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Date: 04/06/16

The Man With Fight In His Life

Sigh! Another day, another dolour...

Photo of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali ( Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.)
Boxer and activist
b. 17 January 1942, d. 3 June 2016

I've never really had much time for boxing, considering it what someone once called a 'near-the-end-of-the-road game', and one which has all too often been used as a sop to boys from the poorest sections of their societies in being the only way they could (lawfully) get somewhere in their lives.

That said, even such desperate enterprises have their giants, and some of them have been giants in many other ways outside the ring. Of those few Muhammad Ali was, without fear of contradiction, 'The Greatest'. For not only could he cash within those ropes the cheques that he wrote with his mouth outside it beforehand, he was fearless in his stand on behalf of his fellow African-Americans and for 'people of color' (if that phrase is remotely permissable in these prissy and precious days) around the world, cost him what it may in the short term.

The most notable example was, of course, his public refusal to be drafted to fight another one of corporate America's wars, that on the peoples of South East Asia. Knowing full well what the reaction would be in a country which was still held to a large degree in the grip of Eisenhowerian complacency where Jim Crow was still flapping around squawking, he laid it on the line:

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end.

"I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again: the real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality...If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs.

"So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years."

And, although he didn't see jail time, the white, conservative establishment of the US denied him his chosen livelihood for the better part of four years before public pressure forced them to behave in a more civilised manner.

In this, Ali showed that behind the physical courage necessary to get into the ring and do what he called his 'day job', there was a strong moral courage too, one allied to a fierce and wittily-expressed intelligence, and it was these attributes which made him the object of immense respect the world over.

He was a good-looking S.O.B., too.

Rest easy, champ.