Muhammad Ali:Heart and Soul
June 5, 2016 by KitabuRoshi
No one expects a boxer to be pretty, much less, remain pretty after a fight. However, Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, Jr. was not one to do the expected. He not only maintained his good looks through 61 professional fights, 56 of which he won but he took the sport of boxing to a new level for starters. Before he became known as Ali, the then Clay injected excitement into each upcoming fight with a high degree of showmanship. He predicted the round his opponents would fall in, baited them verbally and gave colorful names to his venues such as The Thriller in Manilla and The Rumble in the Jungle, his famous battle with then champion, George Foreman. The news is alive with all the details of Ali's victories in the ring since his passing on the night of June 3 but even more to his story has emerged. Muhammad Ali famously called himself, "The Greatest of all time," referring to his boxing prowess, an observation later seconded by many in the field of Sports but he was far more than that. He was a great man, not for what he received but what he was willing to give up.
Though the boxer won his first Heavyweight Championship as Cassius Clay, he shocked the country when he announced that he would take the new name Muhammad Ali in accord with his Islamic faith. Ali was a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam was called a Black separatist organization. Outspoken in the ring, Ali soon showed that he w as just as outspoken outside of it. He was not afraid to point out racism and the underline the shortcomings of America as they affected black people. He was his own man. This was proven even more when he refused to step forward in the draft. He was a conscientious objector to the war and said that his faith precluded him from killing other human beings in war. The backlash from this decision was tremendous. He was stripped of his title and denied a boxing licence for three years. He also faced a possible five year prison sentence. Once celebrated, Ali found himself so vilified by the public and the media that George Foreman reported that when Ali walked into the room where he, Foreman, was being interviewed, the press turned off the cameras until he left. Eventually, the Supreme Court overturned Ali's conviction for Draft evasion and he was permitted to re-enter boxing.
Sports writers can tell you all about how Ali won his title back, and how extraordinary this was but there was something about that man that shook off what might have left other men defeated. Ali believed in himself, and he had faith in his mind (Hsin hsin ming). He was driven by the power of positive thinking. This in turn, gave him a great charismatic presence and a resiliency to adversity that few people had. For example, when he could no longer box for an income, the famed "Loueyville Lip" and self-styled poet became a public speaker on college campuses. This was amazing when you consider that he did not read well. Yet, Ali was full of confidence in himself, and had no problem debating college scholars about the war in Vietnam and other hot topics of the day. He demonstrated that a man could rise above his circumstances if he used what God had given him boldly. Everyone knows that Ali wrote verse like, "...Float like a butterfly...sting like a bee. Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see." They may be surprised to learn that he was considered to be such a serious poet that he was being discussed for the Poetry Chair at Oxford University.
Ali did not hide behind his fame to avoid controversy. He was a strong advocate for Civil Rights, speaking openly against racism and injustice. Once a pariah for his views, he eventually won most of the public over to become one of the most respected and recognized individuals in the world. In 1996, after he had been retired from the ring for many years and was suffering from Parkinson Disease, he stunned the world by lighting the Olympic torch. Even his shaking hand did not diminish the power of the moment. On November 14, 2005-Ali was awarded the highest civilian honor in the country, The Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President Bush.
In his final years, no longer able to speak, Ali could still dominate a room with his presence. His smile and signature boxing pose said volumes. Some years ago, I spent time with one of Ali's most famous opponents, "Smokin'" Joe Frazier. At that time, he was fronting a band... "Smokin' Joe Frazier and the Knockouts." One of the songs he recorded was, "My Way." They were very different personalities but that song most certainly suited Ali also. He faced the final curtain with dignity and grace. Have faith in what God has given you. Believe in it and in you. You may witness a miracle. A brash young man named Cassius Clay shouted out to an unbelieving world, "I am the greatest!" He made believers out of most of us.
We know that Muhammad Ali had soul because of the way he danced about the ring and communed with the people of the world. He loved people. We know he had heart because of the courage he showed in adversity. In his final moments when all of his other organs had failed, Ali's heart kept beating for 30 minutes. The doctors had never encountered anything like it. Ali was still doing the unexpected but this time God was making the point. Only he can count a person out. God is the greatest.