Once Upon a Lifetime: The legend of Muhammad Ali, a thort tribute

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muhammad aliBy Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, Ph.D.

The passing of Muhammad Ali, the Greatest Boxer the world has ever seen in millions of people’s estimation is a great loss. Not only was Muhammad Ali the greatest boxer of all time, he was also a paradigm shifter of all-time proportions not only in the United States, but in the entire world. People can be great in their own countries, or in their own sports, but nowhere else. Muhammad Ali was great even in other countries, in fact in the entire world. And beyond the sport of boxing. I will repeat this point below, for emphasis.

To fathom the greatness of Muhammad Ali in this world,  put it or consider  it this way. There have been or are other good or great sportsmen and women in this world, people like Pele, Tiger Woods, Messi, Arthur Ashe, George Best, Joe Louis, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Joe DiMaggio, Sugar Ray Robinson, Mike Tyson, Eusebio, Hank Aron, Jack Johnson, Margaret Court, Wilma Randolph, Serena Williams, Cristian Ronaldo, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry and others, how many of these transcended their narrow sports recognition? They were or are known purely for their skills in their sport specialization.

The same cannot be said of Muhammad Ali. He was renowned for more than his sport. I have written a lot elsewhere about the legend of Muhammad Ali. He was a great politician, who was concerned about the poor Vietnamese and refusing to fight a war against them as he was concerned about Black folks dealing in dope in Ghetto USA. Think of any other sportsperson as concerned and as renowned for that? He sacrificed his profession and enormous earning potential to maintain a principle that he can’t fight a foreign war and kill innocent people when his enemy was there right in front of him, the United States government. In comparison, Socrates come to mind but Socrates was not a sportsperson. What happened to Socrates in those days is equivalent to what happened to Muhammad Ali. Ultimate Sacrifice. The death penalty in life and in sport. No other athlete ever did what Muhammad Ali did to maintain a principle against all odds.

Conscientious objection to war became a mantra throughout the world. He was persecuted and prosecuted for it. He eventually won the case in the US Supreme Court, the only sportsman to ever fight the machine of the US government single-handedly and win at the end. There is a book on this entitled, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight: Clay versus the USA. Muhammad Ali could simply have done what Great Boxer Joe Louis had done in the forties, accept the recruitment into the army and be sent overseas to do exhibition matches in the safety of the camps very far away from the war zone. Muhammad Ali refused to even contemplate this charade, and in principle and for a principle.

aliMuhammad Ali could simply have practised his religion of Islam in private and not ignite public ire in the religio-phobic USA of the 1960s, a forerunner to the 9/11 and Donald Trump present era. Muhammad Ali had no time for hypocrisy. He publicly announced his religion sending tremors throughout the US state apparatus that ignited his persecution and Muhammad Ali!s defiance and eventual triumph. Which other athlete could have done this?

Muhammad Ali was also a beautiful poet. A great comic and entertainer. Think of another sportsperson of comparable credentials!
Think of any other athlete who was as great in the ring, or golf course or soccer field etc as he was outside of it! Nada. In my travels in far away places where there are hardly any Black people, I like to tease people by asking them whether they knew or have heard of Babe Ruth or Jesse Owens or Usain Bolt or Cristiano Rinaldo, Pele or Joe Frazier or Messi  and any number of great sports figures. Many would know a combination of great sportspeople. Many drew blank stares. But everybody had heard of Muhammad Ali. Without exception. Then I knew I had hit a jackpot.

The greatest compliment I have for Muhammad Ali is that he was like a fairy tale. Something that is not reality, a great fable to teach as a lesson, a parable. In the case of Muhammad Ali, the fairly tale was and is actually real. An unparalleled enigma.

Not many people are fortunate enough to end well, indeed better than a Hollywood ending because they never celebrate the fruits of their previous sufferings and persecutions. They die poor and alone. Many never see the beautiful endings of their sacrifices. Martin Luther King stated that he may never live to see the promised land, but his people as a whole will get there. Mahatma Gandhi died just about the time his sacrifices were bearing ripe fruits. Many guerrilla leaders are killed before independence. Think of Josaia Tongogara in Zimbabwe or Chris Hani in South Africa.  Ernesto Che Guevara briefly enjoyed respite in Cuba.  Exceptions include Mao Tse Tung in China, Hochi Minh and General Nguyen Van Giap in Vietnam, guerrillas who lived to tell.  A few wrongfully convicted people got vindicated and secured from the jaws of death and lived well beyond to celebrate. In the modern era, I count two greatest individuals who lived to top the beautiful Hollywood endings : Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. And deservedly so.

Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa lives in the fantasy world of sports. He is the Head of Graduate Studies at the School of Law, Zambian Open University, Lusaka.

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One Response to Once Upon a Lifetime: The legend of Muhammad Ali, a thort tribute

  1. THAT IS WHY WE NEED JESUS.LIFE IS SHORT.

    KAZEYA
    June 4, 2016 at 11:14 am
    Reply

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