From: Justice Integrity Project
Posted: 04 Jun 2016 09:53 PM PDT
by Andrew Kreig
The death of Muhammad Ali on June 4 is generating many warm reflections, especially from those who met and admired him, as did I.
Illustrating his lasting legacy across the world are memories sampled below.
Some are from the sports world, including from two-time world heavyweight champion George Foreman, Ali's most famous surviving opponent. Another is from boxing historian Thomas Hauser.
Ali's impact transcends sports, as Foreman eloquently stated in several Tweets soon after Ali's death. They shared full range of emotions as gladiators in one of the sport's most iconic battles, the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" title fight in Zaire that the 1996 documentary When We Kings so memorably portrayed.
That fight, featuring the apogee of Ali's tactic of "Rope a Dope" to wear out an opponent by leaning on ropes to absorb punishment, helped make Ali one of the world's popular public figures for many years -- and likely helped induce the Parkinson's Disease that afflicted him for the last 30 years.
Included below also is a remarkable CBS News video introduced by anchor Walter Cronkite showing Ali saving a man's life as a Good Samaritan in 1981 by talking the troubled man out of jumping from a ninth-floor ledge in Los Angeles.
Also portrayed below are other instinctive acts of Ali's charity and boldness. For example, he declined to meet President Clinton in the White House unless the president reversed an arrogant aide's sudden decision to exclude Hauser from a 1996 celebrity gathering in the Oval Office.
The power of these and other expert treatments cited below far outstrip my own experiences. But mine help provide context for larger lessons. For one, we see from Ali's life how each of us can be inspired by the great dramas unfolding around us if we only look, whether or not we have met in person.
The Times, They Were A Changin'
During one of the golden ages of American boxing, I met Ali briefly two times when I was a newspaper reporter. This was after his 1967 ban from boxing by authorities because he had refused draft induction during the Vietnam War by asserting "conscientious objector" status.
Many Americans hated Ali for this. Partly the animosity stemmed from what they regarded as his bragging and insults to opponents (his fans called it "showmanship). Another flashpoint was his conversion from Christianity to Islam under the radical Black Muslim leadership.
Many leaders of Ali's new religion railed against whites and oppression with rhetoric -- and bodyguards recruited from prisons -- that was far different-sounding than the Rev. Martin Luther King's brand of non-violent protest. So much social change was occurring that many in the majority white population could not differentiate clearly between Christian non-violent protesters exemplified by King and the more "militant" Black Muslims during an era of civil rights upheavals, riots, and other civic dislocations.
The biggest complaint against Ali was that he would object to war despite being a world heavyweight boxing champion who earned his living by knocking out opponents. That contrast seemed preposterous at first to most Americans, including all of the nation's politically appointed boxing commissions.
Ali opposed the war at a time when "The Best and Brightest" of government officials, business leaders and academics were unified behind the war, as a est-seller of the time reporter.
Boxing and champions attracted far more attention in the 1960s than now. There were just two or three TV channels in most parts of the nation, and many fewer sports and other diversions competing for attention. Large sections of the public were transfixed by the exciting pre-fight rituals, culminating in on-screen battles nearly everyone followed.
It's worth a few moments reflection to consider how many dozens of American expressions come from boxing. Let's sample a few. "In my corner" is one. "Throw in the towel" and "going down for the count." Then there's "on the ropes" -- and on and on in our language and thinking, at least back then.
But the boxing titles were usually unified, meaning there would be one and only one "heavyweight champ" in the world. Greedy promoters and other participants have since split the titles into an alphabet-soup (WBA, WBC, WBF, etc.) of ranking organizations that enable many "champions" in each weight class. The confusion tends to prevent any one fighter from capturing public favor as of yore.
Seizing the limelight with more charisma and talent than (arguably) any heavyweight in history, Ali then shocked the public by opposing the Vietnam War. He used a unique combination of logic, lectures, bombast, "poetry," idealism, and gut instinct. Opponents rarely failed to point out that he had "failed the Army mental test," regarded as one made easy so that Army's ranks could be filled with draftees sent to fight in Vietnam, but many public appearances showed that Ali seldom lost a battle of wits.
Ali's suspension occurred during deployments of up to six hundred thousand Americans at a time on what federal officials described as a patriotic mission.
Family members of those serving often became infuriated at Ali, who was widely portrayed in the media as the nation's most infamous shirker.
By 1967, more than 11,000 were dying annually in a toll that continued above that level for two more years. that also took millions of Vietnamese lives before the U.S. withdrawal in 1975.
As one example of the high stakes for war protesters, recent scholarship makes a compelling case that all three of America's most important progressive leaders from 1963 through 1968 lost their lives via assassination because of their increasing commitment to peace.
Those three included President John F. Kennedy (JFK), who issued a national security order in October 1963, one month before his death, that began a draw-down of the modest-sized level of "advisors" in Vietnam. The order was secret at the time and couched in language subject to a range of interpretation. But any potentially disloyal government officials of high enough rank would know of its existence and its meaning.
One independent scholar who has used his training to push illuminate the issue is Dr. John Newman, a 20-year veteran of Army intelligence who served also as executive assistant to the National Security Agency's director. Newman has become a leading scholar writing about the importance of JFK's 1963 order and the animosity that Kennedy's peace initiatives fostered among his opponents.
