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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Greatest

Boxing is probably my second favorite sport, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that my favorite fighter is Muhammad Ali. Rarely has such a skill set been seen among heavyweights, if ever. And he came to us in the TV age, at the height of American post-war decadence, on the eve of our times of turmoil. He was in many ways the first sports superstar in the way we know it today: ubiquitous, a topic of conversation.

Sports matters precisely where it intersects with life lived, which perhaps tells us nothing. Yet if it does, Ali certainly did that. You can read all over that he was polarizing, and I guess that's so. The liberal consensus of the time says that he got a raw deal in '67, and he did. That same consensus gives blacks a free pass on some of the extremism and hatred of the Nation Of Islam, because, after all, (or so the thinking goes) White America gave them a full measure of it, beginning from the time we landed until now. This is mostly true. Don't think for a second that Ali would get that free pass if he were not a sportsman, who entertained millions. But in popular culture, we like our icons monochromatic, whether heroes or villains.

And that's exactly what he is, an icon. More than a man, but not a god. I suppose I'm as guilty as any; I like his phrases, his bombast, his athleticism. I'd like to think I'd like him, but I can't back that up. There are detractors lurking about, whose opinions are as real as they are unconsulted. I am moved to pray for Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. (With all due respect, I don't think God calls him 'Muhammad') that this colorful life does not end in eternal death, and the fire of Hell. That sounds harsh, I guess, but we all must seek mercy, not presume upon it. May we find it, and with our friend, triumphantly shout, "I am the king of the world!" in the presence of our Father.

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