When I was in the Manteca Bulletin office the other day discussing the content of this column, the boy popped up with how I should not write it. That is exactly why I am going to write it – for his generation and those too young to remember circa 1964.
I have come to understand that the history we are taught is not the history that happened. I got that a lot from my parents their sharing with me of some of the events of WW II that were left out of the history books.
Speaking of my parents, my father was a tremendous sports fan – and he had his favorites and his not-so favorites. I grew up cheering for the Boston Celtics, because that is what the old man did. When I asked him why he liked a team on the other side of the country, he said because they were a team, not a collection of all stars. (I guess he would have liked today’s Warriors.) He disliked the San Francisco Giants for the same reason – he said they were not a team, but a collection of all stars. When we would go fishing we would listen to the Giants games just to see if they would lose.
And then there were the San Francisco 49ers. What a hapless bunch. We cheered every week, mostly to no avail. They would routinely get shellacked by the Los Angeles Rams and they were fodder for the Dallas Cowboys. Even though that was a long time in changing, we cheered all the way through.
My father loved boxing. He would tell me stories of classic bouts from years gone by, and admire those craftsmen of the sweet science. So when a young Olympic champion named Cassius Clay burst onto the scene, I was amazed at the absolute disdain my father had for him. Although I was only 6, I remember clearly his response when I asked him why he felt like he did: “Athletes are not supposed to act like that.” As with most of my father’s quips, he was right again.
Clay – later known as Muhammad Ali – died recently. His death evoked platitudes of his humanitarianism and the praises heaped upon his legacy fall just short of sainthood. But like Paul Harvey would say, now for the rest of the story.
Once he jettisoned his “slave name” of Cassius Clay, Ali became insufferable. His antics and utter disrespect for his opponents were nauseating to witness. While when looking back on that conduct now it does not seem anything to raise an eyebrow over, at the time it was off the charts.
As for the slave name, slavery had been gone for nearly 100 years at the time, so neither he nor his parents were slaves. I do not know about his grandparents or their parents, but his great grandfather emigrated to America from Ireland in the 1860s, so I have to wonder about the slave claim.
In looking at my own family, my maternal grandfather died in part due to the indifference of the coal barons and left an illiterate immigrant wife and four daughters behind under the age of 8, all of who grew up to have families of their own and three became professionals. There was no wallowing over the transgressions of the past – just a desire to succeed.
I am not saying there was not prejudice in the 1960s and I am not saying there is no prejudice today. What I am saying is that Ali declared war on the white man – calling him the devil – and saying that any white man who laid down with a black woman should be killed – and vice-versa.
In later years he carried the torch for Palestine, and I have no respect for anyone who does so. After the senseless slaughter of the athletes at the Munich Olympics in the name of Palestine that cause was flushed down the toilet as far as I am concerned. And then he went on to be a propaganda stooge for Saddam Hussein.
What is the legacy of this man who was married four times and had nine children, both in and out of wedlock? It is certainly not one of family values. As far as I am concerned, the trash talking today that has ruined much of sport began with him.
I will give the devil his due – he was the greatest boxer of all time and one can only wonder what his athletic legacy would have been if he were he allowed to box through his prime rather than have the title stripped from him due to not joining the military.
But as far as his social legacy, all the accolades of his later life were built upon a foundation of hatred, insolence and disrespect. How can anything built on a foundation like that stand the test of time?
Because so few people know the rest of the story.