With the death of Muhammad Ali, I couldn’t help but think back on Dad’s love of the sport. I never got into boxing, but I remember Dad watching the matches available on network TV (before they moved to pay-per-view, as we never had cable.) He would light up and was as enthusiastic as he was about watching his beloved Notre Dame team or watching a soccer match. As a young man, he even started writing a novel about a boxer, which he never finished.
I’m pretty sure Dad was an Ali fan. I don’t know if he supported all of his viewpoints, but I think as an Irishman, he could appreciate Ali’s showboating. Also, as a northern Irishman, my dad could appreciate someone from a minority group who was being marginalized and brutalized taking on the establishment. I can hear my dad’s voice imitating the crowd when Ali came to the ring, chanting, “Ali, Ali, Ali.” I remember my dad becoming very animated about describing one of Ali’s historic matches.
Even if you are not a boxing fan, it’s worth checking out some of the old interviews and matches with Ali. The way he handled himself, not only as an athlete but as a citizen in this world was unmatched. Yes, you could call him arrogant and egotistical, but part of that was his persona, and alongside that, there was a sincerity and genuine concern about the world. The way he challenged the status quo as a black man in the 1960’s was remarkable and courageous. He stood by his religious beliefs, being banned from his profession for three years. He was no saint, of course, with multiple marriages and a penchant for affairs, but he never claimed to be, only saying he was the best he could be.
After boxing, he could’ve just rested on his laurels, especially after being diagnosed with the debilitating Parkinson’s disease, but he chose to walk the walk when it came to humanitarian causes. He traveled the world, set up foundations and did what he could to ease suffering and support the downtrodden.
As many have pointed out, there is some irony in the fact that Ali got Parkinson’s disease, a condition that stripped away his physical beauty and his famous “Louisville Lip.” Was God teaching him a lesson for being an arrogant big mouth? Ali took the diagnosis in stride, and didn’t shy away from society. Instead, he used it as another teaching moment.
Ali was brash, talented, controversial and courageous. He was truly one-of-a-kind. I hope he’s free of his broken body and that his spirit continues on somewhere, floating like a butterfly.
On another note, there was also another boxing connection this week. A relative of mine reached out on Twitter, the grandson of Dixie McCall, who I’ve written about before. He was my aunt’s husband. Social media has its faults, but it is so neat that we can make family connections via a tweet.