It now seems clear that government opponents of the president regarding the war, Cuba policies and related issues included rogue operatives in the CIA who could manipulate the covert government operative Lee Harvey Oswald to, at the minimum, act suspiciously. Evidence now abounds that Oswald was a patsy whose government work set him up to be blamed for a killing completed by professional assassins.
The other two major assassin victims were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) and New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (RFK).
In 1967, King made what many researchers believe were fatal decisions to oppose the Vietnam war and also to combine civil rights advocacy with a broader economic platform seeking economic uplift for the poor, including black sanitation department workers organizing for a union in Memphis, where King was shot.
RFK threatened the establishment directly also by his antiwar platform in running for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1968 in an effort to succeed the pro-war Democratic incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson.
King was fatally shot in April 1968. RFK is shown at left on an airplane with his campaign aide Frank Mankiewicz as the candidate learned of MLK's death.
The New York senator died two months later just after he won the California Democratic primary on June 4. That victory positioning Kennedy to win his party's nomination and the fall elections. Along with Kennedy's high progressive public agenda, many researchers make the case that he would have mounted a thorough investigation that would have revealed the conspiracy of rogue government and private opponents who conspired to kill his older brother John.
All three, JFK, MLK and RFK, were supposedly shot by lone gunmen acting from hatred and with no co-conspirators.
The full stories are beyond the scope of this column. But the Justice Integrity Project has summarized the hundreds of books, videos and other scholarship this spring in "Readers Guides" that provide documentation of highly irregular investigations if not treasonous murder and cover-up in each death. Details are below.
Ali stuck to his principles throughout these scary and suspicious deaths, including the 1965 murder of Black Muslim leader Malcolm X.
He gave up his livelihood while his protests wended their way through the courts. For most of his suspension, the most likely outcome loomed as a five-year prison sentence for him, not just loss of his boxing license. Many in authority, from local draft boards on up, wanted to make an example of him to deter other protesters.
It was reported that Ali turned down a sweetheart deal from the military that could have made him a celebrity goodwill ambassador for the troops and the war effort, thereby protecting him from combat.
Ali, born Cassius Clay but inspired by his adopted Muslim faith to reject the "slave name," stood his ground on the draft issue. He gave lectures, and ultimately persuaded the New Jersey State Boxing Commission to let him begin boxing again in 1970 while he appealed his conviction. In 1971, he won an 8-0 U.S. Supreme Court ruling voiding his conviction on the grounds that he was a genuine conscientious objector.
What Was Ali Like?
I followed these matters closely, both as a newspaper reporter who met him briefly while working for the Cornell Daily Sun and later for the Hartford Courant and also as a student of boxing styles from James J. Corbett up to current times. I boxed in college and other tournaments, and twice reached the regional Golden Gloves finals in heavyweight competition in Buffalo, NY and Holyoke, MA. My trainers were Chet Cashman in Ithaca and Johnny Duke in Hartford, two dedicated aficionados of the Sweet Science who worked at community center fight clubs grooming pugs who ranged from punks to pros.
In the grand scheme, neither my experiences nor columns about Ali are particularly memorable, especially compared to what others are writing this weekend about Ali's passing.
One of those columns below illustrating the range of praise for Ali was written by the conservative scholar, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts. Shown at left, Roberts is a former assistant Treasury secretary during the Reagan administration and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal who promptly authored the following upon learning of the death, Muhammad Ali, R.I.P.
On a more workaday level, I share here a conversation that a police sergeant in Hartford told me about an Ali trip there during the boxing suspension. The fighter showed his good humor even when authorities elsewhere were pursuing him in court and threatening prison.
"How's it going, Chief?" Ali greeted the police officer.
"Great, Champ. But, I'm not the Chief," the officer replied.
"Well, I'm not the Champ, either!"
Ali would go on to win back the world heavyweight title by flooring the spectacular, undefeated knockout artist Foreman before a cheering crowd in Zaire. It was one of the greatest upsets in modern sports history. Later, I bought a large framed photo of that seventh-round knockout that had been signed by both fighters. Ever since, it has hung on my hallway wall as daily inspiration for whatever the day ahead might bring each time I walk out the door.
Requiem For A Heavyweight
Foreman (shown below in his Twitter feed (shown on his Twitter feed @GeorgeForeman) exemplifies such a story on a more substantial and enduring scale.
Seeking spiritual renewal after a near-death experience, Foreman retired from boxing in 1977 and became a born-again Christian minister among the downtrodden in his hometown of Houston, TX.
He recalls that his connection with Ali helped make the ministry a success.
A decade later, Foreman returned to boxing with and won back the world heavyweight title at age 45, the oldest record, achieved by a canny knockout of the 27-year-old champ Michael Moorer. Foreman is even more famous in recent years as the jovial marketer who has sold more than 100 million of his George Foreman cooking grills.
"As far as George Foreman is concerned," Fox News sports commentator Mark Berman wrote June 4, quoting from the former champ's Twitter feed, "Muhammad Ali may have passed but his spirit will live forever."
"Believe me, he didn't die," Foreman continued. "He's still alive. Because whenever someone tries to make a stand about anything, stand up for something they believe in, it's like we'll all be saying, 'Another Muhammad Ali.' He's alive forever."
President Obama weighed in with a similar verdict: "He shook up the world, and the world's better for it. Rest in peace, Champ."
Contact the author Andrew Kreig