changed substantially since I was that 12 year old boy, and it will continue to change. Disagreement and dissent are part of our history and will be part of our future. This is the “uncomfortable” reality of our Republic.
Let’s hope that all points of view will be presented without having to have a safe zone, i.e. a fantasy land, where no one disagrees or says things that are contradictory, hurtful or in some case filled with venom. If you have a strong point of view, you will encounter equally strong opposing points of view.
Ali presented and lived his point of view. Eventually the world loved him for it. There is a lesson in there from an American from Louisville, KY who had a unique athletic talent, only dwarfed by his unique talents as a human being. He eventually converted a 12 year old boy and his family into fans, along with the rest of the world.